Sartorial Self Expression

RISD traces the evolution of the dandy figure


The RISD Museum proudly announces the opening of Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion (April 26-August 18), an exhibition that traces the distinctively dressed figure of the artist-dandy from the 19th to 21st centuries via 200 objects such as innovative garments, works on paper and paintings. Emphasizing the personalities of well-known fashionable men including Oscar Wilde and Patrick McDonald, Artist/Rebel/Dandy focuses on the bond between identity, creativity and self-presentation. The opening kicks off with a gala event on April 26 with special guest Andre Leon Talley, contributing editor at Vogue. Talley is a renowned modern dandy with ties to Providence, having attended Brown University for graduate school. Other dandies who will be in town for the exhibition’s opening weekend include Waris Ahluwalia, Ouigi Theodore, Guy Hills and Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, who have joined noted figures such as Tom Wolfe, John Waters, Rick Owens and Patti Smith in lending their personal ensembles to the show.

The RISD Museum is the originating institution for this exhibition and the show was conceived in response to garments in the museum’s permanent collections. Cocurators Kate Irvin and Laurie Brewer devised the concept and themes together, facing the practical and logistical concerns as a team, sharing all responsibilities and creative aspects. “As the themes developed, we conducted extensive research to find supporting objects from institutional and private collections in the US and in Europe,” Irvin explains. Brewer continues: “Rather than following strict definitions, we embrace myriad manifestations of the dandy’s style and persona, from the discreet sophistication of the imposing and consummately elegant dandy George Bryan “Beau” Brummell at the turn of the 19th century to the notorious swells in the sea of suits of the 20th century to the connoisseurs, romantics and revolutionaries who stud the landscape of menswear today.”

Irvin says that while the dandy lineage has evolved over the course of two centuries, it always tracks back to the “extremely neat and buttoned-up” figure of Mr. George Brummell. “Born outside the aristocracy, Brummell, with the help of his tailors, forged a path to the heart of London’s exclusive society by employing the emergent craft of tailoring to sculpt a dashing and artful figure of wit and authority. In the 200 years since Brummell’s hey- day, the vision of the dandy has been reinterpreted numerous times, though the idea of bespoke clothes as a mani-festation of thoughtful self-construction has remained constant. Today’s dandies – young, respectful of the past while decidedly contemporary, intellectual in their sartorial pursuits - come closest to embodying the dandy as potently as Brummell did, educating themselves on the craftsmanship, intention and meaning of material, and making it their own.”

Brewer says that the two “hope to shift focus from the prevailing image of the dandy as superficial, flamboyant, self-indulgent and mindless to reveal him instead as an artistic, rebellious figure who employs profound thought and imagination in his sartorial and personal presentation, forging a unique path to self-discovery and self-expression.”

While the latest incarnation of dandyism manifests on the streets, Brewer says that blogs and magazines “spread the gospel of sartorial innovators and craftspeople across the globe.” She names magazines like London-based The Chap and The Rake, the Dutch Fantastic Man and the Canadian Inventory as well as style blogs such as Scott Schuman’s Sartorialist blog, which “highlights the diversity of the international clothes-wearing man; Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs’s Street Etiquette, which places stylistic virtuosity among those with an artistic eye rather than simply deep pockets; and Rose Callahan, who documents the lives of exquisite gentlemen today on The Dandy Portraits. Online endeavors such as these have brought an appreciative public into the rarefied realm of the dandy. In their range and sheer number these images also reflect the explosion of Brummell’s dream of singular meticulousness into the wealth of fluctuating visions that we see today.”

The curators worked with the museum’s registrars’ department to coordinate incoming loans, with preservation specialist Jessica Urick to prepare and dress objects on tailors’ forms and with the installation department and paper conservator on the mounting of accessories, works on paper and paintings. “It takes many people working behind the scenes to put together an exhibition at the RISD Museum,” Irvin says. “We are thrilled with the result and look forward to seeing many visitors in our galleries.” Tickets to the April 26 gala fundraiser on Friday, April 26 are $500. Tickets for the Artist/Rebel/Dandy party on Saturday, April 27 are $75. To reserve tickets for either, call 454-6505.


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