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Turning the streets into a catwalk; Laura Davis reports on a new exhibition examining the fashion of people out and about in the city centre.

Byline: Laura Davis

WHEN style guru Isabella Blow dubbed Liverpool "Liver-cool" in high society bible Tatler four years ago, she only confirmed what most of us already knew about the city.

People in Liverpool love clothes - although the outfits you spot around the region may not fit in with the current trends in the rest of the country.

Whether they are women dressing up in kaleidoscopic designer frocks and gargantuan hats for Ladies Day racing or lads hanging around on street corners in their tracksuits, Merseysiders never fail to make a statement.

Even the notorious outdoor pyjamas wearers ensure their nightwear is freshly laundered and carefully pressed before they venture out in it.

Liverpool's eccentric sense of style - from Westwood suits to woolly hats and mittens - has been captured in a photographic project that will be the National Conservation Centre's first exhibition when it reopens after being redeveloped next week.

Photographers Mark McNulty and Victoria Spofforth spent several weeks taking pictures of people of all ages and backgrounds they found on the streets. The result is a display of more than 20 images that provide an affectionate insight into the "Liverpool look".

"Although Liverpool's gone through an amazing renaissance and is fast becoming a modern European city, it has been over the past 20-odd years quite a poor city," says Liverpool-born McNulty, 40, who has been documenting the city's popular culture for several decades.

"People here are far more glamorous than you would maybe expect from a city that was struggling at times."

There are young boys in football kits, fashion students wearing retro-style outfits and dolled-up women on a girls night out in the Cavern Quarter.

Two androgynous twenty-somethings with asymmetric haircuts and drainpipe jeans lean against a corrugated iron shutter. Two blondes with matching barnets and almost identical black power suits stand in front of a clothes shop. In another picture, two men wearing tracksuits are shown staring into the camera.

"There's a couple of people I picked randomly, there's people I've picked through other people and there's people I've actually known," explains McNulty, who lives in Aigburth.

"I've chosen different types of people. I wanted to show bits of Liverpool as well. I didn't want the places to be anonymous."

Street Life aims to explain how fashion can signal many things from individual identity, membership of a particular group, allegiance to a favourite football team or pop group. He added: "It's a non judgmental exhibition. There are all kinds of different people in there. On the streets of any city, the scallies or casual kids might be laughing at the punk kids and they might be sniggering at the dressed-up kids.

"People have all got their own opinions and their own different styles. But the whole thing about this is that it's non-judgmental, this is what people look like.

"So I didn't want to pose people because that makes me start judging it myself."

One thing both photographers agree on is that the exhibition isn't intended to portray catwalk or high street fashion.

"Not everything is about high street fashion.

"I've got a couple who are older, who love their designer clothes and wear a lot of Vivienne Westwood but they're in their 60s, and I've photographed skaters, Goth kids down at the Pier Head," says McNulty.

Spofforth, 25, who is based in Manchester, agrees: "Most people think of fashion as the current fashions in the shops but it wasn't like that for me in this project.

"There are people of all ages and professions."

It took two weeks for Spofforth to find the images she wanted and, not being from Liverpool, she was surprised by what she found.

"I haven't spent that much time in Liverpool but it's quite notorious for night-life and girls getting really dressed up," says Spofforth, a photographic assistant who grew up in Suffolk.

"I didn't realise how diverse the city is and I tried to show that.

"I went to different areas of Liverpool to get different backgrounds and types of people. I tried to get all ages from children to more elderly people to young professionals but it was quite a spontaneous thing really.

"There seemed to be a lot of tracksuits. I took a photo of two guys and one of them said 'there's only one word for fashion in Liverpool and it's tracksuit'."

STREET Life: Liverpool in Fashion, a collaboration between Peppered Sprout Design Company and National Museums Liverpool, opens at the National Conservation Centre on Monday June 12 and runs until August 20. It has been supported by the Liverpool Culture Company.

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The photographers

LIVERPOOL-BORN, Mark McNulty, 40, works both commercially and editorially in the city, as well as continuing to work on his own projects.

He has photographed a galaxy of stars including Vivienne Westwood, Bjork, Paul McGann, Willy Russell, Portishead, Cyril Smith and Ricky Tomlinson.

The artist's music photography has been published in magazines such Italian Vogue, NME, The Face, Mixmag and Plastic Rhino.

He also shoots fashion, portraiture and advertising images on behalf of clients such as Duck & Cover Clothing, The Met Quarter, Tula, The Mersey Partnership, University Of Liverpool, and Schuh.

McNulty's work has featured in three exhibitions at Liverpool's world famous Open Eye Gallery and at Bradford's National Museum of Photography, Film & Television.

A FREELANCE photographer and graphic artist based in Manchester, Victoria Spofforth, 25, is an active member of Redeye, a North West photography network, which provides information, events, training and professional development for local photographers.

A graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University, she produces her own projects whilst working on commissions incorporating both her photographic and design skills.

She is currently producing a publication that will accompany a photography exhibition at the Lowry in Manchester in September.


Fashion students show off their own unique styles in Liverpool city centre Picture: VICTORIA SPOFFORTH' From pensioners going out to the shops, through to a group of women out for a day at the races, the photographs manage to show the vibrancy of life on the Liverpool streets Pictures: VICTORIA SPOFFORTH' The two pictures above reveal the cool modern look that can be seen while in the suburbs Pictures: MARK MCNULTY
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2006
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