Artist and fashion designer Yaku Stapleton presents an exhibition of objects and garments, inspired by the illustrious clothing, textile production and tailoring heritage of New Briggate and beyond.
As part of East Street Arts’ Hidden Histories of New Briggate project, Envisaging New Briggate’s Tomorrow showcases a reimagining of clothing for communities of Leeds, today and in the future. To inspire the wearable artworks, Yaku has taken a deep look into the communities, fashion, clothing and costume that has been present on the street over the years. This is presented here via three ‘looks’, and an accompanying display which highlights the research and work with local communities integral to shaping this exhibition.
Meet the Characters:
Invisible Stitch: a tailored approach to Leeds’ Jewish legacy
During a creative tour in 2022, Yaku encountered Robert Dyson, a Jewish historian, who provided insights into Leeds’ Jewish history, including the location of a former synagogue on New Briggate. This sparked Yaku’s interest in the late 1800s, a period marked by significant Jewish immigration to Leeds and the establishment of their community in The Leylands. This group’s tailoring expertise was crucial in establishing Leeds as a leader in quality clothing and bespoke tailoring, with the city producing 60% of Britain’s suits by the 1960s. Invisible Stitch explores this history, focusing on the Jewish community’s impact on tailoring. Robert later introduced Yaku to Harold Rose, whose family had opened a clothing factory behind Leeds’ Grand Theatre. Harold’s and Robert’s stories further highlighted the Jewish community’s integral role in shaping Leeds’ tailoring legacy, now woven into the city’s very fabric.
Loraptor: paying homage to Leeds West Indian Carnival
Loraptor pays homage to the iconic Leeds West Indian Carnival, Europe’s oldest authentic Caribbean carnival which visited New Briggate as part of a former parade route. Yaku delved into the carnival’s costume-making culture by spending time with renowned Leeds costume designers Lorina and Fenella Gumbs from the AnonyMas troupe, and Hughbon and Seph Condor of High Esteem. Assisting them in preparation for this year’s carnival offered a deeper understanding of the intricacy, dedication, time, and effort that goes into this annual heritage event.
Feel Goood: a celebration of those who dressed to impress
From the iconic jazz club Studio 20 to the elegant Leeds Grand Theatre and many bars, pubs and clubs in between, New Briggate has a long history of nightlife and entertainment; encouraging visitors to don their finest going-out gear and frequent the street’s hot spots. After a creative workshop and conversation, Yaku invited some of the women from Feel Good Factor to co-create Feel Goood – a piece that blends elements of their most memorable outfits from their younger days.
Each look is presented on characters co-created with local communities from the Co-Op Academy and Leeds Grand Youth Theatre. Yaku introduced the local young people to New Briggate’s history, encouraging them to use it as inspiration for creating characters that reflect the local historical dress fashion. This creative journey started with 2D collages and drawings, evolving into plasticine sculptures and draping with second-hand garments, which partly inspired the final designs. These sculptures were later digitally transformed into 3D and premiered at Leeds Light Night 2023 in St John’s Churchyard, where they were animated and projected by Dan Fox. Now, these characters transition from the digital realm back into the physical world to wear the garments for this presentation.
Yaku Stapleton is an artist and fashion designer, based in London. Yaku graduated from a BA in Fashion at Leeds Beckett University in 2021, then went on to study MA Fashion (Menswear) at UAL Central Saint Martins (2021-23). In February 2023, Yaku won the prestigious L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award, which recognises exceptional talent amongst UAL’s graduating students. Yaku’s work focuses on perception, natural form, and self-exploration through the lens of Afrofuturism. He realises these themes through garments, sculpture, furniture, and digital design.
Yaku worked with Letrelle Kwele on the space design for the exhibition.
Hidden Histories of New Briggate is supported by Leeds City Council and Historic England through the New Briggate High Street Heritage Action Zone regeneration programme.
Find Yaku: @yaku.____
Photos © Hannah Platt & © Wes Foster.