This is a blog post we have been meaning to write for quite a while. We are constantly having conversations about the Leeds fashion scene and we wanted to try and open that conversation out. We have just come to the end of a flurry of fashion shows, shopping events etc., happening across the city. While these events are still fresh in all our minds it feels like a good time to share our views.
This is a post in two parts. The first focuses on recent history and the current situation. Part 2, which will be posted tomorrow, will focus on the future and what can, in our view, happen next.
History & Current Situation
To begin, I think we need to take an honest look at where the Leeds fashion scene is right now. It is an emerging scene that is not particularly relevant on a global level. There are some great stories and brands that have emerged from the city in the past. Nicholas Deakins, Aqua Couture and, to some extent, Marks and Spencer are all important fashion brands that started life in this city. Burberry's Chief Creative Officer, Christopher Bailey, is from the area and the Editor of LOVE Magazine, Katie Grand, was born here. Let's face it, a city the size of ours will every so often produce talented people doing exceptional things. But, in terms of a fashion 'scene' Leeds is still most definitely positioned in the 'has potential' category.
When Hebe Media was formed in 2009 we had a vision to drive Leeds into that list of emerging, exciting international cities. You know, the unofficial almost magical list that includes places like Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona, Detroit, Copenhagen, Taipei and other cool cities. In 2009 / 2010 Leeds was a long long way off that list in our opinion. Everything seemed 'corporate' and boring. This was not only in the fashion scene, but also the digital scene and in our opinion large parts of the music scene. As any creative knows, these areas all 'feed' one another. Three of the Hebe team used to study and live in Barcelona and we had become used to being part of a scene where fashion designers would hang with musicians hanging with artists hanging with DJs hanging with marketeers hanging with models. In Leeds this was just not there. The wrong people were organising things, the brands used to promote the city were all wrong and people were working in isolation.
During the past year, however, things have changed quite a lot. Our designers' profiles are rising all the time: James Steward has pretty much been 'Mr Red Carpet' this summer at the BAFTAs and Royal Weddings. Existing events have gone from strength to strength such as Leeds Fashion Show, which this year reached new levels. The indie scene in Leeds has stepped up and is now making waves again (like back in the day, when the Corn Exchange was actually good) thanks to cool projects like Birds Yard and Fabrication. Work on the next major retail scheme in the UK - Trinity Leeds - has restarted. The outlook is positive. There are, of course, things we as businesses, brand and creatives still need to evaluate and work on but this is normal in a scene still finding its 'place'.
Hebe & Leeds Fashion Scene
Our Head of Fashion, Shang Ting and I both studied Fashion Marketing and Communication at Instituto Europeo di Design in Barcelona and, after graduation, we both had a number of offers to take jobs in established 'fashion cities' such as New York, London and Shanghai. But we made the decision to come to Leeds (where I am from) because we saw the city as a 'blank canvas'. I had previously worked in events, producing for brands like Ministry of Sound and Gatecrasher so I had a pretty good network in the city to get us kickstarted and plugged into the creative scene.
After months of research we came to the realisation that not that much was going on in terms of events and maybe more importantly, people hanging / working / creating together. We did at this point, however, begin to see some of the talent that the city had to offer and made a point of going and meeting with as many of them as we could. People like James Steward, Dominic Al-Samarraie and Rav Matharu immediately jumped out as doing some cool stuff. We worked with Marketing Leeds on the first Leeds in Barcelona that showcased some of these designers (as well as Leeds 'vintage' scene) to an international group of fashion and trend bloggers.
Since then we have produced more international fashion events such as Creative Encounter which aims to showcase the best Leeds talent to an international audience. The first Creative Encounter was in Barcelona and the next is planned for Stockholm. Shang Ting heads up the immense UK Observing Diary project which attracts more 10 million views each month and showcases trends, and more, in Leeds and in London. We are also working on a number of projects (which we will go into in Part 2 of this blog post) that aim to help push the Leeds fashion scene onto new levels by showcasing our own talent, as well as working with some of the biggest fashion brands in the world on new projects here in Leeds.
There are some interesting designers on the Leeds fashion scene today. The aforementioned James Steward is destined for big things. Lisa-Jayne Dann is also attracting international attention. Dom Dick and Harry's collection for Creative Encounter Barcelona was a big step forward both visually and technically. Bo Carter carried away the designer of the year award in her first year, at this year's retail awards. Emerging talents such as Crystal Padmore and Asobi Fashion have shown great tailoring skills and ideas. Ewa Domanska won the designer of the year award at Leeds Fashion Show. Klue by Kelly Ann create dresses with interesting shapes. And Antiform is the leading ethical, remade design brand in Leeds.
As we have mentioned previously, and in yesterday's blog post, Leeds Fashion Show 2011 reached new levels this year and we are delighted to support the project as Hebe Media and as Brand Ambassadors for Trinity Leeds. The show is a great platform for emerging designers, enabling them to take an important step forward. The venue (Leeds Museum) is beautiful and fits the show well but more needs to be done on the museum / council side of things to support the project rather than hinder it. Some of the things they have to contend with by having the show there are ridiculous, and may make them question whether the hassle is worth it.
Other events in the city are a real mixed bag. There are some lovely stories such as Passion for Fashion, which uses fashion as the driver to help people develop new skills and find their creative side. It is a shame this cannot act as an annual event that aims to find and support young talent in the city, maybe as a 'talent feeder' for Leeds Fashion Show? We did not attend Leeds Rocks this year but have seen a rather damning review and even more disappointing comments section. We did attend City Rocks presents 'Walk this Way', as we manage the headline act I Call Shotgun (ICS). The event, which like the Fashion Rocks events it aims to emulate, tried to fuse fashion and music to a massive audience at the O2 Academy. This is not an easy thing to pull off. The music was great and the sound system amazing but the fusion of fashion and music did not quite work. A disappointing attendance showed that, perhaps, this needs a rethink.
Harvey Nichols usually produce the best 'quality' events in the city such as Vogue FNO, Fashion Vs Football, and general fashion shows, which we enjoyed. They also host small events for press and VIPs to create that intimate experience, like Swillington Farm dining, afternoon teas and private showings. However, as Harvey Nichols has been promoted as the retail 'headliner' for so many years, we are still waiting for something more spectacular from them.
There are other events, which are usually put under the 'Leeds Loves Shopping' brand, but not much in there has seemed very interesting to us. A lot of 'alright' stuff but nothing that, for example, we would feel comfortable inviting our national or international network to attend.
There are other events that seem to pop up periodically, most notably the vintage fairs from St Gemma's Hospice and the events Vintage Wardrobe used to stage at Brudenell and in their store (before they left for warmer climates!). These were great fun and usually had us rummaging through rails and boxes for hours!
In many ways the fashion media landscape in Leeds mirrors the talent and scene in general. There are some cool emerging projects and brands and some things that need a lot of work.
We have already mentioned our own UK Observing Diary project which showcases Leeds and London designers, trends and events to a massive audience in the Far East. This has lead to the team (Shang Ting and Clair) having regular columns on Vogue Taiwan and Brand Magazine and they are currently in final stages of writing their first book, which will be released in the Far East in the next few months. The Hebe Media blog (where you at right now!) attracts 1000's of visitors every month and has regular Street Style, Events and 'Introducing' Features from some of the best things going on here.
The Leeds blogosphere is young but developing. Notables include A Little Bird Told Me, Magic Square Foundation, Fashion Looks North and A Forte For Fashion. Unfortunately we have lost one of Hebe's best buddies Bangsandabun to London and she is now also kicking ass as one of Glamour Magazine's Style Tribe! The Culture Vulture has also been featuring 'style' content more and more recently, headed up by Elle Snare, so there are some interesting things going on.
Looking at the more 'traditional' stuff. The Yorkshire Evening Post is not something we usually read but it seems to pick up on occasional press releases about fashion news and shows. We would love to see the paper really push this side of things though. This is one of the areas it could really modernise through, but more on this tomorrow in Part 2!
Leeds Guide, usually through Ali Schofield, regularly have a presence at most of the city's fashion events and cover most of the important news. Both in the magazine and online we can see they are trying their best to support local independent brands and projects. They also run the Leeds Retail Awards that have become something of an important fixture on the fashion calendar, so through this they play an important role in shining a spotlight on some of the indie boutiques and designers in Leeds.
Summary and Part 2
I have tried to be as concise as possible in this post but obviously summarising the fashion landscape of a big city is a big job. I hope this has given a rough outline of what is happening at the moment and our views on the current situation. Tomorrow we will post perhaps the more 'juicy' part of this blog post, which is our take on what should happen next. As with any blog post this is only the view of the Hebe team but, after two years being in the thick of Leeds fashion scene combined with our years of fashion industry experience, we hope to help, advise and instigate the next wave of projects and brands that are going to really put Leeds on the fashion map.
Read Part 2 here