We are living in a particularly exciting period for men’s fashion – you only have to look at innovative style trailblazers like Harry Styles or the gender-fluid tailoring of Harris Reed to see what we mean. Now the V&A has dedicated an entire show to the topic, Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, which is set to celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of male attire in all its glory. Here we take a closer look at the show everyone will be talking about this spring.
Has there even been such a heady time in the world of male fashion? A quick glance at recent red carpets, where you’re just as likely to see actor Billy Porter sashaying down in a silk fuchsia cape as you are to spot Harry Styles in yet another exquisitely embroidered Gucci suit, tells you all you need to know. So it’s perfect timing for the launch of this new landmark show at the V&A, which will be the museum’s first retrospective of its kind. Held in partnership with Gucci, Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear will take a closer look at the flamboyant foundations of men’s fashion by showcasing over 100 looks alongside 100 artworks, spanning from 1565 to the current day.
Spread across three galleries, you’ll find paintings by 18th-century artists Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Perronneau sitting alongside classical sculptures and contemporary creations by some of fashion’s brightest rising stars, including British designer Grace Wales Bonner and Harris Reed, the latter of whom has been given his own one-day show the day before the launch of the main exhibition. Taking place as part of the museum’s Fashion in Motion series, the three free shows spread across the day on Friday 18 March will feature a specially-commissioned fashion performance, with an immersive set made up of designs from Reed’s collections that explore themes of opulence and self-expression.
Above: Harris Reed, For Now, Unexplained. Photography: Jenny Brough
“Being a young queer creative, there could be no greater honour than having your work chosen to be represented in an establishment as respected as the V&A museum,” says Reed. “As someone who creates work that truly hopes to spark a greater conversation around identity and gender expression, the way that Fashion in Motion makes fashion shows accessible to everyone, I truly hope changes the dynamic and thoughts of more people around fluidity.”
Elsewhere in the main show, the inception and evolution of the suit will be explored, with the show opening with an ensemble from Craig Green’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection – a deconstructed suit that alludes to the composition of both the male body and the conventions of masculinity. The conversation is further carried on with exhibits of outfits worn by familiar faces including Sam Smith, David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich, and an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures.
“Masculine fashion is enjoying a period of unprecedented creativity,” say the show’s co-curators, Claire Wilcox and Rosalind McKever. “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.”
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is running from 19 March – 6 November 2022 and tickets are on sale now