The Victoria and Albert Museum opened its major exhibition on men’s fashion in March, entitled “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear”, which runs until 6 November.
Now, just weeks after the exhibition opens, the London museum will be releasing its literary companion on Tuesday, which delves into men’s fashion and style around the world.
The book “Fashioning Masculinities” consists of three parts, similar to the exhibition, which are “Undressed”, “Overdressed” and “Redressed”, and provides a context for the ever-changing beauty ideals of men over the centuries. While the exhibition showcases Thom Browne ensembles, Timothée Chalamet’s sequined Haider Ackermann black dress worn at the premiere of “Dune” at the Venice Film Festival in 2021 and Billy Porter’s 2019 Oscars tuxedo dress by Christian Siriano, the book offers an in-depth look at the meaning of these dresses.
“We were able to do some deeper dives than we could have done in the exhibition,” said Dr. Rosalind McKever, curator and art historian at the Victoria and Albert Museum, who edited the book and wrote his opening essay, “Do Clothes Make the Man?” “The texts within the show are much shorter, so we’re trying to encourage people to understand the objects.”
Much like the exhibit, the book focuses primarily on the male physique and changing ideals over time: how that influenced 19th-century tailoring and how it looks today, represented by bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who transformed his winning body of Mr Olympia in a film career and the muscular stars of Marvel superhero films.
McKever contacted Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, British historian Gus Casely-Hayford and the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh for the preface, epilogue and afterword, respectively, as well as numerous collaborators. These include Sarah Goldsmith, author Oriole Cullen and Anna Jackson, the caretaker of the Asian department of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who walk the reader through the ages and explore swagger, or “braggadocio”, and its importance in masculine style; hibiscus prints, hats and jackets, and the history of global fashion through the Black British style, the kimono from Japan and the saris from India.
Although “Fashioning Masculinities” honors different ideas across cultures, it is rooted in British history, which is always present in tailoring, as well as modern designers who are present, such as Alexander McQueen, Kim Jones for Fendi, Craig Green, Samuel Ross, Grace Wales Bonner and Bianca Saunders, among others.
“If you’re doing menswear from a British perspective, you’re doing it from a global perspective,” explained McKever. He mentioned Jackson’s essay on kimono and the relationship of garment between Japan and Europe, but also the cultural significance of colors such as pink in Pakistan, which McKever explained is a “unisex color” in South Asia. and the “culture of orange”, exhibiting like the West African clothing “offers us different approaches to menswear”.
“We wanted to think as broadly as possible about how these collections can best show these stories to the public,” he added.
One of the most modern fashion ideas, genderless fashion, is also explored in the book, which shows that the idea is by no means new.
McKever wrote a chapter entitled “Orlando as a Boyette”, inspired by Virginia Wolfe’s novel, “Orlando: A Biography”, in which the eponymous protagonist discovers halfway through the story that she is a woman and endures “social constraints” in a new, women’s wardrobe.
The novel entered the book when McKever decided to read it in his spare time to fight writer’s block. He wanted to unravel the story of women adopting menswear and how it is accepted, as well as the rich history of gender nonconformity.
“It was a great gift,” he explained. “I used that book as a lens and a way to structure ideas around these different moments in history when, for a variety of reasons, women adopted men’s clothing. To break it down a bit and give women a place in the book, but also to set the idea we expressed at the end of the exhibition on the importance of this present moment and on the visibility of the dress in menswear “.
But what does contemporary menswear look like for McKever? Collaborator Charlie Porter asks the question in the final chapter, looking at today’s menswear designers and their contributions. McKever sees the present as a “moment of opportunity” that moves in different directions.
“Fashion always surprises us,” he said. “We never see where it’s going, but it seems to work in a number of directions at the same time in a very positive way. There is a feeling of perhaps more comfort with plurality than before. “