The Japanese word "kimono", literally means a "thing to wear”. It’s almost like an order, and, oh, what a beautiful one. This exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum charts the kimono from the 1660s to the present day. From its early influence on shapes and fabrics, its absorption of ideas from the rest of the world when Japan opened up in the 1850s, up until contemporary fashion taking it as a starting point.
The exhibition's highlights are anything by Galliano at Dior - always - some stunning art deco Cartier jewellery and make-up cases, Freddie Mercury’s lounging around kimono, Madonna’s Nothing Really Matters video garb and Bjork’s collaboration with Alexander McQueen.
There is some menswear, though the kimono is very unisex, from Thom Browne (right), Duro Olowu, T. Michael and Yohji Yamamoto.
The kimono is the original silk robe and you only have to look at designers like Dries Van Noten or Edward Crutchley to see its influence today and the tradition being carried on.
The kimono is one of fashion’s closest things to a walking work of art and this exhibition is a worthy tribute to it.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk runs from 29 February – 21 June 2020 - £16
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A new exhibition celebrating five decades of Zandra Rhodes’ namesake label opens at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous is the largest ever exhibition dedicated to the seminal British designer and museum founder.
The main space hosts fifty looks - one from each year of Rhodes’ career; from a 1969 ankle-length kaftan, screen-printed in silk chiffon to a 2018 fan pleated jumpsuit in a dramatic shimmer satin.
Left - Everybody knows her shocking pink hair, Dame Zandra Rhodes
TheChicGeek says, “Dame Zandra is a true fashion artist. She’s everything a great British designer should be; colourful, fun, artistic, creative, generous and a true personality. The shocking fuchsia pink hair has made her a fashion icon and her image and name resonates far outside of fashion circles.
Right - One dress from each of her 50 years
Her peak was in the 1970s, but the quality of her designs and screen printing make many of her dresses timeless despite heavily referencing this decade.
It makes sense to choose one dress for each year, but it always makes things feel quite bitty and random in an exhibition setting. I think it’s better to show the best collections in groups.
The major problem I have is I’ve always thought the Fashion and Textile Museum a drab and awkward space. It’s disappointing that a museum so colourful on the outside feels dark and claustrophobic on the inside. They really need a good retail designer who knows how to dress and light a space to give it a luxe feel. Fashion exhibitions should tap into the shopping desire aesthetic and entice you in. (Bit like Dior did at the V&A recently). You only have to look at the YSL Museum in Marrakech to see a small fashion museum working really well. See more here
Left - Designs up to the present day
I know the budgets are bigger, but this space doesn’t do justice to Zandra’s talents and every other exhibition I’ve seen here.
Here prints, displayed like saris, show her pinnacle as a textile designer, but disappointingly there aren’t any images of celebrities like Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury wearing her designs. There are no fashion shoots or glossy images to make the clothes become real, glamorous and take them out into the world. There is a fashion show reel, but it is easy to walk past.
Right - Freddie giving good Rhodes
Upstairs there are a few costumes from the operas she has designed in San Diego and images from her sketchbooks, which, again, show what an artist she is, but it’s never as fun as the person.
Dame Zandra Rhodes is a legend and to have survived for 50 years, being this creative, is no mean feat. She is somebody definitely worth celebrating.”
Until 26 January 2020
Left - Zandra's textiles full displayed
Let’s take a moment to step back and see how fashionable men are looking at this moment in time. You’ve probably noticed a proliferation of thick moustaches - well away from the month of Movember - alongside lean and toned bodies all clothed in fitted, retro sportswear. It’s hard not to see his counterpart mirrored from the late 70s or early 80s. An era of disco, gay liberation and pre-AIDS.
Left - How men are looking today - lean, toned and a hair top lip - Gone is the bearded and tattooed hipster
This isn’t just gay men either. Young straight men and homosexual men are almost indecipherable in how they look, today, bouncing the trends off one another and have the confidence to do as they please, rather than worry about being labelled either way.
I was recently in a gay pub in East London. In walked three young guys all proudly sporting cropped hair and thick moustaches. I thought it was interesting how they looked like the same young men from nearly 40 years ago. I wondered why all these things: the clothes, the body shape and facial hair styles, had all collided back to this one point in time. And, then I thought, maybe it’s because we’re entering a Post-AIDS era?
Right - Two Supermen, 40 years apart - Henry Cavill & Christopher Reeve
Thanks to medication, HIV can be prevented and people who do have it can no longer pass it on. Medication such as PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) can stop HIV from taking hold. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed and it recently became available on the NHS.
Consciously or unconsciously, it feels like we can finally celebrate this time because we’re no longer scared of it. Previously, looking at the images from that era had a heavy melancholy knowing what was to come and how many men didn’t make it out of that decade. But, it feels like that has lifted. It’s a mental freedom that the fashion industry is clearly relishing and focusing on this hedonistic era and image of hyper-masculinity.
Popular Instagram accounts such as ‘TheAidsMemorial’ celebrates the lives of men who lost their lives and it’s interesting how contemporary these images look. Publications such as ‘Gayletter’ play with retro homoerotic imagery and books such as ‘Fire Island Pines’ , is a collection of Polaroids from 1975-1983 of men holidaying in Fire Island in Long Island, New York, and they look like a contemporary men's swimwear shoot. Recent films like ‘Tom of Finland’ focuses on the illustrator who drew the fetish/leather side of gay men and can be seen throughout the recent AW18 collection from Moschino.
Left - Photography book - Fire Island Pines by Tom Bianchi
This is obviously centred on the gay community, but gay men influence straight men, so quickly now, and vice versa.
“In the inimitable words of power PR Samantha Jones of TV show ‘Sex and the City’ (fictional, of course) "First comes the Gays, then the girls and then the industry"!says David M Watts, Editor & Publisher, Wattswhat Magazine.
"Gay men have historically been regarded as trend setters when it comes to fashion and style. However, the resurgence of male erotica imagery making its way into mainstream fashion has more to do with lazy millennial designers looking back and copying 80s and 90s imagery rather than using it as inspiration to create something new,” says Watts.
Right - Moschino AW18
Contemporary films, documentaries and TV shows such as Ready Player One, Stranger Things, The Assassination of Gianni Versace and Antonio Lopez: Sex, Fashion & Disco - Read TheChicGeek review here, keep us continually coming back to the 70s and 80s.
“I think nostalgia is a feeling which anchors us in a constantly-changing world, and that period between the late-Seventies and mid-Eighties, pre-AIDS crisis, pre-Section 28, and the birth of the Gay Liberation movement, is sometimes seen by gay men as a golden age of hedonism and queer sexual politics. Hence the continued popularity of the music and style from that period,” says Lee Clatworthy, Writer and Press and Media Officer for Sparkle - The National Transgender Charity.
"I think this style has filtered down to the mainstream because of the availability of cheap flights to cities like Berlin, which has a large queer art community, but is also a focal point for innovative electronic music and club culture at present.” says Clatworthy.
Gone is that built, steroid-fed and hairless muscular body of the 90s and in its place is a more natural yet Instagramable toned shape. It’s more youthful and suits the current fitted style of men's clothes.
Trying not to fixate on the moustache too much, but it’s definitely one of the defining factors linking the two eras, one thing to know is, it’s not the twiddly gin-drinking Victorian type, but the solid Magnum PI style. The many years of Movember would have played a part in its return, but it’s most probably a reaction to the hipster beard.
Left - GQ Style SS18
“I would say guys wearing the moustache are normally stylish and looking to stand out a bit more in a world of beards. It normally means they are confident in themselves too.” says Tom Chapman, Founder of the Lions Barber Collective.
“I think the obsession with facial hair as a whole has been with us for a few years now, but people are starting to feel confident with a furry face and beginning to experiment with different shapes. There are so many choices when it comes to the moustache which can be easily changeable and stylable.” says Chapman.
Right - Selfie from Pinterest
“The thicker, denser looks with less styling have definitely come from those 70/80 icons such as Freddy Mercury and Hulk Hogan and I would say that young men are most definitely influenced by iconic TV and films. They have a powerful way of making something feel cool or stylish.” Chapman says.
While this ‘PrEPpy’ look has already been strong, particularly amongst East London gay men, it is definitely being pushed out into the wider male aesthetic. As we move further away from the bearded hipster, this seems to be its cool replacement. It is starting to influence straight males who won’t even know where it’s come from.
Or, it could simply be just a lot of young men with moustaches. It’s only a theory!
Left - Clearly influence by Tom of Finland, GQ Style SS18 showing the lean, toned and tached male look
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