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YOUTH HOTELPhotography by Gosha Rubchinskiy

The designers using the teenage boy as a fashion muse

A new exhibition puts the focus on the enduring legacy of the adolescent male outsider – we follow his figure through the work of three cult menswear designers

Suspended between the playful freedom of childhood and the 9-5 expectations of male maturity, the teenage boy exists in a state of flux. It might be the process of becoming a man that defines film and literature’s favourite coming of age narratives, but it’s his adolescence that fashion designers often seek to hold a candle to. In menswear, the teenage boy is more than a simple muse – he’s an object of desire, a symbol of possibility and a way for designers to recast their own turbulent teen years in a new light (“There is always a part of what you do that refers to your childhood, or youth,” Hedi Slimane admitted in a recent interview). It’s this that’s explored in Mad About the Boy, a new exhibition at LCF’s Fashion Space gallery that opened in time for London Collections: Men and runs until April, curated by Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio.

"I create domestic spaces a lot so in some way it became like a flat," says set designer Tony Hornecker of the exhibition’s interior, which features a an armchair (opposite a TV playing Larry Clark’s seminal one day odyssey of teenage desire, Kids), a bathroom sink and laundry basket topped off with Lynx and various other trappings of male adolescence. There is also a toilet cubicle – or as Hornecker puts it, the “cubicle of indecent desire” – that’s plastered with magazine cuttings. “It’s basically from growing up as a gay man; there’s always sexual undertones to toilets,” he says. Another standout – a restaging of the squat-inspired set he designed for Meadham Kirchhoff’s SS13 show.

From school boy to rebel, club kid and gender-bending androgyne, the show puts the focus on the different roles played by the teenage male through fashion, immortalised in our cultural imagination. Whether a rebellious outsider or poetic introvert, he’s a conceptual muse that’s forever young and always ready to take on new meanings. To mark the exhibition’s opening, we explore the male muses of three of its featured designers – from Gosha Rubchinskiy’s skate rebels to Martine Rose’s Mapplethorpe-inspired outsiders. 


With his shows and campaigns featuring a line up of boys plucked from streets and skateparks, Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy's vision is one heavily invested in youth culture. “I like young people’s energy,” he explained in our Spring/Summer 2014 issue. “Young people in my generation and the previous generation felt isolated, and we still feel disconnected to popular culture. The new generation has the internet and they feel like a part of something bigger, they want to be the voice of their people.” Intrinsic to his aesthetic are his non-professional models, and as a photographer the polymathic Rubchinskiy has captured young post-soviet male muses in zines such as Crimea/Kids and his recent book Youth Hotel, which features in the exhibition alongside three looks lent by the designer.


Inspired by music subcultures and his own teenage years sewing band patches on his clothes, Raf Simons’ work is defined by ideas of youth, particularly the figure of the male outsider. The Fourth Sex: Adolescent Extremes is a case in point – a book he created alongside an exhibition in 2003, it’s become a sought-after youth culture bible packed with references as diverse as Twin Peaks, Nick Knight’s Skinheads and the Chapman brothers’ sculptures. Simons' label may have grown up (it’s set to turn 21 this season) but his preoccupation with youth remains – for AW15 he looked back to academic rites of passage in his native Belgium, where university students would “baptise” first years by having them perform tasks dressed in white lab coats – which soon became covered in scrawls. One of these coats has pride of place in the exhibition, suspended in the ear beneath a shower of paper planes.


“My work is always about the outsider,” menswear designer Martine Rose told us last year. “Even in my personal life… I’ve always been fascinated by those people.” More than just a rebellious outlier, Rose’s male muse is a subcultural hybrid. He’s got wide cut jeans inspired by the crusty ravers that used to dance all day on Clapham Common in the 90s, an attitude borrowed from post-punk protagonist Mark E. Smith of The Fall, and a sexual ambiguity inspired by underground S&M subcultures. Influenced by legendary gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose images were scattered on the floor of her AW15 presentation, and who inspired AW16’s leather chaps. She’s also collaborated with Ditto Press on their Skinhead history exhibition, and teamed up with Wild Life archive to invorporate old rave flyers into her designs. 

Mad About the Boy runs until April 2, 2016 at Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, 20 John Prince’s Street, London, W1G 0BJ