Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is the first major V&A exhibition to celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of masculine attire and appearance. Contemporary looks by legendary designers and rising stars will be displayed alongside historical treasures from the V&A's collections and landmark loans: classical sculptures, Renaissance paintings, iconic photographs, and powerful film and performance.
The exhibition showcases the variety of possible masculinities across the centuries from the Renaissance to the global contemporary: from looks by Gucci, Harris Reed, Grace Wales Bonner and Raf Simons, to paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola and Joshua Reynolds, contemporary artworks by David Hockney and Omar Victor Diop, to an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne's New Adventures.
The exhibition presents around 100 looks alongside 100 artworks, displayed thematically across three galleries, Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed.
Undressed explores the male body and underwear, looking at how classical European ideals of masculinity have been perpetuated and challenged over the centuries. Plaster casts of the Apollo Belvedere and the Farnese Hermes – which highlight a tradition of depicting idealised male bodies draped in textiles that reveal more than they conceal – will be juxtaposed with fashion by Jean-Paul Gaultier and A-COLD-WALL*, and prints and photography by Lionel Wendt, Zanele Muholi and Isaac Julien.
The second gallery, Overdressed, explores the elite masculine wardrobe, epitomised by oversized silhouettes, lavish materials like silks and velvet in daring colours, and symbolic patterns to express status, wealth and individuality. On display will be armoured breastplates, silky smoking suits, makeup and shaving equipment, sweeping capes, ribbons and lace, including Grinling Gibbons' wooden carving imitating a Venetian needlepoint lace cravat. Through the lens of contemporary fashion designers including Rahemur Rahman and Kim Jones, Overdressed will show how historic ideas begin to shift, with a full rainbow of masculine outfits on display.
The third gallery, Redressed, opens with a reflection on English country tailoring and the origins of the suit – with historic garments from the V&A collection shown alongside contemporary reimaginings, including a kilt by Nicholas Daley – before exploring how military attire influenced civilian dress.
Redressed will also include paintings as well as extensive photography showing changing styles and attitudes, from Oscar Wilde, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton to The Beatles and Sam Smith. Robert Longo's 1981 drawing from the series Men in the Cities will introduce the final part of the section about the dissolving of the suit, and how a new wave of fashion designers from Rick Owens to JW Anderson to Comme des Garçons to Lesiba Mabitsela are slashing away at conventions, both for menswear, and masculinity.
Outfits worn by familiar faces will be interspersed throughout, from Harry Styles and Billy Porter to David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich. Innovative creations and diverse representations will highlight and celebrate the multiplicities of masculine sartorial self-expression, dressing beyond the binary.