As Victoria Gate looks set to shake up the city’s retail landscape, Lee Hicken, producer of the film Fashion in Leeds, which examines the Yorkshire city’s retail renaissance, talks to Drapers.
lee hicken portrait
Why did you want to make the film?
We wanted to tell the stories of the fashion community in Leeds – it’s typical of the city’s creative scene to hide its stories away. Huge retailers such as Marks & Spencer, Burton and Next started here, and used to be the bedrock of the city, but no one really connects them to Leeds.
Is the fashion industry in Leeds having a revival?
Different sectors and skills feed off each other, and there’s some really cool creative stuff going on in Leeds in tech and gaming. You get that beautiful cocktail of people in bars or coffee shops who start to bounce off each other. The scene has a really good buzz around it. The creative talent want to stay and we have to make sure they can, by creating the jobs and projects that allow people to have a career here.
How has the centre of Leeds changed in recent years?
There are a lot of independent retailers who are getting braver. When Trinity Leeds opened, it was a real turning point for the city centre retail offer. Before that, we had a huge hole in the middle of our main street. You still had the great independents like Accent and The Hip Store, but Leeds city centre didn’t feel exciting. People would come to stores because they were destinations, but they wouldn’t hang around and explore anything else. Trinity helped to rejuvenate the city centre and you start to see more things springing up around it.
How do you think Victoria Gate will impact on the city?
It’ll have a great impact, but differently to Trinity (which opened in the city in 2013). If it helps drive up footfall – which we all expect it will do – that’s a good think. I think Victoria Gate will increase the footfall into the city centre and that can only be a good thing for retailers. It will add to the eco-system and we’ll have some new international stuff arriving. The better the retail mix in the city centre, the better independent retailers should do.
Why is fashion important to the city?
Fashion was a really significant part of the city’s economy. Leeds was built on textiles and fashion businesses such as AW Hainsworth and M&S. The brands that were born here shaped the city. It was really influential. It’s a huge part of our heritage, the story and the soul of the city are really steeped in fashion.