Art & Design


ManStyle At The NGV

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Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator International Fashion and Textiles, NGV speaks to Paul Andrew about ManStyle, an exhibition of male sartorial elegance and a late Midsumma “friendly” event.

Midsumma- it’s hot, it’s humid, clothes are clinging to the body – how has the weather influenced men’s fashion in Australia – in the distant past and recent past?
In the recent past Australian designers like Stuart Membery referenced Australian icon, the Driza-Bone, in Outfit 1984 in ManStyle. These heavy oilskins originated as work wear for stockmen and were worn to protect horse riders from the rain. In the distant past bushrangers wore neckerchiefs to absorb sweat while riding in the harsh Australian sun. Matt Preston, who appears interviewed in the exhibition, cites bushrangers amongst his style influences. There is of course the distinctly Australia swimwear the ‘budgie smugglers’, though unfortunately there aren’t any in the exhibition.

Is the suit dead- is it the last vestige of empire, patriarchy, orthodoxy?
The suit is far from dead. Instead, its longevity is testament to its beauty and power. It has become a template for individual flair and endless variation. For example, contemporary designer Thom Browne’s reinvented suiting proportions has caused men all over the world to bare their ankles. Recognising a penchant for dressing down, he advocated the suit as an anti-Establishment stance. His spring–summer 2008 four-piece suit is included in the exhibition and invites an essay on the history of menswear traditions. In fact, the entire gallery at The Ian Potter Centre focuses on the genesis and evolution of the modern suit from the 18th century to the present.

Leigh Bowery – tell me about this Performance Artist and his work at Taboo in London.
Throughout the 1980’s, Australian-born designer and performance artist Leigh Bowery gained notoriety as the face of Taboo, London’s most progressive and decadent club. Dressing up each week, Bowery concocted elaborate and garish one-off outfits accessorised with heavy make-up. Bowery’s outfit in ManStyle, Pregnant Tutu head, features an over-sized pregnant belly which he wore with tight-fitting lycra leggings, hiding his face with an orange sphere of ruffled tulle. Towering in clod-like foam shoes, the image was one of provocation and outrageous flamboyance. His influence reached the fashion, club and art worlds at the time, and still holds resonance today, impacting, amongst others Lucian Freud, Boy George, David LaChapelle, Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen.

Technology is altering textiles, altering design and adding altered – high tech and low tech – images to our image repertoire- what are some examples of this shift in the exhibition?
The Romance Was Born outfit shows some great application of textile design. The internet brings high tech and low tech- images to our image repertoire. As curators, this gives us access to the latest contemporary fashions, facilitating purchases such as the Spring 2011 Rick Owens outfit in structured and rigid leather inspired by 1950’s Swedish furniture that will be featured in ManStyle. The exhibition also offers the public the chance to see examples of contemporary and historical fashion without technological aids, which can hinder their true representation.

Where does the “bluey” fit into the archaeology of Manstyle – not quite peacock blue I know…
The bluey, or the blue chesty bonds singlet, is closely associated with workwear. In the 1940s singlets were promoted as hygienic aids to absorb sweat, however the blue chesty bonds in particular became quickly associated with hard-working physical labour. Much of men’s wear and men’s fashion has derived from workwear. This is no exception.

ManStyle runs from 11 March to 30 October
Ian Potter Centre, Fed Square
10:00am – 5:00pm every day except Tuesdays, when the gallery is closed
Free entry

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