Menswear and visual arts meet at the V&A in London

The museum's first menswear exhibition explores how designers, tailors and artists constructed and interpreted fashion through the seams

Harris Reed
Harris Reed Fluid Romanticism 001. Photo: Giovanni Corabi

From portraits of Joshua Reynolds to Harry Styles' viral Gucci dress, the Victoria and Albert Museum's first menswear exhibition presents a historical overview while confronting visitors with changing gender norms.

Claire Wilcox's curatorship brings together iconic pieces of clothing alongside famous sculptures, paintings, photographs, films and performances, totaling around 100 works of art and 100 pieces of clothing. These are distributed in three galleries entitled Undressed, Overdressed and Redressed.

Despite the extensive arc approached, the curator recognizes the delay of the museum in guiding the theme: “It has been impossible to reflect all men's fashion in a single exhibition”, said Wilcox. “We hope this is the first of many.”

Harry Styles
Harry Styles in Gucci's Pre-Fall 2019 menswear campaign.

Undressed depicts the relationship between male bodies and underwear. Here visitors find plaster sculptures by Apollo Belvedere and Farnese Hermes – which highlight a tradition of depicting idealized male bodies draped in fabrics that reveal more than they hide – juxtaposed with contemporary representations of the body in prints and photographs by David Hockney, Lionel Wendt, Zanele Muholi, Del LaGrace Volcano and Isaac Julien.

Other highlights of works of art are among the sculpture The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin and a performance by Cassils, in which the artist melts a neoclassical torso carved out of ice with body heat.

Already Overdressed explores a broad spectrum of styles and time periods, focusing on the elite men's wardrobe and luxurious materials such as silks and velvets in bold colors and symbolic patterns to express status, wealth and individuality. Here we can highlight oil paintings by Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Perronneau that are displayed alongside sets by Harris Reed, Grace Wales Bonner, among others.

Lastly, Redressed opens with a reflection on English tailoring and the origins of the suit – featuring historic pieces from the V&A collection and contemporary reinterpretations. A wide arc of photographs also shows changing styles and attitudes, from Oscar Wilde, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton to the Beatles and Sam Smith.

Another gallery highlight is the Ella Lynch and MistyCouture dress worn by drag performer Bimini Bon Boulash on the second season finale of the UK version of Ru Paul's Drag Race.

Omar Victor Diop
Photo: Giovanni Corabi; Jean-Baptiste Belley, by Omar Victor Diop, 2014

“I hope people are fascinated and excited not only by the historical past, but also by the creativity of young and established designers today,” says Wilcox. “Fashion is a mirror of society, and by creating gentle fashion for men, maybe the world can be a kinder place.”

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Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear

Location: Victoria and Albert Museum
Address: Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL, United Kingdom
Date: Until November 6, 2022
Opening hours: From Saturday to Thursday, from 10 am to 5:45 pm. On Fridays, until 22:00. 
Admission: £20

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