Timed to coincide with London Collections Men and curated by SHOWStudio's formidably smart editor Lou Stoppard, the Fashion Space Gallery's latest exhibition, one of its liveliest yet, explores fashion’s obsession with male youth.
Focusing on the different incarnations of young manhood, Mad About The Boy brings together the work of a luminous rosta of designers and image-makers who have explored the theme. It's a who who of visual talent, including Raf Simons, J W Anderson, Nick Knight, Larry Clark, Jason Evans, Kim Jones, Meadham Kirchhoff, Tyrone Lebon, Nasir Mazhar, Martine Rose, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Christopher Shannon, Judy Blame and more. Audio recordings of the creatives talking about their memories and perception of youth are included alongside editorials, films and looks from seminal collections. The result, like its subject, is rich, dense with cultural reference and endlessly evolving.
To be young is, supposedly, to be free - creatively, sexually, personally and politically and it is this perception of youth, says Stoppard, 'as a time of perceived infinite opportunity', that creates fashion's obsession with the boy. 'Designers return to the same themes again and again, constructing and rehashing the dream male,' she says.
They have a rich history of masculine complexity to draw upon. 'Despite the fact there have been some amazing women in these movements, when you think about outsiders - punks, skinheads, mods - you think boys. If you think pop music, you think Bowie, Joy Division, New Order. Culture, in terms of these movements, is generally masculine.' It's one of the factors that may account of different ways fashion for the sexes is conceived. In womenswear, collections are often inspired by particular characters, inviting women to dress up or play a role. Menswear designers, says Stoppard, tend to focus on rites of passage or on subcultures: 'It's quite a subtle thing. In menswear, it’s notions rather than characters; notions of someone who's sexually inquisitive or who’s an outsider.' And it's often personal. 'Designers who work with these themes tend to draw on their own lives. It’s very much about their experience or what they grew up with.'
An example can be found in the work of Meadham Kirchhoff, whose seminal SS13 presentation by set designer Tony Hornecker - in which tousled boys, in kimonos, pyjama bottoms and acid-bright trainers lounged against bedsteads draped with flowers and soft toys - has been partially recreated for the exhibition. 'I was really happy to be able to restage a bit of that presentation,' says Stoppard with a particular wistfulness; the brand was dissolved last year. 'It was probably the most beautiful presentation I’ve been to. I talked quite a lot to Benjamin Kirchhoff about what that show was about and it's quite complex. It was about his own youth and his ideas of youth; it felt so relevant.'