‘A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them.’ – Sir Edwin Hardy Amies (1909 – 2003), founder of Savile Row fashion house Hardy Amies in London.
Clothes make the man. At times it may seem as if men simply open the wardrobe and put on the first thing that comes to hand, or as if a frivolous tie to brighten up the standard grey three-piece suit is the most daring thing they ever put on, but the exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The Ideal Man, fashion for real men, combines brightly coloured and extravagantly patterned eighteenth-century habits à la française with spectacular contemporary outfits from the latest collections of celebrated designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, Bernhard Willhelm and Walter van Beirendonck. The evidence of the past and present reveals that men’s fashion is anything but boring.
For centuries, men’s appearance has been dictated by ever-changing fashion trends. It is striking how strongly men seem to identify with certain role models or use their attire to imitate an ideal image of manhood. So is male fashion perhaps a quest for the ideal man? Certain themes recur again and again: male fashions are sporty or rebellious, decadent, subject to military influence, or used to radiate power and authority. President Mitterrand of France was clearly well aware of its potential in the last respect, as witness the two tailored suits from his wardrobe that the museum recently acquired in Paris.
The male ‘dress to impress’ look can be effective on women too. Take Marlene Dietrich’s famous dinner jacket – on show in the exhibition and one of the first items of male dress to be worn by a woman in public. But why, on the other hand, do we still find skirts for men such an odd idea, despite all the trouble that Jean-Paul Gaultier and style icon David Beckham have taken to popularise the concept?
This exhibition uses over 150 outfits and accessories in a themed setting to cast light on the history of male fashion from the 17th century right through to the present day. Gallery after gallery, it unfolds the history of familiar forms of dress like the three-piece suit, the dinner jacket, sports attire and full-length trousers. Who today remembers that full-length trousers were once worn only by labourers and almost never by gentlemen? But perhaps the main focus of the exhibition is on the less currently conventional side of the male wardrobe: before the grey three-piece suit appeared, fashionable men tended to wear extravagant embroidery, vivid colours and exotic fabrics. Since the 1960s, such ebullience has reappeared on the fashion scene. Since then, even ‘real men’ have been able to flaunt an eye-catching, individual style.
The design of the exhibition is by art director Maarten Spruyt, previously responsible for the design of the museum’s crowd-pulling Hague Court Fashion and Fashion NL exhibitions. The show also features Oof Verschuren’s spectacular photographs of new collections by Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Bernhard Willhelm, Walter van Beirendonck and John Galliano.
These extraordinary photos are included in the exhibition catalogue published by Waanders. One of the pieces in the publication is written by fashion journalist John de Greef and the book (price: € 19.95) is designed by Roosje Klap.