V&A Fashioning Masculinities. The new exhibition celebrating the art of menswear


On view until November 6, the showcase brings together “iconic looks by legendary designers and rising stars alongside historical treasures and acclaimed artworks” 

Launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum on March 19, Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is an unprecedented exhibition exploring the complexity and cultural influence of masculine attire and appearance. Through the analysis of its innate power, artistry and diversity, the showcase traces the evolution of menswear over the centuries so as to reflect on how masculinity has been constructed and performed by designers, tailors and artists, and subsequently ‘sewed’ into society’s collective imagination. 

Spread across three thematic galleries, Fashioning Masculinities comprises around 100 looks and 100 artworks, all centring around men’s fashion. Juxtaposing contemporary looks by pioneering designers and stars in the making, the exhibition encourages a conversation between the old and new conceptions of masculinities. A dialogue that is further reflected in the display of some of the V&A’s historical treasures and landmark loans — from classical sculptures and Renaissance paintings to powerful film and performance. 

V&A’s exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Alessandro Michele for Gucci, F/W 2015. Courtesy of Gucci

Bringing together some of the most influential artworks from the plastic art tradition, including Apollo Belvedere and the Farnese Hermes, along with the creations of today’s culture-defining artists — from David Hockney to Zanele Muholi — and avant-garde fashion designers, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, JW Anderson, Alessandro Michele, Priya Alhuwalia and Alexander McQueen, the exhibition aims at highlighting and celebrating the multiple facets of masculine sartorial self-expression, dressing beyond the binary. 

V&A’s exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Wales Bonner S/S 2015 Afrique. Photograph by Dexter Lander - Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The work of iconic Harris Reed, Gucci, Grace Wales Bonner and Raf Simons takes on a new meaning as paintings by late Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola and Joshua Reynolds, the leading English portraitist of the 18th century, are exhibited next to it. Contemporary artworks by Robert Longo and Omar Victor Diop and an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures remind visitors of how both the portrayal and understanding of ‘masculine’ shifted across history: the showcase serving as an art-filled timeline that reinterprets such changes from the 16th century up to present day. 

V&A’s exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Installation view of Fashioning Masculinities.
V&A’s exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Installation view of Fashioning Masculinities - Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“Masculine fashion is enjoying a period of unprecedented creativity,” Claire Wilcox and Rosalind McKever, co-curators of the exhibition, said in a statement. “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.”

Craig Green SS21, photography by Amy Gwatkin - Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Upon entering the show, visitors are met by a Craig Green SS2021 ensemble of a deconstructed suit; a curatorial choice that anticipates the core theme of the entire exhibition, namely the (de)construction of the masculine body and preconceptions around masculinity. Designed by JA Project, the three main galleries, Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed, will follow exploring, respectively, the male body and underwear; the elite masculine wardrobe; and the construction and dissolution of the suit through an “urban reawakening”. 

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