Out with the old and in with the... old?
Out with the old and in with the... old?
By Philip Haynes
“Been there done that, sold the T-shirt,” retorts the self-proclaimed originator of the Northern Quarter's retro-chic explosion.
The mere mention of Manchester's myriad vintage clothes shops gets Nigel Lawson, manager of Oipolloi Clothing in Tib Street, hot under his decidedly non-winged collar.
“There are too many retro stores in the Northern Quarter, and we were the first,” he insists.
His store, based deep within Manchester’s bohemian district, has moved with times, says Nigel, and now sells the newest fashions by the latest designers. In fact the orginal retro shop seems almost out of place flanked by vintage boutiques. But this wasn’t always the case, as Nigel is keen to point out.
“We used to sell second hand clothing," he says. "But with the rise of all the vintage retro shops opening around us we realised that the market was drying out so we decided to concentrate on new designs.”
However, a short trip around what is fast becoming Manchester’s premier shopping district suggests otherwise.
In a city where individuality is all the rage, niche shops are favoured by Manchester’s hip young things. A stone's throw away from Oipolloi is a wallet-busting number of shops specialising in second hand living. It’s hard to imagine a time when Oxfam and the like were frowned upon by young people - when nowadays the opposite is true.
Pop Boutique in Oldham Street is a benchmark for vintage clothes stores everywhere. Established over 20 years ago, Pop has grown from a basement hideaway into a high street competitor, complete with its own fashion label.
Its garish designs are reminiscent of pictures of your parents back in the 70’s. Backed up by the obligatory lava lamps and orange leatherette furniture, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled onto the set of an Austin Powers film.
The proud manager of Pop Boutique gushes over its unrivalled success. “We stock our own label which is basically a take on retro designs,” she explains. Known affectionately as Mel Pop, the successful businesswoman displays absolute confidence in her brand and admits to a rather original take on their retro designs. “Most of is made from recycled old fabrics which are made to look vintage but actually aren’t.”
But just what is it that makes retro designs so appealing these days? “I think a lot of the interest is down to the footballer’s wives culture we have nowadays,” says Mel. “They take it upon themselves to wear 60s prints, and everyone who wants to look like a Wag these days follows suit.”
Mel points out the race for individuality also plays a key role. “If you’re buying vintage clothes you’re not going to see someone else wearing the same dress, or the same trousers,” she says. “People definitely come to these places for their own piece of individuality.”
Whether you’re reliving the 80s in a Members Only jacket or hoping to recapture lost youth by way of a retro Adidas tracksuit it’s worth noting that the Northern Quarter is also the place to find the fashion of the future.
Young designers with their own unique take on style get the chance to sell their garments through boutiques such as Pop, says Mel.
“We support local designers and allow them the chance to create and sell their own designs,” she explains with pride. “That’s what makes the Northern Quarter so great - we give people the chance to do their own thing.”
Giving young designers a chance is part of the fabric of the Northern Quarter, whether it's through music or fashion. A short distance from Pop Boutique, Rags To Riches on Tib Street is one of the best places for young creative designers to get noticed.
Lauren Clowes is an up and coming designer whose own clothing range is about to be showcased at Rags To Riches on May 17.
“Everyone is crying out to be individual, I mean if you're out and you see another girl with the same top on as you, you’re gutted,” she explains. “It’s good to know you’ve got something that no one else has. It makes you feel special.”
She admits to spending most of her time in and around the Northern Quarter, satisfying her passion for retro fashion. “My clothes are made up of vintage fabrics and have a vintage look but are still quite new so it’s a case of blending the past with the present.”
The bohemian chameleon nature of the Northern Quarter makes it the perfect place for entrepreneurs with a young target audience, who flock to the cobbled streets. “I think the fact that it’s still quite hidden plays a factor,” says Lauren, as she sips herbal tea in one of the area's many cafes. "It’s constantly changing and re-inventing itself which adds to its appeal. You’d be surprised at the amount of people I tell about it that don’t know where it is."
With the growing appeal of one-off garments and retro styling spell the end of high street fashion? “I don’t think so, there’s plenty of room for the Topshops and Primarks of this world,” stresses Shane Ryan, the manager of family run business Ryan Boutique on Oldham Street.
“You find that many people come to places like this buy something and then mix and match it with something from, say, Primark.”
While Shane confesses that his boutique is "one of the new kids on the block", he is quick to point out that the retro boutiques and high street stores can work side by side. “It's always been like that for me. I could quite easily pick up a pair of vintage jeans and put it with something from the high street: there’s room for both.”
So, next time you feel the need for some colour in your life, or you feel an indentity crisis coming on, step back in time and visit the Northern Quarter. It might be the city's best kept secret... but for how long?