A new space for design and fashion.
In the Ouseborn Valley in Newcastle, three towering bridges, along with a well-balanced mix of nature, industrial might and cultural vibrancy, all make for a charming, understated, and beautiful quarter of the city.
I'm here to meet Nina McDonnell and the team behind Fifth, a new, original and forward-thinking gallery space dedicated solely exhibiting fashion and design, with a heavy emphasis on showcasing local talent. The idea for Fifth first came about over five years ago when Nina was working as a barmaid as well as taking evening classes in fashion and design. A casual conversation about the concept of designers being allocated an individual rail in a shop to display their work stuck with her as a great idea, and has subsequently become foundational to Fifth.
"It's a platform to support local designers," says Nina, 27, "You've got places like Brickworks and The Biscuit Factory, but nothing dedicated to solely fashion and design in Newcastle. We're looking at changing that."
The designs will be shown in a bespoke and malleable space opposite the Ship Inn at the bottom of Stepney Bank. "We wanted a New York loft feel to it," says Nina of the gallery space, which was designed with the help of designers Dominik Maliszewski and Rob Gulliver. High ceilings and a colour scheme of grey and white give it an appropriately contemporary feel, and the space will change entirely with each new work on show. "The location was pivotal. For example, if it were in Jesmond it wouldn't have worked. The concept only works because it's in an area that supports the arts."
The main challenge is in nurturing a scene in Newcastle that will one day not only rival London - for its monopoly of fashion – and Leeds – for being home to alternative style – but surpass them and be a leading city in its own right for style.
Luke Kane, a childhood friend of Nina and part of the group, emphasizes the importance of what Fifth is trying to achieve: "Despite having a great facility for fashion and design at the universities, there's nothing here to support designers afterwards. What we want to do is help support them and get them established in the city."
Nina adds: "What we're anticipating is that a lot of graduates will put forward their collections from their final year. We want original pieces, we want cutting edge - things you can't get from anywhere else."
Max, one of the designers who will be exhibiting his work when the gallery opens, sees it is a brilliant opportunity for local designers and agrees that the uniqueness of Fifth is the value placed in retaining talent in the north-east. Clearly fond of his home city, he says, "I don't particularly want to move away. I've got my own house and family, and I wouldn't necessarily want to live in London."
Not only does Fifth provide a space, explains Nina, "but also act as an agency that promotes designers, represents them, gets them advertisement space, and of course we host original events where they get exposure."
She explains further, "Of course it is a bit of risk, £450 a month, but fashion designers will give their stuff away for free, and designers that I know have done this to get their work out there. I've seen it happen, I've seen people spent hundred of pounds and however amount of hours on it just to get it out there for nothing, and that to me is wrong, so I'm here to kind of help balance that. What I'm hoping for, is to run it as a social enterprise."
"I love Newcastle," enthuses Nina, "it's got a lot going on, and I can honestly say that through my own life experience here, it's a great city to live in."