Reshaping Masculinities: Dress, Body and Identity in the Antwerp Fashion Scene. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

This research project is the first ever to directly address the relationship between fashion, body and gender identity in the well-known Antwerp fashion scene. Specifically, it will focus on the creative practices of four designers from different generations (Raf Simons, Ann Demeulemeester, Bernhard Willhelm and Glenn Martens) and investigate how they all contributed to reshaping the idea of male aesthetics through a critical approach to menswear. The research is innovative for its multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of fashion studies, men's studies and queer studies. It will combine theories on the construction of masculinity with insights into the role of fashion in creating and questioning embodied gender norms. Methodologically, it will primarily draw on the analysis of visual and audio-visual materials (i.e. fashion show videos and images, catalogues, look books, magazine editorials, etc.) provided by the MoMu fashion museum and other archives, combined with interviews with the designers and relevant personalities from the Antwerp fashion scene. Because of its multidisciplinary character, this project will contribute to several fields: it will strengthen the existing literature on Belgian fashion by providing new insights from a masculinity perspective, put Belgium on the fashion studies map, and add a totally new angle to men's and queer studies in Belgian academia.

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Research team(s)

Queering Masculinities: The Antwerp Fashion Scene (1985-2015). 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

This study explores the role that Belgian men's fashion played in the redefinition of masculinities from the mid 1980s to the present. More precisely, it examines how the creative practices of a cohort of designers of the world-famous 'Antwerp fashion scene' have made an impact, not just in the fashion scene, but also in society at large, for presenting alternative 'queer' versions of masculinity. By tackling queer identity formation through the process of body-fashioning in the work of Belgian fashion designers, we set out to address two key research questions: 1. How did Belgian fashion designers manage to dismantle pre-existing paradigms of masculinity as well as mold new subversive ones? 2. How was their work of redefining masculinities through fashion related to, and informed by, the visual culture in which they were operating? The time span under consideration encompasses the socio-historical period of the AIDS epidemic up until present time. The choice of this particular context is not haphazard: it was during the 1980s and 1990s that, as a consequence of the epidemic, fashion became quintessential in the shaping of new male corporealities, e.g., hyper-masculinity or androgyny, that would become paradigmatic in the 2000s. Moreover, this is the time frame in which queer theory, namely, a set of theories aimed at denaturalizing heteronormative understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality, emerged in academia, and 'New Queer Cinema' developed, carving out new radical configurations of queerness opposing the clichéd representations of sexuality in mainstream film. Despite the vast existing research on the arts and literature of this period, there is still a huge gap in academic scholarship on the topic of fashion in this historical framework. By filling such an epistemological gap, this project also seeks to dismantle the deep-seated association of fashion with merely frivolous concerns. We believe that fashion represents an important barometer of social change, both reflecting and affecting cultural development, and that, due to its constitutive link with the body, it is meaningful in defining and negotiating our being in the world and our being with others. To shed light on the redefinition of masculinity by the Antwerp fashion scene from the mid 1980s until 2015, this project will examine the work of a group of internationally established menswear designers, all of whom either trained or worked in Belgium, particularly in Antwerp, and gained success worldwide. In order to do this, we will analyze their collections: both the garments and their visual representation in 'lookbooks', clips of catwalk shows, advertising campaigns and fashion editorials. To contextualize these images, we will draw on visual analysis of intertextual references, in particular to film and photography, as well as interviews with the designers. Such analyses will be developed in three stages: archival research; visual analysis; and interviews. This research is constitutively interdisciplinary, insofar as it is situated at the intersection of three main academic disciplines: fashion studies, queer studies, and masculinity studies. This project being one of the first instances of fashion studies in Belgium, it will help put the country on the map of fashion studies by breaking the intellectual disregard for fashion research outside of the Anglo-American context; it will contribute to the development of queer studies in Belgian academia, where queer theory has only slowly penetrated without having yet achieved institutionalization; and it will enrich, through a cross-disciplinary approach, current debates on both fashion as a form of culture and on masculinity as a set of social norms.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)