“I think men should dress more gaily than they do now. After all, it’s one of the rare occasions in our civilization when a man can dress like a woman.” Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1974 on the occasion of being fitted for the habit vert wore by members of the Académie française. (Boutang and Chevallay, Claude Lévi-Strauss in His Own Words, 1:24:00)
“Man Style” at the NGV International concentrates on waistcoats, ties and casual male fashion. These items are a playful part of male fashion, the decorations that remain when men’s suits are no longer covered in brocade (although the punk leather jacket is decorated with studs, badges and paint). There is an extensive display of waistcoats demonstrating waistcoat lengths getting shorter and plainer then long and decorative with the fringed suede leather US flag vest (made in Mexico). Unfortunately the collection of ties and hats was less than impressive.
The best part of the exhibition was the video interviews with men about their clothes. The men included: musician Dave Graney, GOMA curator Francis Parker and restaurant critic Matt Preston. It was delightful to see Francis Parker tie his bow tie or Dave Graney talk about his leather suit. The personal style of these men is part of their self-expression. These interviews contrasted with the many couture catwalk items in the collection that have never been worn.
Although I enjoyed the outfits, there was too much from Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivian Westwood in the exhibition. Westwood’s cheeky move of the cravat to the crotch or Gaultier’s reference to military uniforms; these references are satisfying for the curator or commentator but don’t reflect fashion as it is worn. Punk was able to bring the street and art couture fashion together but this is an exception. Ultimately the exhibition is confused in its intentions: is it exhibiting a history of male fashion or couture references to the history of fashion?
The exhibition at the NGV International on St. Kilda Road did fill in some of the gaps in the examination of male fashion left by the exhibition of suits at the Ian Potter Centre at Fed Square. (I missed the information at the Ian Potter Centre the first time I saw the exhibition another reason why Melbourne needs a dedicated fashion/clothes museum/gallery – something that I’ve advocated before).