My City Fashion Wayfinding

Photographer and Model Laura Bailey Went on a Whirlwind Voyage to Manchester with Chanel. Here’s Her Guide to Experiencing the City

All collages courtesy of Laura Bailey.

I owe Manchester. For the music. The lads. The style. And the football. The words and the pictures, the jokes and the fight. Shelagh Delaney and Jeanette Winterson, LINDER and OASIS… Northern stars burn bright.

I was happy to have an excuse to return to the city, haunted by half-ghost memories blurred with the music that became the soundtrack of my life. I only went to the Haçienda once, stone cold sober as a seriously shy 18-year-old, but I’m glad I was almost, kind of there. Then. And now.

Last week, I experienced two worlds at once in Manchester. Full sensory immersion aboard planet Chanel, but I also stalked the city alone. The best Manchester research as a tourist is undertaken simply by walking absolutely everywhere and chatting with locals, in cafes, at the pub, on the street. Getting lost is a good idea, as is letting go of the default speedy London angst and brittle armor and embracing strangers with curiosity and a smile.

I hiked the canal towpaths under charcoal scribbled storm clouds and gazed at the glittery skyscape that so often subs for New York in modern movies, all with a sense of edgy momentum. (Times are still so tough for too many.)

As the rest of the U.K. wakes up to the potential and opportunity—as well as the talent—in the city, investment follows the promise of a “cultural renaissance”: the ENO is relocating; the shiny new AVIVA Studios complex is attracting talent from Es Devlin to Manc icon Johnny Marr for sold-out shows; the old Granada Studios building is becoming a Soho House; and everyone else is late to the party.


World class museums and libraries (see my incomplete list of recommendations below) as well as the university and art school are thriving in active dialogue with the past and future. And, of course, football chat is forever the fast track to access all areas. Manchester is tribal and emotional, and (dressed) up for it. Arty melancholia and reds vs blues.

Stories entwine. The house of Chanel’s long love affair with Great Britain—sport and nature as well as the nightlife and academia—continues to thrive in terms of both inspiration and business. The iconic tweed, originally borrowed by Gabrielle Chanel from her lover the Duke of Westminster on their Cheshire walks, was here reimagined by Virginie Viard via acid bright suits, neat polo shirts, and oversized jackets for the 2023/24 Métiers d’art show in Manchester, designed to highlight the expert Atelier crafts of Le19M (like the embroidery of Lesage, the jewelry of Goosens, and shoemaker Massaro) as well as the city’s bold verve and grit.

Knee socks, mary-janes and paper-boy caps felt like a wink to ‘60s films like Billy Liar and A Taste of Honey, our heroine reimagined as a modern indie chanteuse, the barelegged backstage beauty of raw youth and possibility, styled to move not pose. No glossy supermodel pouts on Thomas Street in the still photogenically gritty Northern Quarter. More of a sulky nod to pop and the underground, acid house and northern soul.


“For me, Manchester is the city of music,” says Viard, designer and creative director of Chanel, for whom riffing on the historic house’s codes is never nostalgic. Ever-evolving patronage and creative dialogue with art and culture internationally is the connecting force. The show’s soundtrack, as always masterminded by Michel Gaubert, included Afrodeutsche and remixed Joy Division, with brand artwork by Factory Records founder Peter Saville and Sofia Coppola on video and art direction. Almost greedy.

Only in Manchester with Chanel could one experience a secret, one-off supper club at the Salford Lads Club, dance to Primal Scream at midnight at the iconic Victoria Baths, listen awestruck to Jeanette Winterson grieve her secret stash of books being burnt in the backyard of her childhood home, and hang out with local hero and pioneering performance poet John Cooper Clarke after his hypercharged reading in the speakeasy basement of O! Pesto Destroyed.

Just before I left town I met artist Sarah Joy Ford, whose work I discovered at the Whitworth’s autumn show, “(Un)Defining Queer.” She spoke with passion of her hometown, connecting her work to its history of activism and feminism and the anti-establishment textile art of the first suffragettes and the banners of protest, resistance and solidarity. Proud Mancunians acknowledge the struggles but also their fierce loyalty to roots and community “at once untamed and unmetropolitan; … connected and worldly” as Jeanette Winterson writes in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

There’ll always be a friend of a friend to help you find your way in Manchester, but I’m sharing my work-in-progress postcard notes with CULTURED; the time is now.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Stock Exchange Hotel on an elegant corner of Norfolk Street. I didn’t get to snoop on the suites of Kristen Stewart or Hugh Grant, but my room was a chic oasis of calm amidst the fashion circus, and the welcome is classic Manchester: open-arms, warmth, imagination.

I also checked out the King Street Townhouse with friends, aglow with velvet brights and fairylit fireplaces and boasting a popular spa.

The restaurant at the Lowry Hotel is a destination in its own right, and the Dakota (where bands have been known to book out entire floors) is business-casual slick. From there you can walk door-to-door along the towpath to the Etihad Stadium.

Where to Get Cultured

AVIVA STUDIOS X Factory International is a dazzling and ambitious new space for the arts which will also become the home of the multidisciplinary Manchester International Festival. This place feels like the future.

The Whitworth Art Gallery is my favorite museum (and sculpture garden) in Manchester. I caught the [Albrecht] Dürer drawing show and will return for the first major retrospective of Caribbean British artist and poet John Lyons come spring.

The People’s History Museum is an award-winning national museum of democracy, championing workers’ and womens’ rights, spotlighting oppression and discrimination, and celebrating solidarity. (Note: closed January 2024).

HOME is Manchester’s popular arts center. All singing, all dancing—cinemas, a theater and a buzzy café.

The Portico Library is a shelter from the storm amidst "Polite Literature" and historic manuscripts. All welcome, whether for tea and cake, or quiet study. A gem.

Part of the University of Manchester and a world-renowned research institute, the John Rylands Library is housed in a late Victorian neo-Gothic splendor in the heart of the city. The best place to discover the history of the city.

The Manchester Museum is a smaller, quirkier natural history museum. I explored the golden mummies of ancient Egypt surrounded by an excitable school trip gaggle, but this university museum is a science student research resource as well as a local favorite.

A city center institution, the Manchester Art Gallery is particularly strong on both local art (I loved discovering the work of Anna Louisa Swynnerton, Sylvia Melland, and Nahem Shoa) and the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Manchester Craft and Design Centre is special. Especially at Christmastime. Meet the makers in their studios and support Manchester’s independent designers. Regular exhibitions and workshops too.

Paradise Works is an artist-led studio community and gallery space in Salford, established in 2017. Check out their open studio days and upcoming shows online.

Salford Lads and Girls’ Club is an iconic building and an essential fangirl pilgrimage for “The Smiths Room”—a true labor of love over decades. The Club archive is also a fascinating history of Salford since Edwardian times. The Club has now been serving the community for 120 years thanks to passionate volunteers and coaches. A true beacon of solidarity through sport. Boxing, snooker, football…(I did my Christmas shopping at the quirky gift store too). Visit on Wednesdays or Saturdays 11-2. Just show up!

Described by creative director Austin Collings as “probably more of a cult than a club,” the White Hotel is an inclusive, unpretentious music venue, off the beaten track, rough and ready, beloved by bands and fans alike.

Where to Eat and Drink

I first read about Erst when a friend’s restaurant came in second in a national award. The Manchester hotspot came first. Small plates and natural wine in the heart of buzzy Ancoats.

Just a joy to stumble upon the Edinburgh Castle. Might not be the prettiest or the oldest, but it blitzed my blues and felt like the perfect pause amidst my Ancoats exploration. Wanted to magic my best friends there for a Manchester moment of pure play, no work.

A local favorite for Mediterranean tapas, CANTO is a hop and a skip from the Edinburgh Castle.

Higher Ground is a popular British bistro and bar focused on the local and seasonal.

El Capo is a Northern Quarter favorite. It’s temporarily closed, but rumored to be reopening soon.

El Gato Negro on King St has an open roof terrace come summer.

The Hip Hop Chip Shop started on the street in a trailer and found a home in Ancoats. Tunes and happenings, and even a small big screen. Vegan options too (my kind of chippie).

O! Peste Destroyed is a beloved bar, bookshop and music venue, championing the avant-garde in iconic bohemian style.

Michelin-starred, Mana might be one for a different kind of trip or a date night. But locals who know way more than me tell me it’s a treat.


Where to Shop

An arts and crafts heaven, Fred Aldous is for the serious artist, the stationery addict, for gifts, and for kids. A Northern Quarter institution since the 50s. The photobooth is fun too.

Just walk on by OHLA Tattoo. Enough is enough. (But that’s just me.)

The boutique eyewear at Jo Padmore. Friends travel for this independent optician and glasses store.

If, like me, you feel overwhelmed in giant vintage emporiums, or even in the legendary Afflecks on Oldham Street, Suzy Loves Milo is a curated treasure on a quiet backstreet in the Northern Quarter. I’m still thinking about the fawn tweed kilt I abandoned, distracted by vintage hoodies for my teens.

Supporting local independent makers and handicrafts, Form Lifestyle Store is a sweet spot for beautiful candles and Christmas baubles. This was my last stop in Manchester and a moment of serenity.

Vintage sportswear at Bags of Flavor. (The teen dream). (Likewise the National Football museum)

I could have whiled away hours at Piccadilly Records, and happily took half an hour to pay whilst discussing the poetry of Lana Del Rey and arguing over favorite Nick Cave songs.

What to Read

Cold Water by Gwendoline Riley

Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

Let The Light Pour In by Lemn Sissay

The Luckiest Guy Alive by John Cooper Clarke

Sex & Love & Rock & Roll by Tony Walsh