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  • Zoltan Alexander


Whilst the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear opens at the V&A, countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński returns with conductor Oliver Zeffman to the Raphael Court with Rinaldo, a flamboyant drama of love and a lot of fearless furies.

Review by Zoltan Alexander

Fashioning Rinaldo / Trailer © video created by Zoltan Alexander ZOLTAN+MEDIA


Could Handel’s Rinaldo, gender-fluid menswear, underwear, 18th-century paintings, contemporary art, photography and Tilda Swinton’s Orlando be put together under one roof?

One has to admit that Music & Art cannot be looked at and enjoyed in an isolated manner nor can they be segregated from other forms of art. There is divine energy when Art and Music juxtapose and interact with each other. The V&A has mastered that on many occasions. It is one of the rare places where fine art, contemporary art, fashion, music and design live creatively together.

The gallery at a lower level is currently showing Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, based on the reflection on gender-fluid creativity in men's fashion, whilst the Raphael Court on the upper level gave a perfect frame to a classical concert: a fearless love affair of Handel’s Rinaldo and other baroque and contemporary pieces. There was an undeniable metamorphosis between the floors and art forms and will certainly be an undeniable crossover between music lovers reading fashion, and menswear enthusiasts discovering operas through a young countertenor breakdancer.

Installation at the V&A - Suit by Randi Rahm / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Jakub Józef Orliński as Didymus and Joyce DiDonato as Irene in Handel's Theodora, The Royal Opera, London / Photo © Courtesy of Camilla Greenwell


We start with the exhibition Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, brilliantly curated by Rosalind McKever and Claire Wilcox, featuring a wild selection of art, costumes and photography from the 18th-century right up to today in an unprecedented and unchronological order.

Studies of particular periods of history indicate significant changes in men's fashion, such as 16th-century dress and costume in Shakespearean England, the 19th-century Aesthetic Movement, 20th-century counterculture and the current Metaculture phenomena. The entire perception of sexual orientation has been drastically challenged by the millennials and among the 19-year-olds of today, defining them as Gen-Z, where the lines between male and female are increasingly blurred.

Posters of "Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear" / Photos © Courtesy of Tom Hingston
Daniel Lismore at the opening / Photos © Courtesy of Daniel Lismore
Guests at the opening / Photos © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese by Sofonisba Anguissola

The exhibition focuses on three key elements of menswear: underwear, extravagant regalia and the suit, displayed thematically across three galleries, creating the exhibition’s core themes: Undressed, Overdressed and Redressed. Each element flows rhythmically to the next, in a fascinating journey through history. Contemporary looks by young designers are displayed alongside their historical references, seamlessly blending with the past.

"We really wanted to show people the long history of changing ideas of masculinity." Curator Rosalind McKever

Zak Pinsent in front of the portrait of Pierre-Jean-George Cabanis by Merry-Joseph Blondel / Photo © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA
(left) Jean-Baptiste Belley by Omar Victor Diop, (right) portrait of Charles Coot, The Earl of Bellomont by Joshua Reynolds / Photo © Courtesy of Galerie Magnin-A
Installations of "Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear" / Photos © Courtesy of ZOLTAN+MEDIA

On the opening night, the chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Nicholas Coleridge, gave a green light to the rhythm generated by much-anticipated musician/DJ Mark Ronson. We walked down to the exhibition, passing classical sculptures by Rodin and paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola (Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese, 1560), Joshua Reynolds (Portrait of Charles Coote the Earl of Bellomont, 1773), Kehinde Wiley (Portrait of Alexander Cassatt, 2017), video installations with choreographer Matthew Bourne, and a short extract from Sally Porter’s film Orlando (1992), in which Tilda Swinton appears in the bejewelled masculine dress of the Elizabethan court, created by award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell.

“The world always will be with a male or female, the pink, the pearl and the perfection of your sex.” Orlando