The History of Yorkshire Textiles – An Exhibition

fashion art exhibition in harvey nichols leeds

Weaving The Magic

Established during the Industrial Revolution, Yorkshire’s weaving industry is renowned throughout the world for its high-quality cloth. Keith Spence went along to a famous Leeds store to see how the mills have united to create their own Yorkshire brand.

Next time you’re taking a trip through the luscious Leeds Shoppers’ Paradise that is Harvey Nichols, you might notice a new brand name alongside the Guccis and the Gabbanas. Travel up and down the store’s four floors. Go through the labels and smiles and occasional sweet drifts of perfume and you’ll notice long drapes of elegant cloth. Vibrant off-cuts decorating broad pillars. Walls adorned with bold textiles, stripes and dots. Under the collective brand-name Yorkshire Textiles, this impressive in-store promotion (although, really, it’s as much an art installation) involves some of the county’s leading fabric mills.

yorkshire textiles exhibition in leeds storeIt is the brainchild of Leeds store general manager Brian Handley. Along with his team, he toured 11 Yorkshire mills to gather inspiration for the display. It gives a breathtaking example of what the Yorkshire textile industry still has to offer. It took two months of hard work by the display team to do justice to Yorkshire’s weaving industry. An industry which has long set the benchmark for high-quality made-in-England cloth. The display helps to bring home to Harvey Nichols’ customers the importance of the mills that are on their door step. As well as their present role in continuing to produce most of England’s worsted and woollen fabric.

“A striking display”

Thanks to the initiative, the industry now has a collective brand name, Yorkshire Textiles, and its own logo. The in-store display boasts some of the finest cloths the world can produce. The display runs across all four floors of the store. Large pieces of magnificent cloth drape either side of the elevators.

The Harvey Nichols team combed the mills to collect eye-catching items. It gives the displays a real flavour of the products used in the textile industry. Green felt waste from Hainsworths, who produce dress uniforms for the Queen’s Household Guard, forms a striking display. A separate ‘A Loom with a View’ display is based on the mill loom and weaving processes. It links current trends and themes using bobbins and wool to weave and connect throughout the department.

“Quality and colours”

harvey nics leeds textile display“The Fabric of our Society” gets inspiration from current trends of natural forms, fringing, ruffles and drapery. It utilises a by-product from all the working mills. ‘Head in the Clouds’ uses fabric from Taylor and Lodge in Huddersfield. The company supplies Prada, Lanvin, Pal Zileri and Tom Ford to create a tactile cloud display that interacts with the environment. Different small squares of fabric flutter lightly in the air-conditioned breeze. Even the store’s shelves and fitting rooms are neatly covered in different Yorkshire fabrics.

The Sunny Bank Mills Textile Archive by Susan Gaunt, an independent textile designer, is also in the display. The archive dates back 150 years. Students from Leeds Met are joining forces to present their own novel contribution featuring a Yorkshire whippet. He’s dapper, naturally, in a Yorkshire coat, from a Yorkshire mill.

Brian Handley hopes the promotion will lift awareness of customers to the quality, heritage and innovation of Yorkshire fabric mills. He has taken his team to see the weaving process to make them aware of what skills go into the manufacturing process. “People walk around touching the fabrics and are amazed at their quality and colours,” he says.

“World leader”

yorkshire textiles display harvey nichols leedsGreat industrialists established the Yorkshire textile industry 100 years ago. At its height some mills employed 11,000 men, women and children, manufacturing high-quality textiles such as velvet and silk. One mill supplied 1,000 yards of velvet for King George V’s Coronation. In 1976 new velvet curtains are supplied to The White House. But foreign competition and man-made fibres have contributed to the industry’s decline and some mills are abandoned. Now, the region’s mills continue to produce most of England’s worsted and woollen fabric, used by many of the world’s great fashion brands, high-end retailers and tailors such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Burberry, Paul Smith, Etro, Hugo Boss, and on London’s Savile Row.

Soft water from the Yorkshire Pennines, and a cool, humid climate is the ideal mixture for textile manufacturing. Yorkshire mills combine a proud and rich heritage with extraordinary craftsmanship, innovation and design skills. They have upped their game even more in recent years. Not only to produce some of the finest cloths in the world, but to stretch the boundaries of luxury fabric. The cashmere and mohair fabric used for the dinner suit worn by Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace was woven by Taylor and Lodge in Huddersfield. They use in the finishing process today the same skills which, for generations, have given Huddersfield its reputation as an undisputed world leader in the production of fine worsted cloths.

“Fashion past and present”

Wooden machines using natural soap still wash some pieces. A moorland stream that flows alongside the mill supplies the water. The super luxury cloth from the label Dormeuil used to create the world’s most expensive suit, costing £40,000, launched last year by Alexander Amosu, was woven in Keighley. Industrial giants such as Sir Titus Salt, who founded Saltaire, and Samuel Lister, founder of Manningham’s Lister Mills, helped put Yorkshire on the map.

Now the foresight, involvement and efforts of these great men is seen by the innovation of the present mill owners. They still produce luxury cloth for suits and jackets and have diversified into technical and industrial textiles. So next time a cloth cap and a whippet are used to reinforce some dodgy northern stereotype, suggest a trip to Harvey Nics – where fashion giants past and present have united to update a proud Yorkshire legacy.

Pictures: Steve Stenson

yorkshire textiles logo


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