Afflecks for
Fred Perry

May 2021
Words by James Anderson

As the new and improved Fred Perry Manchester settles in, we explore the countercultural relevance of its new home, the Northern Quarter’s legendary Affleck’s Palace.

The proud city of Manchester has no shortage of strong associations to ground-breaking music and subcultural style. Iconic local bands and artists such as The Smiths, Joy Division, New Order, A Guy Called Gerald, Happy Mondays, The Fall and The Stone Roses have, since the late-70s and post-punk 80s, long-lingered in the public’s hearts, influencing the listening habits and wardrobe contents of successive generations of musicians and fans. Similarly, Manchester’s homegrown and best-known record label and nightclub of yesteryear - Factory Records and The Hacienda, respectively – have subsequently attained near-mythical status around the world.

No less enduring or affectionately regarded by Mancunians and visitors to the city from far and wide is the unique style mecca known as Afflecks, located in the Northern Quarter district. This vast, four-storey, red-brick building has consistently offered a bold contrast to mainstream fashion outlets, addressing the aesthetic nuances of every alternative style tribe across the past four decades, since launching as Affleck’s Palace, in 1982.

Located at the junction of Dale Street, Tib Street, Church Street and Oldham Street, the building had originally housed a drapery business, Affleck & Brown, way back in the 1860s, which morphed into a traditional department store of the same name, finally closing down in 1973 after customers had gradually dwindled. By 1982, John and Elaine Walsh bravely leased the rather shabby premises and offered it up to an array of young, creative entrepreneurs who could rent modest-sized units in which to launch their fledgling businesses. The template was similar to that of London’s Kensington Market on Kensington High Street, or The Great Gear Market on the King’s Road in Chelsea (both now gone, due to redevelopment), though it offered a better deal to its tenants, with low-cost rents, payable weekly, and scope to terminate the tenancy with only a week’s notice, should a business venture prove to be unsuccessful.  Such favourable terms enabled a uniquely spontaneous and experimental attitude to retail, which persists successfully to this day within Afflecks.

Affleck’s Palace market located in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. Seen here in April 1985 when it was threatened with closure.
(Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Affleck’s Palace market located in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. Seen here in April 1985 when it was threatened with closure. (Photo by Staff/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

During the early half of the 80s, Affleck’s Palace predominantly offered up a compelling mish-mash of vintage clothes (at the time, simply called ‘second hand clothes’, rather than ‘vintage’), including period clobber from the 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond, alongside original creations from young designers, as well as posters, records, and retro accessories galore. This ensured Punks, Mods, Rude Boys/Girls, Rockabillies, Goths, clued-up students, Soul fans and any other happy-to-be-misfits - seeking anything from an authentic pair of worn-in 501s, to a Harrington jacket and polo shirt, or even a pair of classic biker boots - would routinely be found rummaging through the racks. The ambience was colourful and cluttered, a little scruffy and carefree, but this was a different era - long before gentrification smoothed-out the UK high streets’ rougher edges - so no one cared. The café on the top floor of Affleck’s offered a great place to while away the hours – in the early-80s, a not-yet-fully-famous Morrissey was sometimes spotted snacking and quenching his thirst there, as were members of the Happy Mondays or The Stone Roses, in subsequent years.   

By the late-80s, the combination of Acid House, Ecstacy-fuelled raves, plus an emerging indie-dance music crossover were all revolutionising UK youth culture, nowhere more so than in and around Manchester. The Hacienda was widely hailed as one of the coolest clubs ever, and Happy Mondays along with The Stone Roses were crowned as the UK’s new pop royalty. Both bands heralded casual, rave-friendly dress codes – mashing up loose-fitting jeans, flares, baggy Tees and shirts, trackies and bucket hats, with floppy hair – a look enthusiastically embraced all across the nation by multicultural and mischievous youths for whom commercial chart music and predictable attire held little appeal. As the achingly-cool record store, Eastern Bloc, then based at the entrance of Affleck’s Palace, touted the hottest, underground dance tracks to those wanting their BPM’s loud and fast, many of the units inside simultaneously proffered a colourful array of loose-fitting clothes, perfect for the new wave of hedonists to wear when raving all night. When the 80s turned into the 90s, the increasing hype and hysteria surrounding Manchester saw the city humorously nicknamed in the media as ‘Madchester’, with Affleck’s Palace at the epicentre of the mayhem.

In the ensuing years, Affleck’s Palace notably hit the headlines for less upbeat reasons, specifically when the 25-year lease on the building, which Elaine and John Walsh had originally signed up to all those years ago, finally ran out. A period of uncertainty followed, with rumours of possible closure or redevelopment of the much-loved institution prompting some of the traders to leave. However, in April, 2008, under a new management committed to maintaining its true spirit, and with a shortened name of Afflecks, plus an eponymous website, the next era began. During the past two decades, Afllecks has continued to thrive, attracting thousands of shoppers each week and adding burgeoning hairdressing, tattooing, piercing, art, records, Hemp products, café and takeaway food businesses to the rummage-able mix of vintage and contemporary clothing harmoniously housed under its roof.

Some of the original traders ensconced since 1982 now nestle alongside more recent arrivals, not least the seamless addition of the new Fred Perry shop. Effortlessly in synch with the subcultural history and forward-looking ethos of Afflecks itself, the design of this space (and its accompanying showroom) appropriately takes its cues from the theme of ‘Past, Present and Future’. So, what can we expect to see? Something carefully considered and suitably smart, by the sounds of it: “We've been conscious not to reflect the past in a way that feels too nostalgic, leaning instead into the city's industrial heritage, its ties to the cotton industry, and the brand's founder Fred Perry – born in nearby Stockport,” explains Sonny Cant, Director of Brinkworth Design, the company responsible for the interior and experiential potential of Fred Perry’s latest Northern retail adventure. “You see this in-store where we have adopted some of the utilitarian principles of industry, from the factories and production lines prevalent in the area, through efficiency of space, bold use of honest materials and simple, robust details.” His colleague, Lisa Crutchley, Brinkworth Design’s Associate Director, further describes the store as, “A space that feels representative not just of Fred Perry, but Fred Perry Manchester.” She continues, “The brand is woven into the fabric of the city’s cultural history through music and art. This space should reflect that and its customers should feel at home.”

All of which confirms an authentic, exciting continuation of Fred Perry and Afflecks’ mutual commitment to heritage and innovation.

Visit the new shop at 41-43 Oldham St, Manchester, M1 1JG from Saturday 29th May 2021.