Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Artist / Rebel / Dandy: Men of Fashion at the RISD Museum

I was in Providnce, RI this weekend visiting my sister, and she took me to the RISD Museum. My two year old in tow, we were making quick pace through the galleries, trying to keep her engaged, when, upon turning a corner, I stumbled upon this:

Suddenly an image I've long been familiar with, having studied it in many a book, was before my eyes! Abandoning my daughter to my sister, I excitedly began lecturing about the biographic details of several of the figures pictured in The Mirror of Fashion by Richard Dighton, a lengthy panorama fashioned in a beautiful box, made in 1823.

Turning another corner, I was confronted with a collection of the iconic ruffled white shirts and blue, broadcloth suits of a Regency Era dandy, as popularized by Beau Brummel. I had unknowingly stumbled into the middle of phenomenal exhibit detailing the image of the dandy since the early 19th century, complete with Cruikshank caricatures. What kismet!

Any Janeite who can should see Artist / Rebel / Dandy: Men of Fashion, which catalogs the development of the dandy as a product of industrialization, democratization, and rebellion since the days of Brummel. His influence is traced through such iconic figures as Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, and Patty Smith. What an amazing testament to the cultural importance of the Regency upon our modern world! I came away with a beautiful exhibit book, filled with essays detailing the construction of satire, art, and self-expression through fashion. The only sorrow attendant on the experience was an ardent wish for time to explore the extensive exhibit and am planning a return trip for that very purpose, probably sometime mid-summer. As it runs through August 18th, I highly recommend making it part of your summer travel plans.

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