Billy Porter’s hot-pink Golden Globes cloak and Harry Styles’ embroidered Gucci suits are set to have a fashion face-off with the Belvedere Apollo and Auguste Rodin in the V&A’s upcoming exhibition dedicated to the evolution of menswear.
The first retrospective of its kind at the South Kensington museum, Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear aims to celebrate the flamboyant foundations of men’s fashion by juxtaposing over 100 looks with 100 sculptures and artworks spanning from 1565 to current day.
“The whole spirit of the show is to give that creative confidence and empowerment to our visitors in terms of them really thinking about why they dress the way they do,” says Rosalind McKever, who has co-curated the exhibition alongside Claire Wilcox and Marta Franceschini. “These questions have always been shifting, and we can use our understanding of menswear history to inform our understanding of masculinity today.”
Having been in the works since 2019 and slated to open in March 2022, its timing is impeccable. What with male style icons challenging red-carpet convention and fostering a more inclusive and diverse fashion landscape, there is an increasing “energy and sense of momentum”, says McKever.
Among the exhibits in the Gucci-sponsored show are colourful oil paintings by the 18th-century artists Joshua Reynolds and Jean-Baptiste Perronneau which will sit alongside magenta creations by rising stars in fashion Harris Reed and Grace Wales Bonner to show that colours like hot-pink are “associated with femininity wrongly”, says Wilcox.
Elsewhere, items by contemporary designers JW Anderson and Ludovic de Saint Sernin – who are famous for accentuating the male form through the use of sheer and fluid fabrics – are joined by a plaster cast of the textile-draped Farnese Hermes sculpture, 20th-century prints and photography by David Hockney and a Calvin Klein advert.
“There is a metaphor there about the translucency of fabric and a new honesty in menswear which ties very nicely with the historical side of our exhibition,” adds Wilcox.
In addition, the inception and evolution of the suit is explored. “The burst of energy in the 60s and 70s and the fashion of today are a sort of rebellion against the corrective nature of the suit,” says Wilcox. “As wonderful as tailoring fabric to the body is as an extraordinary example of craft, at the same time it has been something to rebel against.”