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Tailored at Leeds Museum

19 August 2015
Tailored at Leeds Museum
From back in July until the beginning of January, Leeds City Museum is hosting a unique exhibition which explores the tradition of tailoring throughout British history and its huge contribution to the British fashion industry. Tailored: a very British Fashion is a free exhibition that works through time to showcase the paramount influence tailoring has had on British culture and society.

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Starting from the sixteen hundreds and working through to modern day, the display uses a number of historic and famous pieces of tailoring such as suits, jackets and dresses to celebrate the significance of the practice in British fashion and retailing. Highlights include a jacket worn by Ringo Starr during a performance with The Beatles and pieces by fashion icons like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, as well as pieces dating back to the eighteen hundreds.

The exhibition explores both local and national British links with tailoring and combines the two with features on the Hepworth’s tailoring firm, Montague Burton, Marks and Spencer and Kathryn Sargent, designers who all began their careers in Leeds and went on to have major national influences in the tailoring world. The paramount effect of Leeds, both throughout tailoring’s history and on modern day fashion, becomes increasingly apparent as you work your way through the exhibition. Beginning in 1864 when Joseph Hepworth founded his tailoring company, Hepworth’s, which went on to be one of the most prominent and paramount producers of suits in the world and later developed into the iconic British fashion retailer Next; to Montague Burton (of men’s clothing brand Burton fame) who is one of the most famous tailors to come out of Leeds after moving here in 1900.

Admiring the pieces on show it becomes obvious that Leeds was at the forefront of the tailoring movement. The exhibition holds a number of classic pieces fashioned by the Leeds tailors and designers showcasing the overwhelming talent and versatility of the local tailoring companies. This includes a 1964 wool shooting jacket produced by Burtons which is made from Harris tweed that was hand woven in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, the ‘sustainable suit’ by Marks and Spencer and a number of pieces by Kathryn Sargent. The Process suit on show at the exhibition, which allows an insight into the processes involved in creating a bespoke item, was created by Leeds born Kathryn Sargent who was the first female head cutter on Savile Row and then later the first woman to open her own bespoke tailoring business there. This particular jacket, which at first glance appears like an unfinished piece, allows you to understand the different canvases and wadding used within the jacket and how everything is seamlessly held together with bespoke hand stitching.

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Fashion supremes Vivienne Westwood and Alexander Mc Queen also have a number of their show stopping designs being featured at the exhibition. One of the most captivating of these is ‘Erotic Zones Outfit’ from Vivienne Westwood’s 1995 Spring/Summer collection - a quirky take on the three piece suit combining a fitted jacket, waistcoat and pleated mini skirt held in its inflated shape by a metal cage bustle. Other pieces nod to the development of Mod culture fashion in the 1960’s such as the Teddy Boy Jacket, Tartan suits and a striped Barfoot blazer. Older pieces such as a wool riding habit dating back to 1880-1890 and a dazzling Privy Council uniform with elaborate gold oak leaf embroidery from the early nineteen hundreds highlight the strong and long standing heritage of British tailoring.

The exhibition is accessible for all ages and family groups as Tailored works to engage the younger crowds with fun and innovative activities like the ‘Find your fit’ and Design station sections encouraging youngsters to engage with their own creative tailoring abilities. Alongside the exhibition the museum is hosting a number of related events such as Curator Tours on the 3rd and 22nd of September which will be run on a free, drop in basis and the ‘Make friends with your sewing machine’ session which will give a beginner’s guide to sewing held on the 15th September. Then during October there will be the Leeds Craft Hack (14th) which hopes to bring together both artists and the public to create a huge collaborative art piece and then ‘Study Day – British Tailoring and the Leeds Tailoring Industry’ which will include talks from a number of high profile fashion and tailoring figures.

The exhibition, the result of the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral award in partnership with the School of History at the University of Leeds and Leeds Museums and Galleries, works to enforce how strongly British tailoring and fashion are interwoven throughout history and the major part Leeds had to play within this. Even for those who are not fashion mad, Tailored is absorbing from an historical perspective through the way it delves into the foundations Leeds laid in a major cultural practice which continues to surround us in everyday life.

Becky Peartree is our resident food writer and is in her final year at Leeds University where she studies English Literature.