Say what you like about Northern style (and many in the South certainly will), but Chris Bailey, managing director and designer of Jigsaw Menswear, is confident that Northern Man is ready for it. "There was a divide once, but now Northern men are pretty much square with London men in terms of style. Men see their famous footballing heroes dressed in designer wear and there are more magazines directed at men showing that it's cool to wear bright clothes and unusual fabrics. "
The stereotype of Northern men's style is Geordies in Union Jack shorts, Terry-from-Brookside perms and, God forbid, shell suits. At the Jigsaw event, though - which featured a fashion show in association with Arena magazine and the launch of Select Models' competition to find the Face of '97 - there was evidence that the stereotype was in need of revision. "It's rough and ready, relaxed and colourful," says Cyrille Lyons, Manchester DJ and musician, summing up Northern Man's style. In addition to the 20 models striding down the catwalk, there were style aficionados and male model hopefuls packed into the audience from as far apart as Leeds and Aberdeen.
Hip celebrity northerners, from bands such as Oasis and Cast to boxer Prince Naseem Hamed, have punctured the myth that men north of the Watford Gap have no sense of the cutting edge. This burgeoning market is reflected in the fact that Jigsaw's Manchester branch is next door to DKNY, Armani and Patrick Cox, with a new Hugo Boss store just around the corner.
Lonneke Broadrib, a talent scout who represents the men's division at Select, sees rich pickings in the North for its Face of '97. "We've had the 1980s, the new man, the off-beat strange-looking guy, and now we're looking for someone who's more of a character, like an actor." Northern models are particularly appealing, she says, because they have "a lot of personality and an individualistic sense of humour. The fashion industry can be very highbrow, and guys from the North are down-to-earth and helpful. Clients like that."
The idea that Northern men's style lacks individuality is breaking down with the growth of designer shops in places such as the Victoria Quarter in Leeds or Manchester's King Street. Many men, though, still feel nervous about sticking out from the crowd. "Guys up here are more self-conscious about what they wear," says Steve, a 25-year-old retailer. "If it's on the Paris catwalk it's good, it's safe. I hear a lot saying things such as: 'If I were in London I'd wear such and such, but not here'.''
David Bradshaw, fashion director of Arena, agrees that London is an easier place in which to express difference and show off. "London is unique because it's so cosmopolitan, there's such a clash of cultures, but a lot of people who look good come from the North. They feel more comfortable dressing outlandishly in London."
While many northern men may dress cautiously, those that favour the extreme are famously extreme. The North has pioneered key styles, often music or club-related, from The Beatles mop top, to northern soul mod in the 1970s, to 1980s Leeds goth and Manchester's Gay Village and 1990 rave scene.
"Manchester epitomised the rave era. We had it first and the look followed through," recalls David Oldham, art director at Vidal Sassoon. "Everyone was in baggy sweat shirts and silly hats. Manchester was mad then - people came from London to go clubbing at the Hacienda."
The other great 1990s influence is Liverpool Scally: a casual, arrogant, designer sportswear style that has been widely adapted and glamorised by the Gallagher brothers. "It's about having a laugh, having a beer and having a good haircut," says Lee Elliott, a 26-year-old male model from Merseyside. The essence of Scally seems to be attitude. Tony Wilson, MD of Factory Records, eloquently pinpoints this as "not giving a shit. I bought some great boots in Austria recently, but until then I wore fantastic suits with bad shoes. As a Mancunian I've been happily wearing shit footwear for a long time, whereas if I were a Londoner I'd worry about it". As Manchester dancer Kema Ekpei declares: "It doesn't matter if someone says you look like a dickhead. I decide what I want to wear, not what men's magazines dictate. I don't need to look in GQ to see if I've got it right."
ADAM CAPPER, 21, CREWE
Occupation: Student ... Personal style: I'm very influenced by the Sixties and Seventies, that's the image I try to put across. Northern style: Manchester is brilliant for second-hand clothes - Chainsaw in Aflecks Palace and American New & Used have fantastic imports and every week they've got something new in. Listens to: Jamiroquai, Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the Levellers. My family's Irish so I've been brought up on live music and I love anything with live instruments ... Hangs out at: Hacienda, Applejacks ... Hero-worships: Joe Satriani (guitarist) ...Reuse content