Jean Paul Gaultier, Paris: Jean Paul Gaultier - Shirt 1996 spring-summer 1996. Silk, shell buttons.
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Ron Ramsey, 1998)
The evolution of men’s fashion has taken many curious turns over the years. Now, in a first for the National Gallery of Victoria, a potted history of men’s fashion from the 18th century to the present day gets the gallery space it deserves.
From the astute waistcoat of the 1740s to the role of the suit in the late 1800s and early 1900s, men’s fashions revealed your social and financial position, particularly at the turn of the century.
Men’s fashion was driven by power, wealth and nobility – this was a time of lords, princes and all the king’s men. But let’s face it, it was stiff and needed a good kick up the proverbial.
That’s exactly what happened when social change took place – in particular the French Revolution, the time of the Men’s Dress Reform Party from 1929-40 and later with the sartorial diversions of the mod and hippie movements in the 1960s and the flared groove of the ’70s.
This exhibition is spread over two campuses – the NGV on St Kilda Road and the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square.
If you like turn-of-the-century pieces – the more restrained items – they are featured at the NGV, while Federation Square captures the modern pulse with some designers’ 2011 outfits on show.
WORLD, Auckland: Francis Hooper and Denise L'Estrange-Corbet Percy shops at WORLD 1999 - Wool, acetate, raffia, leather, velcro, brass.
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1999)
“How we dress is a reflection of our ideas and who we are,” says exhibition curator Paola Di Trocchio, who has worked at the NGV for eight years.
“Once upon a time, to be powerful was to look decorated and covered and adorned in silks and flowers, whereas nowadays to look powerful is more about wearing a suit that is well cut, beautiful and quite simple in structure,” she says.
Some of the earliest works on display include a waistcoat from the 1740s. And there are some edgier pieces by fashion label Romance Was Born (which made headlines a few years ago when Cate Blanchett wore its crocheted dress). The progressive label is also known for its avant-garde take on men’s fashion.
“The collection looks at the concept of restraint and the history and evolution of the suit as well as the dandy and the look of ostentation. We also look at the idea of the decorated man and the peacock,” says Di Trocchio.
Plain Jane, Melbourne: Gavin Brown - Indian snakes and ladders outfit 1985. Screenprinted cotton, metal, plastic, wood.
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased NGV Foundation, 2009)
Beau Brummell (1778-1840) was known for his fashioning of the men’s suit. He is sometimes referred to as the godfather of dandyism – a dandy is a man who dresses elegantly and fashionably – but some critics argue he wouldn’t have settled for that.
According to Di Trocchio, Brummell did all he could to capture flamboyance, ornament and colour. For him, it was all about wearing well-made suits, and apparently he took up to five hours each day to get things right. It clearly was a time of change in the way men wore suits.
Di Trocchio says Brummell was all about embracing style and elegance and it was attained in the most extravagant of ways through fabric, three-piece suiting choices and colour. And he always wore a knotted cravat for added grace.
These days, men are far more unadventurous in their approach to suiting – preferring muted tones and darker shades.
Manstyle: Men + Fashion brings a wide variety of men’s wear together to capture a diverse notion of what man and style means.
Leigh Bowery: Pregnant tutu head 1992 - Cotton, rayon, polyester, nylon, foam, leather.
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Nicola Bateman Bowery, 1999 © Courtesy of the artist’s estate)
From the all-American favourite seersucker suit (big in the 1930s) to the Savile Row tradition found in Tommy Nutter’s sartorial cues in the late ’60s, Manstyle also touches on how the British gained superiority over the Americans during this time – leading the pack with their use of refined tailoring, love of tweed and use of other fine British cloth.
The exhibition features Pierre Cardin outfits that were all about slim trousers, shorter jackets and fitted jersey knits in the 1960s, while contemporary New Zealand fashion label WORLD opts for brightly patterned and clashing fabrics to affirm men’s desire to be loud and out there.
As the exhibition enters into the colourful world of rebels and rule breakers, Manstyle keenly changes pace. There’s a Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood parachute shirt from 1976, which is as punk as it gets.
“I made clothes that looked like ruins. I was creating something new by destroying the old. This wasn’t fashion as commodity; this was fashion as idea,” the late McLaren said of his style.
Di Trocchio explains it was exactly at this time, when punk pushed and spat its way into the mainstream, that fashion, particularly men’s clothing, took on a new look. “Men’s wear became more fluid and informal and overlaid with social references,” she says.
England Coat 1740s: Silk, wood, wool, linen.
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased, 1970)
“Performers such as Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix accelerated the adoption of these defiant and highly charged modes of dress, which ushered in a new era of ostentatious masculine style,” says Di?Trocchio.
“Popular attire for anti-war rallies and rock concerts alike, garments had the potential to challenge the gender divide and become symbols of resistance to mainstream culture.”
Other designers represented in the exhibition include Morrissey Edmiston, Jean Paul Gaultier, Stuart Membery, energetic street wear label Perks and Mini, Walter Van Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm, to name a few.
Company Company & Co, Sydney
Cotton, suede, leather
(National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Presented by Miss June McCallum, 1985)
If men’s wear is a place for experimentation, then it’s here at Manstyle that the chronological changes are mapped with enthusiasm. And if Bernhard Willhelm’s latest collection, which he showcased in Paris earlier this year, is anything to go by, men’s fashion is daringly deconstructed these days.
He took his range to an entirely new level for autumn/winter combining elements of fetish (think police tape put to a different use) with cyclist fever (stretchy tight-fitting tops) worn under bomber jackets.
For him it was all about wacky, vibrant prints, often mismatched, showing a desire for peacock prowess. But for now, Manstyle looks at men’s fashion and its place in society from a new perspective.
» Manstyle: Men + Fashion, runs until November 27 at the NGV Ian Potter Centre, Federation Square.