Meet the York photographer putting York's first Fashion Week in the frame

OLIVIA BRABBS was destined to be a photographer – it just took 30 years for her to realise.

Her father is Derry Brabbs, one of Yorkshire's most well-known photographers, whose work has featured in world-wide bestseller James Herriot’s Yorkshire as well as in a seven-book collaboration with legendary walking guide author Alfred Wainwright.

Growing up, her father was often away on shoots – returning with colourful stories about the lengths he'd gone to in pursuit of the perfect photo.

"When my dad was doing photography for the Wainwright books, he was following in Wainwright's footsteps, often totally on his own, looking for that perfect shot. He might have been on top of a hill at sunrise or sunset, or have been the last person on the mountain with the weather closing in and facing the dilemma of waiting for the perfect shot and being stuck in the snow and having to walk back to his car in the dark. I'm amazed he's still alive."

In fact Derry has just brought out his latest book, Pilgrimage – documenting nine inspirational journeys across Europe.

York Press:

DAD KNOWS BEST: Derry Brabbs photographed in the Lakes by daugher Olivia, who is also a professional photographer

Olivia dabbled with photography as a child: she got her first proper camera at the age of 13. "It was a Minolta X-300. It still sits on my office shelf," she says.

In the pre-digital age, she used film and experimented with developing her prints in the school dark room.

Today, Olivia's photography business centres on working with individuals and companies, focussing on telling their stories through images. She uses a sparse, documentary style, often in black and white.

It was something she did instinctively as a teenage schoolgirl. "I took a lot of black and white portraits – even back then, I was very into people."

But Olivia decided on a totally different career, despite this early interest in photography and parents who worked in the field (Olivia's mum Madeline worked in the library of a national newspaper and was an accomplished photographer in her own right; today, Olivia outsources any Photoshop work to her mum).

Olivia studied at York St John University to become an occupational therapist, often working with people who had suffered stroke or head injuries to teach them independent living skills again.

Little did she realise, but this career provided the perfect training ground for a photographer-in-waiting. "I learned such important people skills working as an occupational therapist. You are working with people often at the blackest times in their lives: the day before they were just getting on with their lives, then out of the blue they suffer a traumatic event such as a stroke.

"Often you would be dealing with people in their 40s or 50s, working professionals who then were going to be totally dependent, both physically and emotionally, on others. The impact is vast."

Olivia says it taught her invaluable people skills, as well as how to read body language. Often she would be observing patients over a long time, looking for the slightest improvements in their abilities and conditions. It revealed to her an innate patience, again a pre-requisite in photography.

"I have a documentary eye in my work. It's all about story telling and being in the moment, waiting for those little moments when something magical happens, when people let their guards down. I developed a lot of that through patient observation."

Olivia, who is aged 42 and is married with a seven-year-old daughter, has been documenting the progress of the Fashion City York – which puts on a programme of style and beauty events each year to promote York's fashion scene. This year FCY is hosting its first Fashion Week – from April 16-22 – and again Olivia will be recording the events with her camera.

York Press:

PUTTING ON THE STYLE: Oliva is the official photographer for York Fashion Week, to run in April

During Fashion Week, she will also be taking part in a series of workshops about working in fashion, to which local fashion students have been invited. Other speakers will include Nayna McIntosh, the founder of Hope fashion who also helped launch Per Una at M&S, and York-based journalist Lisa Byrne, former editor of OK! magazine.

The speakers will be sharing their journeys, telling students how they made it to the top, giving sound advice along the way and answering questions.

Olivia says: "My message is simple: no experience is ever wasted."

Top five events at York Fashion Week

York Press:

Antonia Houston Couture: Yorkshire Dandy launch

Monday April 16, 6pm, Bettys, St Helen’s Square, York

Tickets: £26.95 available from Bettys, York (T: 01904 659 142)

York design label Antonia Houston Couture will launch York Fashion Week by unveiling its new Yorkshire Dandy collection in the Belmont Room at Bettys. The collection features luxurious Yorkshire tweeds and silks, perfect for a special occasion outfit. Ticket includes a special Bettys afternoon tea.

Embrace film screening

Tuesday, April 17, 6pm-8.45pm, City Screen, York

Tickets: £11.07 via Eventbrite

The body image documentary everybody is talking about. Follow filmmaker Taryn Brumfitt as she goes from a body hater to a body lover. The film uncovers why poor body image has become a global epidemic and what women everywhere can do about it. After the screening there will be three speakers and a Q&A session.

York Press:

She Loves York Fashion Show and high tea

Thursday, April 19, 6.45pm-10pm at The Principal, York

Tickets: £26 online from

Featuring top fashion brands, both high street and independent, including LK Bennett, Hobbs, and Moda In Pelle as well as Joy's Bella Bridesmaids and Treasured Brides. Check out their latest collections for spring and summer in a catwalk show hosted by She Loves York. Ticket price includes a cocktail on arrival and high tea with a glass of fizz.

A charity raffle will also be held. The event is open to everyone – you do not need to be She Loves York member to attend.

York Press:

Hat Couture at Grays Court

Friday, April 20, 6.30pm

Tickets: £35; for more information, telephone Louise on 07815 796148 or Anita on 07803 174637.

Couture hats, fashion, hair and beauty will all be in the spotlight in the stunning setting of Grays Court Hotel, York. Rose & Flo Millinery (pictured above) will be joined by Antonia Houston Couture, Saks Hairdressing York and Estee Lauder beauty for the evening, which includes Grays Court High Tea, a complimentary glass of prosecco and luxury gift bag worth £50.

Fashion Hub at Shambles Market

April 21& 22, from 10am - 5pm

Free entry

York's market is hosting a mini fashion takeover for the weekend with pop-up stalls from: Copper & White;

Neals Yard; Life & Soul; Bags About Town; Jackie Davies Jewellery; Unostar (Saturday only); and NRG Healing (Sunday only).

For more information about what's on during York Fashion Week, visit: and follow the latest news on Twitter @yorkfashionweek and YorkFashionWeek on Instagram

Find out more about Olivia via her website: