Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. The V&A celebrates menswear design with its upcoming exhibition.

14 February 2022


To say that we are living a golden age for menswear isn’t farfetched. The last decade has seen so many barriers challenged and erased, opening the door to creative explorations that have re-defined – or perhaps, undefined – what we believe to be the image of man.

In terms of dedicated exhibitions one could safely say that there has been a lot more attention to womenswear. But the Victoria and Albert Museum is ready to change this with their latest endeavour, opening on the 19th of March: “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear”.

Orange Culture, Autumn Winter 2020 Flower Boy two-piece set, photographed by Mikey Oshai, image courtesy of Adebayo Oke-Lawal (c) Orange Culture
CRAIG GREEN SS21, photography by Amy Gwatkin
CRAIG GREEN SS21, photography by Amy Gwatkin

This is the first major exhibition organised by the renowned London-based museum (in partnership with Gucci) to celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of masculine attire and appearance. What is perhaps most fascinating about it is that its historical approach pairs 100 looks alongside 100 artworks from the museum’s collections and loans, displayed thematically. Iconic fashion and up-and-coming designers are showcased next to Renaissance paintings, classical sculptures, photography, film and performance meant to offer a wider perspective on the evolution – and reasons for – of menswear throughout the centuries.

Harris Reed Fluid Romanticism 001. Photographer Giovanni Corabi
Harris Reed Fluid Romanticism 001. Photographer Giovanni Corabi
Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Charles Coote, 1773-1774. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland
Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Charles Coote, 1773-1774. Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

It promises to look as striking as it sounds. Fashion by Harris Reed, Jean-Paul Gaultier, A-COLD-WALL*, Gucci, Rahemur Rahman, Kim Jones, Craig Green, Grace Wales Bonner and Raf Simons, paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola and Joshua Reynolds, prints and photography by Lionel Wendt, Zanele Muholi and Isaac Julien, contemporary artworks by David Hockney and Omar Victor Diop, to an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures.

Three galleries will be dedicated to distinct directions for exploration. “Undressed” will be looking at the male body and underwear, at how classical European ideals of masculinity have been perpetuated and challenged over the centuries, including plaster casts of the Apollo Belvedere and the Farnese Hermes.

“Overdressed” will guide us through the menswear of the elite: exquisite silks and velvets creating oversized silhouettes in extravagant colours, symbols of status, wealth and individuality, makeup, shaving equipment, armour, capes, suits, ribbons and lace…it will be an opportunity to highlight the evolution and shift of historic preconceptions of power, filtered through the lens of aesthetic code.

The third gallery, “Redressed”, will start out by exploring English country tailoring and the birth of the suit, through historic garments from the museum’s collection shown alongside with contemporary interpretations. It will also delve into the influence of military equipment (a cherished topic for young designers’ inspiration, if one looks at the ITS Collection) in developing civilian dress codes.

Anthony Patrick Manieri, Nude 1, London, England, April 2016  © Anthony Patrick Manieri
Anthony Patrick Manieri, Nude 1, London, England, April 2016 © Anthony Patrick Manieri
Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze (L'Age d'Airain), 1880-1914 (cast). (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze (L’Age d’Airain), 1880-1914 (cast). (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The final section of this third gallery will look at a new wave of contemporary designers who have been re-inventing (or erasing) the suit, questioning all conventions in menswear and most importantly masculinity, from Rick Owens to Rei Kawakubo and JW Anderson.

Claire Wilcox and Rosalind McKever, co-curators of the exhibition, said in a statement: “Masculine fashion is enjoying a period of unprecedented creativity. It has long been a powerful mechanism for encouraging conformity or expressing individuality.
Rather than a linear or definitive history, this is a journey across time and gender. The exhibition will bring together historical and contemporary looks with art that reveals how masculinity has been performed. This will be a celebration of the masculine wardrobe, and everyone is invited to join in.

The exhibition will run until the 22nd of November. If you’re not in London it will hopefully be a post-pandemic world, for travel and a wonderful excuse to visit the Big Smoke.

Cover photo credits: Gucci Pre-Fall 2019 Men’s Tailoring Campaign; Creative Director: Alessandro Michele; Art Director: Christopher Simmonds; Photographer & Director: Harmony Korine; Courtesy of Gucci

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