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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Carolyn Massey presents The Gentleman’s Code

Museum Of London 2009

Written by Becky Cope


Men designing womenswear is something that appears to dominate the fashion industry. We don’t know why, but men are often able to create clothing for the opposite sex that oozes sex appeal and sassy beauty. Probably, it’s down to the distance of being able to appreciate something that they are not, alongside the aesthete’s almost iconic hero-worship of the female form. Women designing menswear however, is not a similar occurrence, Menswear extraordinaire Carolyn Massey however is shaking up the status quo. With her creations gallivanting across Parisian runways and her third capsule collection hitting Topman stores, this lady knows a thing or two about how a man should dress; and it should be through wearing her pieces.


Graduating from Royal College of Art four years ago, Massey is known for her attention to detail, tailoring and her menswear is branded as gentlemanly. The clothes are durable and investment-worthy, just like something your granddad would wear. During a recent talk entitled “The Gentleman’s Code”, as part of a fashion lecture series at The Museum of London, Massey discussed her interpretation and inspiration of the gentleman in the past and present.

Trawling through the archives of garment history, Massey accumulated an intense knowledge of how men used to dress from the turn of the century to the war and inter-war period. Bringing historical details back to contemporary design is no easy feat. Despite finding beautiful detailing on buttons and stitches, much of Massey’s research led her to conclude that things like personal designer touches (including errors) were maxims perhaps best left to the Victorians. Details such as hand-sewn embellishments would not be bothered with today on a grand scale. After all, our economy runs on a manufacturing basis, and there is unfortunately little swing for hand-stitching and “one-of-a-kind” designer details, despite the exquisiteness of entirely hand-sewn trousers.


(Photography by Matt Bramford)

Instead of lock-stock reverting to historical design principles, Massey subtly attempts to alter impressions of menswear. Traditionally seen as distinctly “un-fashion”, there is an ongoing debate into whether menswear as a branch of the fashion industry even exists. As Massey persuasively argued, menswear changes less rapidly and more subtly than womenswear, and that this can be used to good cause. Menswear should therefore be durable and long-living. Men should buy a tailor blazer or suit or trousers, and keep them forever. What should be thrown out is our culture’s attitude of “throw-away-ability”, our IKEA spawn of buying something cheap because then we can replace it. Don’t get Massey started on Primark.


Despite being influenced by dandy dressers of the past, who wore impeccably detailed and tailored pieces, Massey insists that the notion of the gentleman comes from within; stating during the talk that it’s an attitude and a style of life, not a 3 piece suit from Armani. Massey cannot create these items as a magic cure-all to transform the average gent into Oscar Wilde. Massey holds a great fascination for silhouettes and shapes; the pieces play within being eccentric but lightweight, vivacious but muted, sharp but comfy. Coding is important, and that’s why the military is highly prevalent in her work.


Investigating old regulation army jackets and badging rules, Massey incorporated these touches into her own work. In the same way, functionality is a big deal for the boys; if they need a pocket – they want a pocket. Dappling in the ubiquitously difficult ‘man bag’ territory and Massey comes off strong, demonstrating functionality as key. What can’t this woman do?


(photograph by Matt Bramford)

Carolyn Massey’s dip into the archives benefited menswear relevance greatly this season. Her SS10 collection was classic but contemporary, an increasingly hard balance to hit successfully. With the rise of metrosexuality and unisex brands, good old fashioned tough, eccentric, granddad clobber is hard to find. However, with designers like Massey taking the time to get into the mindset, clothing born from style’s past creates a functional contemporary gentlemen.

For more talks and events (FREE!) check out the Museum of London


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