Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Paul Andrew interviews Paola Di Trocchio, Assistant Curator International Fashion and Textiles at the NGV about ManStyle an exhibition of male sartorial elegance; a late Midsumma 'friendly' event.
Midsumma- it's hot, its humid, clothes are clinging to the male body- how has the weather influenced men's fashion in Australia - in the distant past and in the recent past too?
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. Dapper food critic, 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, NGV Australia 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 the nightclub Taboo in London during the 1980‘s?
Throughout the 1980s, 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 oversized 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. 

What is the oldest outfit on display?
The oldest work is a 1740s coat, made from a ‘snuff’ coloured brown figured silk. Unlike contemporary coats, it is fitted through the torso with a circle of deep plats below the waist. It is believed to contain cane at the hemline in order to keep the skirts outright and away from the legs.  It is also incredibly rare.

Tell me about one of the most contemporary items?
In Violin jacket and Sequin scale leggings from spring-summer 2010–11, Australian designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born, decorate a blazer in order to transform the male torso it into a violin. Worn over sparkling gold skin-tight leggings, the outfit conjures up images of the medieval male in tunic and hose mixed with 1970s Glam Rock and provides evidence of the current theatricality present in contemporary men’s fashion.

With an outfit from Spring 2011, Walter Van Beirendonck probes the archetypes of men’s fashion with associations of workwear, sleepwear and uniform. Utilitarian trousers are worn under a ruffled skirt and a faux-leather crocodile curves around the wearer’s back. It shows us that humour is frequently present in men’s fashion, that men’s fashion is often derived from utility wear, and that even in the twenty-first century, the image of a man in a skirt can still be confronting. Aren’t we conservative??
What is the oddity of the collection?
A garish, multi-coloured, fluorescent, printed, velvet suit by Comme des garçons, that completely defies Rei Kawakubo’s reputation for black, oversized clothing. I love it.
What is your favourite piece Paola?
I struggle to choose a favourite, however I really admire Hedi Slimane’s Cape and shirt. The cape honours Italian-inspired mod tailoring in it's sleek fit, slim shoulder line and thin lapels. The slinky short emerges with a draped collar fashioned into an ostentatious cravat. Slimane left Dior in 2007; however, his influence created a revolution in menswear that is still felt today.

Technology is altering textiles, altering design and adding altered - high tech, low tech- images to our image repertoire- some examples of this alterity evidenced by 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 1950s 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.

I am struck by plunging necklines in young men's tops and tees and singlets- revealing more front, more back- what is this signifying?
Fashion works in cycles and body consciousness is a recurring theme. Plunging necklines on young men’s tops is just another way to reveal and frame an erogenous zone of the body.
Where does the bluey fit into the archaeology of Manstyle- it's not quite peacock blue?
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.


H. Lehmann, Aldershot (tailor)
active in England c.1900
Royal Gloucester Hussar’s uniform c. 1900
wool, cotton, metal
(a) 51.0 cm (centre back), 64.0 cm (sleeve length) (jacket)
(b) 48.0 cm (centre back), 44.0 cm (width) (waistcoat)
(c) 119.0 cm (outer leg), 39.0 cm (waist, flat) (trousers)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Stone Family, 1963

11 March - 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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