BOOK REVIEW by Belinda Morris.
REIGNING MEN - Fashion in Menswear 1715 – 2015
By Peter McNeill
(£35, Prestel Publishing)
This weighty, lavishly illustrated book accompanies an exhibition of the same name, currently showing at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (now until 21st August 2016). The intention of both is to explore the history of fashionable menswear and prove that by no means did women have the monopoly on style; fashion in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries did not necessarily have to equate with femininity. The point is made eloquently and pretty comprehensively – in words as well as pictures.
The book is divided into sections covering cultural influences – which today might be described by fashion editors, bloggers and the like as ‘trends’ – in order to trace the history of men’s fashion. Where did the young 18th century Englishman pick up his ideas for dress and manners?
‘Revolution/Evolution’, ‘East/West’, ‘Uniformity’, ‘Body Consciousness’ and ‘The Splendid Man’ highlight the various connections between history and high fashion, with each chapter taking the reader through the centuries with examples of costumes from (for example) an 1820s naval ensemble to Picasso’s matelot jersey, Montgomery’s duffle, a Burberry trench coat, Issey Miyake’s take on the Eisenhower blouson jacket and Gaultier’s quilted coat filled with camouflage-painted feathers, to illustrate the influence of military wear.
Leaving no stone unturned, each section is analysed and broken down further – so that Body Conscious, for instance, explores cinching, molding, exposing skin and sheer dressing, to make the point that men have been no slouches over the years when it comes to accentuating and enhancing their physiques. Stockings with padded calves in the 18th century gradually morphed into Walter van Beirendonck’s jacket with inflatable pectorals, abdominals and biceps in 1996/7.
Each illustration is accompanied by detailed captions and full-length ensembles sit alongside beautifully shot close-up details to better appreciate embroidery, stitching detail and, perhaps, the weave of a cloth. Some of the essays may be a little intense or academic, but this is a museum book after all – it’s insightful and fascinating… and you can always just look at the pictures and drool, as I did.