Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015 opens today at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Exploring the history of men’s fashionable dress from the 18th century to the present, the exhibition celebrates a rich history of restraint and resplendence in menswear, and re-examines the all-too-frequent association of “fashion” with “femininity”.

It’s Reigning Men

Transferring from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the 130 plus-piece exhibition explores the evolution of men’s fashion over the past 300 years, connecting high fashion with history.

Featuring over 130 garments by renowned menswear designers including Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, Reigning Men makes illuminating connections between history and high fashion, and reveals how cinching and padding the body was, and is, not exclusive to women.

Peter Denham, the museum’s director of curatorial, collections and exhibitions, said the show was the “most important” exhibition of menswear ever assembled.

“Fashion exhibitions have always, or predominantly, focused on women’s wear,” he said. “This exhibition is an incredible version of what a menswear show can be and covering 300 years is a big ask in any show to do.”

Beginning with the 18th century, the male aristocrat wore a three-piece suit conspicuous in make and style, and equally as lavish as the opulent dress of his female counterpart. The 19th-century “dandy” made famous a more refined brand of expensive elegance which became the hallmark of Savile Row, London’s celebrated street of bespoke tailors. The mid-twentieth-century “mod” relished in the colourful and modern styles of Carnaby Street, and the 21st-century man – in an ultra-chic “skinny suit” by day and a flowered tuxedo by night – redefines today’s concept of masculinity.

Senior curator Roger Leong says, “Our museum booked the exhibition when we heard about it while it was still in development, before it even opened in LA. We recognized it was a unique opportunity to showcase something that hadn’t been done to this level before. The sheer quality of the clothes is exceptional, and the variety is also incredible. There are some really rare pieces, like French-revolutionary dress, which is nearly impossible to get your hands on. Even in France, they don’t have pieces like this. There are things like a zoot-suit, which I’d never seen in person. Despite being so legendary, very few exist in public collections.”

What: Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015

Where: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney

When: 2 May–14 October 2018

View some of the collection in the gallery above.

Melissa Reid

Melissa Reid

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