New exhibition explores the history of fashion in Birmingham

Catherine Muxworthy June 1, 2023

An exhibition titled It’s Not Unusual – which features a series of photographs by local artist Gary Lindsay-Moore – explores the history of fashion in Birmingham. The exhibition at the National Trust – Birmingham Back to Backs previewed during Birmingham Pride weekend before it opens officially Friday, June 9.

The images in this exhibition “are inspired by the Kahn & Bell shop which was located at 72 Hurst Street from 1976 through to the mid-1980s,” explains the National Trust website.

“The shop was owned by Jane Kahn and Patti Bell who were innovators in the punk and new romantic scene in Birmingham. They have been described as Birmingham’s equivalent to Vivienne Westwood and dressed famous bands such as Duran Duran and Bucks Fizz.”

Gary Lindsay-Moore was just 17 when he first visited the Kahn & Bell shop and he described it as a pivotal moment in his life.

“Against the backdrop of a bleak social scene in the late ’70s, the punk movement was vibrant, loud and a statement that young people had something to say. Kahn & Bell were at the centre of this scene in Birmingham.

“The shop was a place for people to gather and hang out, and inspired people who came in with their innovative and often outrageous designs. They were influential in the new romantic movement, which blurred the lines between what had previously been considered male and female clothing.

“Many men also started to style themselves with makeup. This exhibition is a homage to Patti and the truly iconic designs of Kahn & Bell.”

Gary’s photographs used in this exhibition feature original Kahn & Bell garments, and he has chosen models that reflect what he feels is the ‘spirit of Kahn & Bell’. Alongside the photographs, the exhibition will also be showing some of the original clothes and photographs from the time.

Among the models chosen for Gary’s photos are people that have a direct connection to the shop including local drag legend, Twiggy, who worked there as a teenager.

Twiggy told Scene: “I worked there from 1982 for a few months, helping out on Saturdays as I was still at school. But after leaving school I was there more often. It was amazing being part of a movement that influenced fashion locally and worldwide.

“Patti Bell and Gay Jon (the latter of whom also worked in the shop with Twiggy and later organised club nights) had such an incredible influence on me through their creativity which really helped me in finding my feet and I still go back to the impact they had on me if I get stuck for ideas. I met some of the most visionary people of my life and I am forever eternally grateful to have been a part of Kahn and Bell.”

This free exhibition “sheds light on the incredible work of Patti Bell and Jane Kahn and the fascinating history of Southside, the local area, through the lens of Gary’s work,” explains the National Trust. The exhibition does not need booking and can be accessed via the second-hand bookshop at 61 Hurst Street. However, if you wish to visit the Back to Backs at the same time, you will need to book that.

Gary Lindsay-Moore: It’s Not Unusual runs from June 9 until December 17.