Music for a Museum Exhibition
In just five days, Scotia Bank Arena will become Harry’s House for two nights. You might be asking yourself: Harry who? Did Prince Harry decide to move to Canada and stay there until he can move into Casa Loma? Did Harry Houdini rise from the dead to put on a show in Toronto? No, I’m talking about Harry Styles, the former member of One Direction whose third solo album, Harry’s House, dropped earlier this year. Like many, I’m a big fan of Harry’s (yes, I was in the first 0.1% to stream “As It Was” and no, I don’t know if I should be ashamed or proud) and between the album and his two movies being released later this year (FYI: My Policeman will be premiering at TIFF), 2022 has been a good year for Harry fans.
Okay that’s nice, you might be thinking, but what on earth does Harry Styles have to do with museums? I’m so glad you asked! Earlier this year, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London unveiled its newest exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear which features none other than the Gucci dress Styles wore on the cover of Vogue in 2020.
Styles is in good company: Billy Porter’s tuxedo dress from the 2019 Oscars and the glittering suit Timothée Chalamet wore to last year’s Dune premiere are also on display. Curated by Claire Wilcox, Rosalind McKever, and Marta Franceschini, the exhibition explores how the concept of masculinity in fashion has changed from the 16th century to today. Or, upon closer inspection, how little has changed. 18th-century ensembles are displayed next to contemporary runway creations, showcasing the range of the museum’s collection and drawing attention to obvious similarities despite being centuries apart. Rosalind McKever explains:
The V&A has collected menswear since its foundation, and across the museum—in paintings, sculpture, everywhere—we see imagery of men’s fashion. We noticed the connections between the creativity of the contemporary menswear scene and these historical collections, so we wanted to share these and celebrate this moment of vibrancy.
While pink is often associated with femininity nowadays, a text panel informs visitors that pink was favoured amongst 16th-century noblemen because of the high cost of pink dye, therefore making it a status symbol. During the reign of Louis XIV, men wore heels to show off their political power. This would’ve been a wonderful fact to share with all those who tweeted #BringBackManlyMen following Styles’ Vogue cover. Hell yes, let’s bring back dandyism and whatever the hell it was Victorian vampires wore!
It goes without saying that I adore historical clothing. Some of my favourite museum pieces are clothing, so you can imagine how much fun I had perusing the V&A's online collection which includes a pair of Prince’s floral shoes and a silver jumpsuit worn by Mick Jagger. Despite neither of these objects being part of the exhibition, it just goes to show that the concept of so-called modern masculinity has always been challenged, especially within the public eye. The V&A's expansive collection seems to prove this.
` What the exhibition and the collection ultimately does is challenge the idea of masculinity as we know it; looking through the V&A’s catalogue shows that the idea of black suits and subdued clothing being the masculine ideal is relatively new. While Styles, Porter, and Chalamet are not the first to challenge this notion (David Bowie and glam rock bands like Poison immediately spring to mind), they are introducing a new generation to the idea of fluidity in fashion. And judging from the exhibition’s popularity, this won’t be the last time we see these pieces on display.
As a sidenote: A reproduction of Styles’ crocheted sweater (yes, the one that became everyone and their mother’s quarantine side project) was acquired by the V&A last year.