Mad About the Boy

London College of Fashion

Mad About The Boy explored fashion’s obsession with youth, focusing on the way ideas of the teenage boy are constructed through specific collections and fashion images.

Mad About The Boy
'Mad About The Boy' explores fashion’s obsession with youth, focusing on the way ideas of the teenage boy are constructed through specific collections and images and unpicking the many notions of the young male that feature in fashion’s imagination. It presents the work of a variety of designers and image-makers - current as well as select examples from the 1980s and 1990s - who have shaped fashion’s ideal of the male or for whom the boy provides a constant source of inspiration.Fashion has long fetishised young people – from the body shape it champions to the way it draws consistently and unwaveringly on subcultures and street movements. But since the ascent of London Collections Men, and the general increased spotlight on high-end menswear fashion and outlets, from shops to magazines, the male youth seems more spotlighted than ever. In the three years since Hedi Slimane took over at Saint Laurent, the brand has more than doubled annual sales revenue to €707 million in 2014, up from €353 million in 2011. Slimane’s recipe is bottling youth and packaging it as luxury - he shows teen musicians, angst-ridden boys, wayward outsiders. Elsewhere, Raf Simons, a designer who has always been fascinated with youth culture, won one of the top jobs in womenswear, creative director of Dior. While in that role up until October 2015, and under his namesake label, he obsessed on the concept of youth, exploring rites of passage, revelry, groupings, tribes, innocence and his own milestones as a young man.In an age where fashion is so widespread in the popular consciousness, and seemingly so accessible, it is hard to define what is truly ‘luxury’. Labels, price points and fabrics somehow don’t feel enough - in their place more abstract concepts have become the holy grail of style; ‘youth’, ‘coolness’, ‘nonchalance’, things that are fleeting, haphazard and inaccessible. When writing in the New Yorker, Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman argued, "the teen-age years are years of transformation, but, they are also, themselves, constantly transforming, generation by generation, decade by decade." Yet fashion’s relationship with youth is cyclical and repetitive - the same tropes and signatures appear regularly; sex, school, fandom, gangs, firsts. The fluidity and possibility of the teenage years seem to unite the preoccupation, sparked, perhaps by a strange belief in the precious genius of youth - a time of infinite opportunity and spontaneous, innate coolness, mixed with a precious naivety. Designers young and old return to these themes, constructing, rehashing and shaping the dream male, season in season out.
In The Club
For Spring/Summer 2016, Raf Simons paid tribute to British artist Mark Leckey’s 1999 film ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’. Simons is one of many designers who have drawn on night-time pursuits and teenager revelry. From Gareth Pugh’s odes to Leigh Bowery to the frequent odes to Madchester and the Hacienda, club culture is one of the most pervasive inspirations in fashion. The pastimes of the male youth have dominated fashion imagery in the years since Leckey’s original film in work by the likes of photographer Elaine Constantine and designers Martine Rose and Christopher Shannon, who treat the habits and hangouts of youth as something complex, beautiful and nuanced. In fashion magazines, particular attention is paid to the figures and movements that youths deem interesting – from the bands they listen to to the dance floors they frequent. Many creatives obsessively revisit their own teen interests, conjuring for themselves a new kind of access to the clubs and parties they idolised. When reviewing Jun Takahashi’s Spring/Summer 2015 Undercover collection, Tim Blanks noted, “the fan-boy situation in fashion is endlessly mesmerizing. Marc, Raf, Hedi—all these grown men given huge resources to flex their adolescent fascinations.” The preconception of culture with targeting and obsessing over the young is both explored and, ironically, upheld, by fashion’s commitment to keeping alive the party on the runway.
As Outsider
Writing in ‘The Boy’, a 2003 work that explores depictions of the young male in art history and urged women to reclaim their right to visual pleasure, Germaine Greer states, “Boys are volatile, unpredictable and vulnerable. A male teenager is more likely to attempt suicide than not, more likely than anyone else to write off a motor vehicle, almost certain to experiment with drug experiences of one kind of another, and at great risk of committing and or/suffering an act of violence than any grown man or female. His vulnerability is made more acute by his own recklessness and spontaneity.” Fashion is enamoured with the ‘bad boy’ Greer describes. Designers constantly reference anti-heroes such as those depicted in Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’ or ‘Tulsa’ and Nick Knight’s ‘Skinheads’, creating their own rebels through collections inspired by punk or other subcultures. The issue of vulnerability is central; while the boy is in the wrong he is forgiven and ironically applauded for his transgressive behavior. He is beautiful because he is bad, not despite of it. Underpinning fashion’s relationship with the male outsider is the cliché that ‘boys with be boys’, a slogan that appeared on a hoody, the staple item of the 21st century rebel, in Xander Zhou’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection, and that violence, insolence and rebellion are essential facets of masculinity, and therefore somehow desirable, attractive and, even, aspirational.
Between Genders
While typically times of transition and change are emotionally and physically distressing for the real life teenager, the fashion industry has come to fetishise those in between states who defy definitions and expectations. Numerous designers, from Hood by Air and Telfar in New York to J.W. Anderson in London have been celebrated for creating collections that explore distinct themes of gender fluidity, androgynous and genderless dressing. Together, they have reworked typical depictions of the young male that appear in fashion. While it was perhaps Hedi Slimane who first redefined the fashionable male silhouette by recruiting super slim boys to model his skinny tailoring at Dior Homme from 2000 to 2007, recent seasons have offered more overt examples of androgyny; frills, fluff, jewels and sensual details usually restricted to womenswear now litter menswear runways and editorials. Much acclaim has surrounded Alessandro Michele, who was appointed creative director of Gucci in January 2015, for his work in bringing genderless fashion into the mainstream luxury arena. For journalist and critic Tim Blanks it is not just Michele’s liberating attitude to sex and gender that is interesting, but his simultaneous approach to age. “Everybody talks about the gender-less nature of his clothes, but I don’t respond to them in that way. I see them as generationless, which I think is much more subversive - and much much more now. It’s so subversive to relate, as he has talked about, the freedom of the kid with the liberation of the old person, and put them together. People say it’s a boy wearing a girl’s clothes, but it’s actually a boy wearing a granny’s clothes, and a granny wearing a boy’s clothes”. Indeed, the sense of ‘freedom’ that surrounds youth – the boy’s ability to transform, mould and adapt his identity, social group and sex – is seductive to an industry that prides itself on change.
In His Space
In 1995 photographer Adrienne Salinger accessed that sacred space, the teenage bedroom, for ‘In My Room’, a picture book of 43 rooms. For Spring/Summer 2015 designer Christopher Shannon used the work as a reference. Rather than a place of mundanity, routine and frustration, the teenage bedroom was interpreted in this context as a cultural centre – a hub of dreams, passions and freedom of expression. The impertinence of the scrawled graffiti, the commitment behind the carefully arranged walls and the sense of pride visible in the subjects appealed to Shannon, who frequently toys with everyday elements – clipper lighters, plastic bags, cigarette packets – to create collections that are both political and dryly witty. Since the nineties, and in the wake of the success of ‘grunge’ photographers such as Juergen Teller and Corinne Day, numerous fashion shoots feature domestic spaces as their setting, often using kitsch or run-of-the-mill elements to toy with themes of fandom, obsession and authenticity. It is not only the teenager’s room that has captured the imagination of image-makers and designers. Numerous humble hangouts, from the bus stop to the playing field, can be spotted as backdrops to fashion images. An early example is photographer Nigel Shafran’s ‘Teenage Precinct Shoppers’, originally published in i-D in 1990 and later as a book in 2013. The work was a considered attempt to use straightforwardness and simplicity to distance Shafran from the capitalist, aspirational nature of fashion. More recently, rising image-maker Jamie Hawkesworth used the unassuming setting of Preston Bus Station to make portraits that distanced him from typical polished imagery and won him reputation for bringing a sense of quiet beauty and unassuming stillness to fashion photography.
In Education
The schoolyard and classroom offer countless themes to the fashionphotographer or designer; bonding, group identity, routine, rules andregulations. On an aesthetic level, uniform is one of contemporary mensweargreatest references, but it is often the more emotive or sensitive aspects ofschool life that spark the imagination. When Raf Simons sent coats scrawled withrushed graffiti and cluttered wording down his Autumn/Winter 2015 runway hereminded viewers of the sense of community one enjoys and, in turn, struggleswith at school, referencing the ‘leavers’ shirts’ covered in classmate’s signaturesthat numerous graduates hold on to even into adulthood. Simon’s was citing aBelgium-specific tradition from his childhood - a ‘celebration’ of a youth’s first100 days at college, when boys from the older years engage in ‘hazing’ceremonies to test boys’ physical and mental limits. For Simons, this meanthaving his feet buried in buckets of plaster that set, forcing him stand upright foran entire day before behind handed a hammer to knock his way out. The coatswere an ode to the long white garments worn by persecutors, a nod perhaps tohow we can even be nostalgic for the most painful aspects of youth – failure,embarrassment, unrequited love, unfulfilled potential. School-inspired fashionconjures a sense rites of passage; memories of development, change and earlysignificant achievements. There are few pieces of clothing so closely tied to lifeprogression and human growth than school uniform – a prefects badge can turnone from boy to man or a new blazer may ignite a fresh confidence in a way nofuture garment ever can.
As Outsider
 Larry Clark, Kids, 1995. Courtesy of Shining Excalibur Pictures. All Rights Reserved; Nick Knight, Skinhead, 1982. Courtesy of Nick Knight.
Between Man and Child
For the March 1985 cover of the The Face stylist Ray Petri recruited a 13-year-old boy, Felix Howard, the son of a friend, to model a hat emblazoned with theword ‘Killer’, a reference to Jamaican slang. Howard stares firmly into thecamera; his rounded cheeks are obviously that of a child but he has the swaggerand strength of a grown man. Later, members of the eighties Buffalo movementrevealed he was chosen because despite his babyish features he, “had the face ofan elder person.” Thus, thee image toys with the line between man and boy.While many could say boyhood is over simply when the voice breaks and facialhair appears, fashion image-makers have played with the real meaning ofgrowing up. They pin more abstract concepts to boyhood – freedom, insolence,rebellion – and similarly intangible ideals to manhood – strength, pose,resilience. Depictions of the man as boy and boy as man can move beyondsubversion into fetish. For Spring/Summer 2016 Hood by Air furnished modelswith studded, embellished mouth pieces; almost a sex toy, almost a dummy theyboth sexualised the wearer and gave them a childlike appearance. Skewed orperverted innocence seemed to be the intention. Other image-makers revel insubverting naivety. While in ‘The Boy’, Germaine Greer argues that, “among theattributes that are on the verge of extinction is youthful narcissism,” whendiscussing the prevalence of finally dressed young boys in sixteenth centuryportraiture, recent fashion photography is full of examples of the confident,coquettish man-child. We see youth that is aware of the power of youth. When a15-year- old Brooklyn Beckham appeared on the cover of Man About Townmagazine’s S/S 14 the strapline boldly read ‘Drop The Boy’. Yet while we wereencouraged to view him as a newly mature handsome male, the images alsoreveled in childlike norms; he appeared as if in a teen bedroom before rap andskate posters and, elsewhere, played with the classic teen-prop, a PlayStation. Hewas attractive because of his inexperience – a man because of his boyishness.
Fuck Fashion
Installation by exhibition designer Tony Hornecker
Credits: Story

Mad About The Boy explored fashion’s obsession with youth, focusing on the way ideas of the teenage boy are constructed through specific collections and fashion images. Sparked by the success of designers like Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent, Raf Simons and Gosha Rubchinskiy – all of whom seem to share a fixation with youth culture – the exhibition set out to examine the tropes and parallels within fashion’s treatment of youth, unpicking the many notions of the young male that feature in fashion’s imagination, from outsider to sexual fantasy to reveller.
Designers and contributors included: Raf Simons, Kim Jones, Meadham Kirchhoff, Larry Clark, Nick Knight, Nasir Mazhar, Tyrone Lebon, Christopher Shannon, Martine Rose, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Alasdair McLellan, Jason Evans, Jun Takahashi, Judy Blame, Patrick Robyn, Sibling, Glen Luchford, Brett Lloyd, Mark Leckey and JW Anderson. Exhibition Design by Tony Hornecker. Mad About The Boy was curated by Lou Stoppard.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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