Waking up in the early hours of a Wednesday morning (7:30am is practically the middle of the night for a student), we were unusually excited to head to campus.  As 45 of us boarded a coach to Birmingham on the 8th December, expectations were high for the Clothes Show live exhibition.

As Clothes Show virgins we certainly had our ideas of grandeur and as a spectacle, the event did not disappoint. However, the Clothes Show’s niche clientele were not exactly as we had imagined. We were expecting effortless, boundary-pushing style but were bombarded with impractically dressed (it was below zero outside) teenagers. It was immediately apparent that towering heels were an ill-informed choice in a venue of this size – but maybe we’re just getting grumpy and practical in our old age.

The Clothes Show is essentially a huge market – think Camden under the glare of arena lights. The venue was divided into four sections: purple, blue, pink and red. Purple was ‘fashion inspired by the streets’ (didn’t sound too promising), Blue claimed to be ‘fabulous fashion’, there was hair and beauty in the Pink Zone and finally ‘pulse racing fashion’ in the Red area. On the journey to Birmingham we made a plan of action: avoid the Purple Zone, head straight for Blue and decide on Pink and Red later. In the best military-strategy fashion we decided this plan would give us plenty of time to check out the vintage and one-off stalls, and peruse the high street and beauty sections in the afternoon. Elbows at the ready, we entered the enormous space and were certainly not disappointed by the sheer scale of the event. Our bank accounts braced themselves for an onslaught.

Clothes Show

The day consisted mostly of getting separated from your friends and hopelessly lost – Jasmin, like a demented magpie, kept running off every time something shiny caught her eye, whilst Char was on a mission to find a particular pair of leggings and nothing was going to get in her way. Logistics aside, there was a good atmosphere and what appeared to be plenty of variety, however, after the first ten stalls it was clear we were stuck in our very own fashion Groundhog Day. We probably got so lost and confused because everything looked the same: t-shirts and dresses with the same prints, identical reclaimed jewellery, and several companies with multiple stalls selling exactly the same stuff. It all felt like a bit of a con – most items that looked handmade and one-off were available at another stall just around the corner. Not only this, but market-stall quality seemed to be selling at a premium, and a bargain was pretty hard to find.

However, hidden amongst the mass-produced nightmare were some genuinely exciting finds. We stumbled across the ‘Manhattan Vintage Jewellery Company’ which, unlike a lot of other stalls, provided a huge stock of interesting and unique vintage pieces at a decent price. A stall selling knitted hoods – kind of like hats, but not a snood – was also refreshingly innovative. Every hood was unique as each one was made from reclaimed material, ranging from shiny gold Lycra to woolly Fair Isle with a fur lining as warm as any cossack hat. For bargain vests and t-shirts, a few traders were offering ‘2 for £10’ on tees with iconic images from the 1960’s until the present day (think John Lennon up to Lady Gaga), which were pretty good value even if you did feel like you had walked straight onto the set of Eastenders.

Once we’d had our fill of clothes and accessories for the day we made our way to the Red Zone to peruse the health and beauty area. The layout and atmosphere were far more relaxed and on-stage demonstrations of products and beauty tricks made this area feel a lot more interactive. The appeal of the products themselves was debatable – unless poodle-curl hair is de rigueur for 2011 we’ll be giving it a miss thanks, but at least we walked away with some free stuff which is always a bonus. Attending the final day of The Clothes Show was possibly disadvantageous in the Red Zone at least, since we missed out on the celebrity hairstylist make-overs which would probably have been good entertainment.

Clothes Show

The event was a great outlet for showcasing innovative, bright university talent, with many of the country’s top fashion and design courses displaying some of their students’ work. A bit more of this rising talent showcasing would have made the Clothes Show a lot more interesting. That said, the sporadic catwalks, performances by ‘celebrities’ and tutorials broke up the monotony of the day, and there was enough entertainment to keep us occupied once we were all shopped-out. The day ended on a high…or rather a guilty pleasure: The Clothes Show itself. Hosted by George Lamb and some woman we didn’t really notice because GEORGE LAMB was there, it brought a change of pace to the day and a welcomed seat. The show was bizarrely constructed around themes such as Halloween and High School Musical, and for anyone over the age of sixteen it was all a little bit naff. Boy bands galore performed at the beginning of the show, none of which we had heard of, but plenty of screaming girls seemed to appreciate it. Evidently, the target demographic for the show was considerably younger than us, but that didn’t mar our appreciation of what was an impressive spectacle. The catwalk was timed to perfection and as complex as any other runway show, with some strikingly beautiful clothes and professional models.

Reflecting on the day on the coach ride back to Nottingham, it was hard to summarise our impressions of The Clothes Show Live. It was certainly impressive in scale, but the catwalk show was definitely the saving grace of a slightly disappointing selection of wares in the exhibition itself. It feels as though something has been lost amidst a plethora of mass-produced clothing that could be bought in the Broadmarsh Centre. Therein lies the problem – if The Clothes Show isn’t offering something unique, then surely it’s not worth the trip. Quality not quantity should be the mantra of 2011’s organisers: Don’t sell out at the expense of the unique, independent companies we all came to see.

Jasmin Watts and Charlotte Gelipter
Images by Jasmin Watts

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