Mad About The Boy: Exploring Fashion's Fixation With Youth

Pin It
Photograph by Patrick Robyn Walter Van Beirendonck

Lou Stoppard reveals the concept and creative process behind her inaugural exhibition

On June 12th, 2012, the now-defunct Meadham Kirchhoff made a spirited return from their six-year hiatus from menswear, staging a static presentation for London Collections: Men Spring/Summer 2013 in the palatial setting of Carlton Gardens – just a short stroll from Buckingham Palace. Inside, attendees were greeted by a riotus melange of Disney-print duveys, scattered potpourri and androgynous youths, who were lounging around the space in day-glo sportswear, beaded saris and pyjama bottoms. Adopting their visual cues from the typically haphazard, anti-social bedroom of a teenage boy and his enviably fluid style sensibility, "the boys looked as though they went out for a wild night of fun and ended the evening with haircuts and colour at 4am at one of their flats," revealed hairstylist James Pecis to Dazed.

That very same presentation is recreated and marks a focal point in a new exhibit entitled Mad About The Boy by the British fashion commentator, author and editor of SHOWstudio, Lou Stoppard, who seeks to analyse fashion's ongoing fetishisation of youth – and, more specifically, the ideals and notions of the teenage boy. "I did a series on SHOWstudio a couple of years ago called Girly, which examined the almost cartoon-ish nuances of femininity, and I think in some ways, this has become an extension of that," reveals Stoppard. "Having attended the menswear shows season after season, you can’t help but ponder the recurring themes. Designers like Hedi [Slimane] at Saint Laurent and Raf Simons are consistently drawn to youth, and to them youth is obviously a concept rather than a reality. That's really fascinating to me." 

Immersive and compelling, Mad About The Boy addresses and deconstructs various identities of the young male – from the sexual fantasist to the anarchic rebel – through audio recordings, films and seminal garments created by a plethora of prolific designers and image-makers including Raf Simons, Nick Knight and Larry Clark. These themes are further enlivened thanks to pioneering set designer Tony Hornecker, who Stoppard tapped to create a series of tableaux, such as the aforementioned Meadham Kirchhoff presentation, especially for the exhibit. Here, on the eve of its official opening, Stoppard gives AnOther the full lowdown on the exhibit.

On why timing is everything... 
"There is definitely a spotlight on menswear right now; I think people seem very interested and engaged in the genre as a whole, so it felt like the ideal time to do the exhibit. I also think it's an interesting time for fashion exhibitions, the thirst is there, and so I wanted to create an innovative show that excites people." 

On working with Tony Hornecker... 
"It was absolutely amazing, I love his work. I was speaking to Benjamin Kirchhoff about the exhibit, and he pointed me in the direction of Tony [Hornecker] and I took it from there. I think it's fairly easy to display designs and garments in a really stark manner, and that tends to instantly elevate a show and make it appear more intelligent, but I also think it's quite lazy. So, I liked the idea of this show possessing a dressed, almost theatrical aesthetic – a similar vibe to when you are actually at a presentation. It has been such a pleasure to collaborate with Tony, he had such brilliant ideas." 

On the prevailing themes of the show...
"There are many different themes within the exhibition, such as the boy as an outsider, which examines fashion's obsession with presenting the male as a 'rebel', or 'bad boy'. Then, there's the male as a sexual being, which is presented in myriad ways, from the strongly hetero, testosterone-laden lad, to the sexually curious or inquisitive. We have also analysed the key major male of the moment as being between states, that ability that they have to be gender fluid and gender inquisitive, which obviously feels really current because of what's happening at Gucci with Alessandro Michele. There's also a focus on the boy as fanatic and the boy in education, and the way that uniform continues to inform and intrigue menswear designers."

On the subject of stereotyping...
"Stereotyping is one thing I was very conscious of. The exhibition is not about how 'the teenage boy' dresses. It is about the ideals of a teenage boy, so there is no element of building caricatures surrounding different types of men. There's no focus on the realities of how men are dressing, it is very much about how young men are presented within the context of fashion." 

On the highlights of the show...
"Re-staging the Meadham Kirchhoff presentation was super exciting and I reallly hope that people enjoy and can engage with that. Another highlight has to be the breadth of incredible people that have contributed to the show, such as Raf Simons, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Judy Blame. I'm also thrilled to be able to show Mark Leckey's iconic short, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, because I think it's such an amazing piece of art and has had such a lasting impact on fashion. The most obvious example is Raf Simons' Spring/Summer 2016 menswear show, from which we are displaying a look next to the Leckey short, so being able to draw strong visual parallels in this manner is great."

Mad About The Boy runs from January 8th – April 2nd, 2016 at the Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion.