Rezension: The New Man

The New Man

The New Man

“The New Man”, a collection of essays published by the Dutch ArtEZ Modelectoraat, investigates the changes in male fashion over the most recent years. Male fashion, which for almost two centuries had remained more or less static, in the last one or two decades received profoundly more attention from fashion designers and is increasingly being fused with feminine traits. The book explores this new masculinity in fashion and relates to the historic figure of the dandy who had used apparel as more than a mere functionality, that is, as the most visible sign of his superior personality. Accordingly, “The New Man” asks about the condition of dandyism in our postmodern era. The reprints of Charles Baudelaire’s essay “The dandy”, Roland Barthes’ “Dandyism and fashion” and a digest of Sebastian Horsley’s “Dandy in the Underworld” illustrates the strong influence that is attributed to dandyism in current male fashion.

José Teunissen starts by asking “Why is menswear in fashion?” He is looking for the conceptual changes in menswear. Looking back, men used to limit themselves to bespoke suits, expensive watches and hand-made shoes. Male fashion focussed very much on a business clientele. While the scope of male fashion has been broadened, it remains largely limited to the concepts of ‘basic,’ ‘necessary,’ and ‘functional’. According to Teunissen, this is a reflection of the contemporary lifestyle of sustainability and responsible consumption. Luxury and excesses are being avoided when shortages of ressources enter the collective mind. This very conscious lifestyle affects the represenation of fashion as well. Male models are marked by androgyny and introspectivity. They turned from objects who are being watched into subjects who feel comfortable in their clothing. This is reminiscent of Baudelaire and Barbey d’Aurevilly who both stressed that for a dandy it is less important what you were but how you were it.

Nanda van den Berg traces “The slow appearance of the female body” which has been taking place since the 1990s. In an era of Grunge chic and Kate Moss, androgyn females started to run the catwalks and fashion advertisements, while men increasingly adopted feminine traits. Gender has since been questioned from a multiple of perspectives. Accordingly, fashion rediscovered the dandy as the prototype of androgyny. The feminisation of male fashion is being explored by Constantin von Maltzahn who asks “Whatever happened to the likely lads?” Focusing on Jean-Paul Gaultier and Hedi Slimane who shocked the fashion world while simultaneously unveiling the narrow confines of male fashion. While Gaultier clothed his male models in skirts and materials that were hitherto restricted to female tailoring, Slimane created a whole new aesthetic, combining the essentials of male couture with techniques from female fashion tailoring. Thus, he created the “slim fit” style, posing as the perfect fit for androygnous bodies.

The final two essays, Jeroen Visser’s “Cultural dandyism” and Olga Vainshtein’s “In search for the modern-day dandy: makeover games”, examine the condition of dandyism in postmodernity. While it has been hard to sharply define the dandy since his beginnings in the early 1820s, this has become quasi impossible in the current eclectic society. Immediately, the dandy is being related to some group or other, which, of course, threatens him in his very existence, since the dandy aims to be unique. Accordingly, Visser identifies the “harmonic paradox” as a meta-characteristic of the postmodern dandy. To escape being grouped, the dandy is constantly reinventing himself. This condition of being in a constant state of flux finds its most appealing expression in the dandy’s wit – a special form of irony, an art in itself, a mastery of language and thought, which guarantees his independence and aloofness. The constant reinvention, “the art of the makeover”, is also being argued for by Vainshtain, who traces this back to “chameleonism,” a principle of 19th century dandies, The dandy not only shapes and transforms his outer appearance but also his surroundings, which prompts Vainshtain to illustrate the relation of dandyism to interior design. The explorations of the New Man are completed by a presentation of contemporary fashion designers which are shaping the image of the new fashion dandy.

This publication, through a variety of approaches, finally offers an in-depth analysis of the ever-growing image of the dandy in male fashion, which in fashion magazines – necessarily – remains rather superficial. The aspect of fashion has long been neglected in the scientific discourse on dandyism. While it is the most visible, it is also the most superficial aspect of being a dandy, which may be the reason why it does not find the merit of sociologists, cultural and literature scientists. This renders “The New Man” even more important. It follows a current trend which was started by books such as “The New English Dandy” and “Gentlemen of Bacongo”. Furthermore, it asks about the state of dandyism in the postmodern age, on which there are surprisingly few writings as of today.

Melanie Grundmann

Dr. Melanie Grundmann ist Kulturwissenschaftlerin und beschäftigt sich seit mehreren Jahren mit dem Phänomen des Dandys. Sie hat mehrere Bücher, Aufsätze, Artikel und Vorträge zum Dandyismus und angrenzenden Themen verfasst.

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