Men’s fashion as a form of expression of male identity

Stazione Leopolda

Men’s fashion is many things to many people; among others, it is also a form of expression of male identity. Ideas about masculinity, however, are changing rapidly and, just like fashion itself, they seem to move in many directions at once. Material Man illustrates current models of masculinity, their origin in the past, and their foreseeable future forms, examined in the context of fashion, industrial design, and art, laid out in a cultural analysis by experts and scholars. Like the previous undertakings—The Style Engine (1998) and Volare, The Icon of Italy in Global Pop Culture (1999)—this third research project produced by the Fashion Engineering Unitä for Pitti Immagine has generated a book that will be published simultaneously in the United States—with the title Material Man—by Harry N. Abrams Publishers, while in Italy the book will be entitled Uomo Oggetto, and will be published by Edizioni Bolis.

The team that created Material Man includes Carlo Antonelli, Natalia Aspesi, Andrea Balestri and Marco Ricchetti, Carlo Bertelli, Uta Brandes, Thomas Hine, Franco La Cecla, David Le Breton, Anna Lombardi, Peppino Ortoleva and Maria Teresa Di Marco, Ted Polhemus, Claudio Risé, Alix Sharkey, Antony Shugaar, Valerie Steele, Ugo Volli, and Alain Weill.

The exhibition takes the subjects of the research project and the book itself and “exhibits” them in the form of a vast installation (covering about 15,000 square feet) through a guided tour consisting of large-screen projections of photographs, films, videoclips, and commercials, merging into a single media-driven environment. Space, images, films, and “male voices” deconstruct the coordinates of the male gender and emphasize the process of implosione that it is undergoing due to the effects of the languages of fashion, the media, and art.

Curated by Giannino Malossi and designed by Pierluigi Cerri with the consultancy of Carlo Bertelli and Peppino Ortoleva, the exhibition emphasizes how masculine identity developed out of the certainties of classical culture; how that identity collapsed during the twentieth century, when photography revealed the masculine “pose” and its contradictions and cinema discovered the dark side of masculinity (a section is dedicated to the male image in the film noir of the Forties) right up to the present overlapping of all models—including those that overturn the basic presuppositions of the male gender—to be found in the current visual language of masculinity in television, advertising, and fashion, and which thrusts men into a space in which only the fragmentation and unreliability of any possible spectacular image can be perceived.

Just thirty or forty years ago, men were completely in tune with society, and knew exactly how to dress, how to appear, how to behave, in order to transmit an image of masculinity. Toward the end of the Seventies, however, these unwritten rules began to dissolve. The decline, still underway, of codes of behavior that have been consolidated over time has led many observers to interpret the present-day state of confusion over male identity as a crisis. If this is a crisis, however, it bears within it the seeds of an extremely fertile moment in the history of ideas about masculinity. Some of the most acute minds of our culture have focused on the quest for new ways for men to express their identity.

Material Man reveals the ways in which fashion, design, and mass communications consider masculinity and shape it, presenting a broad array of images: advertising and fashion photography, iconic celebrities of film and port, archetypes of traditional cultures, but also men who have broken with, or who fall outside of, tradition. All of these are figures who serve as inspirations for their own gender. They are images that mark the boundaries of this ever-changing territory in which norms are never carved in stone. The essays in the book analyze the influence of military uniforms, pop music, art, photography, sports, film, science fiction, advertising, mass media, examining the men’s fashion industry and its magazines, emphasizing the way in which vast movements of society and culture affect the signs of masculinity, the way in which males pose and act.

Masculinity Sexuality Style
conceived and curated by Giannino Malossi
consulting scholars Carlo Bertelli and Peppino Ortoleva