The Largest-Ever Exhibition Devoted to Menswear Is Currently on Display in London
Invisible Men: An Anthology from the Westminster Menswear Archive draws exclusively from the Westminster Menswear Archive of over 1700 objects created by Professor Andrew Groves and overseen by curator Dr Danielle Sprecher. The largest-ever exhibition devoted to menswear is on show for its final weekend in London.
Presenting over 170 garments depicting key moments in the last 120 years of predominately British menswear, the majority of the designs have never been on public display. Arranged into twelve sections, designer garments are presented alongside military, functional, and utilitarian outfits, exploring the design language of menswear, which predominately focuses on the replication of repeats archetypal functional garments intended for specific industrial, technical or military use.
Designs by Aitor Throup, Stone Island, Massimo Osti, Nigel Cabourn, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake Peter Saville, Prada and Samuel Ross can be seen up close and personal in the show, with visitors able to examine details, materials and fits as never before. There are multiple surprises in the show, such as a section devoted to the C.P. Company Urban Protection range that was launched in 1998, or an entire section devoted to Alexander McQueen’s design. Both continue to be highly influential on generations of menswear designers.
We spoke to Andrew Groves to find out more about the pivotal collection and its ambitious exhibition.
CHAMP: Hi Andrew, can you tell us bit more about why you started the archive?
Andrew Groves: I realised students had no way of seeing important menswear designs, as museum collections almost entirely focus on womenswear. If they can’t see examples from the recent past, how on earth are they going to be able to push fashion forward? Looking online wasn’t enough; they had to be able to see, touch and feel the real garments. This applies to womenswear designers as much as menswear; both use the Westminster Menswear Archive to inform their design process and research. That was three years ago, and now we have a collection of over 1700 garments.
With whom, how and where is the archive maintained and stored?
It’s housed within the fashion department which is on our Harrow campus at the University of Westminster. We have a full-time curator, Dr Danielle Sprecher who ensures that as much as possible we maintain the archive to museum-level standards.
What has the process been like to obtain the garments you thought were key for the collection?
I sourced the majority of the garments online. I had 99 email alerts every day for eBay, and every morning I would go through all those emails to see if there was anything worth buying. Many things that we have had alerts for never turned up anything, so there are gaps in the collection. But it’s a very new archive, and we are working to fill those gaps.
Some designers’ work is present in the show that is hard to see anywhere in person, such as Aitor Throup’s Umbro collection or CP Company’s Prototype Jacket, how did you obtain these for the collection?
I have been looking for those pieces for the last three years. The Aitor Throup x Umbro trousers were something I had tried to find since the very beginning, and I only found a pair online last month, so they are incredibly hard to find someone willing to sell them. Those iconic garments tend to end up with hardcore collectors that rarely want to part with them, so we have had to be very patient!
Is there anything missing from the collection or that you would still like to acquire? We noticed Kim Jones isn’t present, are their pieces too hard to obtain?
We have quite a large collection of Kim Jones from his earliest collections as well as his collaboration with Umbro. In the end, none of the pieces fitted into the thematic sections of the show. But the good thing is we have them to show at a later date and also goes to proves how much amazing menswear there is, that even with 156 looks there are still some amazing designers like Kim that we haven’t managed to include.
Tell us more about the title of the show.
It is two-fold. Firstly, it refers to the lack of exhibitions that are either devoted to menswear or that could have contained menswear but didn’t. Both Savage Beauty and Dior: Master of Dreams could have included menswear yet didn’t. The men became invisible. Secondly, it is a reference to a design strategy that is prominent within menswear that obsesses over details that remain largely unnoticed except for those in the know. The C.P. Company Urban Protection range illustrates this beautifully. Superficially it seems very minimal and yet look further, and it is utterly romantic in its approach to how man is envisaged engaging with a modern urban landscape.
What is next for the exhibition?
We are in discussions to take the exhibition on tour, so I’m excited that we will be able to show many more people the amazing menswear that this country has been producing over the last 120 years.
Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS
25 October – 24 November 2019 | Open Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 7pm