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LVLY by LilyPhotography Richard Dowker

The new exhibition blending masculinity and glamour

Opening tomorrow at Bistrotheque, LVLY by Lily explores the idea that all men can be extravagant

Lily Bling is the undisputed controversial queen of social media. The thread through everything he does – whether it’s his endless sateen-filled soirées, his “#fingering” with best friend and partner in crime Daniel John Sansom, or his outrageous, and often explicit, Instagram stories – is glamour.

“Glamour to me,” Bling tells us, “is when someone really puts on a show, and stands out from the crowd. The etymology of the word – a ‘glamour’ – referred to a magic spell that you would cast on someone to make them see something that isn’t real, and I guess that meaning hasn’t really changed.”

While indeed glamorous, Bling has also been the site of much controversy among the younger fashion community. After styling and avidly promoting Sansom’s “Tory Punk” Central Saint Martins graduate collection earlier this year, people took to social media to criticise the pair’s glamorisation of a party whose austerity measures have caused up to 120,000 economic murders according to a recent study.

“What I can say is that one thing I always believe is to not take life too seriously, and to not take fashion too seriously,” said Bling. “At the end of the day it’s just clothes, and I felt like with Daniel’s collection, it really was a way of saying yes some things are fucked up, yes the country may be politically divided, but at the end of the day, us British people really know how to take the piss out of ourselves and laugh at things, and that’s something that’s so important to remember.”

He’s hard to argue with. While many might disagree with his political standpoint, there’s a level of irony and charm that intoxicates you towards loving him, towards perhaps even obsession. Because, unlike so many things in the world including the Tories, Bling is pure entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, this weekend sees the opening of his first ever exhibition LVLY by Lily at Bistrotheque. It’s a series of portraits, shot by photographer Richard Dowker, exploring masculinity and glamour. Rare bedfellows, Lily is here to make a case for glamorous men. Here, we catch up with Bling ahead of the opening of his exhibition about what glamour means to him and why men need to take it more seriously.

Why is glamour important to you?

Lily Bling: If you wake up one day and feel like shit, throw on some slaggy diamonds, sparkles, spray on PVC, feathers, and fur, and show the world that you are more marvellous than ever! I feel like fashion nowadays has become so tame and boring.

So is your upcoming exhibition a response to that boredom of tame fashion?

Lily Bling: I guess so. Women have a lot more options when it comes to dressing, so they have the freedom to be a lot more playful. Menswear is much less dramatic and glamorous than womenswear, and it’s such a shame. When a man dresses glamorously, he is usually feminised or assumed to be gay, and I think that’s the main reason why menswear is usually less interesting. Nowadays, words like ‘sharp’, ‘sophisticated’, and ‘suave’ are used to describe glamorous men. I really don’t get it because I personally think it’s a compliment to be called glamorous!

Do you think that this feminisation is the reason so many men and male bodied people are scared to be glamorous?

Lily Bling: Funnily enough, menswear wasn’t always so plain. During this project I looked a lot at historic paintings at the National Portrait Gallery, where these men would dress in their most glamorous attire at the time. They would be dressed in feathers, embroidery and lots of bling, and these paintings were and still are lauded. Glamour is associated with femininity, and because masculinity is still so fragile, most men are afraid to add some pizzazz to their wardrobe for fear of being ridiculed.

“Glamour is associated with femininity, and because masculinity is still so fragile, most men are afraid to add some pizzazz to their wardrobe for fear of being ridiculed” – Lily Bling

How do you feel when you put on your most glamorous outfit?

Lily Bling: I feel like Anne Robinson after her fifth facelift lmao!

Can you tell us more about the exhibition?

Lily Bling: I wanted to showcase the work in the best way possible. With an exhibition, you’ve got these large prints and you take your time walking around, taking each image in individually. I really wanted to put on a show, the theme is about glamour so why not try to create a glamorous event where people can come and get dressed up (the dress code is ‘high glamour’), and make an evening of it, celebrating glamour in all its glory.

How did you cast it?

Lily Bling: The casting was an incredibly long process, and took around two months to find the perfect models. It was really essential to cast a wide range of men, men of all sexualities, races, cultures, shapes and sizes, to show people that glamour could be applied to all men, regardless of who they are.

The images juxtapose ‘male’ culture – beers, football et al – with glamorous outfits. What is it about this collision that interests you?

Lily Bling: British men have a very distinctive culture. When a British man goes out and orders a drink, he’ll probably go for a beer, whereas a French man would go to a restaurant and order a glass of wine, or an Italian man would maybe have an Aperol Spritz. There’s something about British male culture that is not typically glamorous in many ways, and so when you combine it with these elements of glamour that’s when it becomes really interesting. Also it’s about celebrating British culture, I’m such a lover of the rich and unique culture we have, and I wanted the project to translate that whilst showing that glamour can be applied to all sorts of men.

You’ve been quite controversial in the last year, styling Daniel’s Tory Punk collection. What do you say to the critics? And do you really think it’s punk to be Tory?

Lily Bling: It’s not good to get worked up over the smallest things and see the bad in everything. It (Daniel’s collection) was supposed to be a bit cheeky… it was supposed to be a bit controversial… it was supposed to provoke, but at the same time it was supposed to be entertaining.

I actually think it is punk to be Tory today, especially in fashion. I just don’t think it’s fair that when someone has a different belief to yours and you think it’s okay to shut them down and spread hate, like spraying ‘kill all Tories’ on a wall, because that is not progressive in any way. There is a lot of irony in what I do, and what Daniel does, and I think irony is an interesting way to get your point across. It’s when you clash certain things that it starts to become interesting. Clashing ‘lad’ culture with typical elements of glamour, clashing Torys with punks. I like these juxtapositions in fashion, that’s when it gets people starting conversations about things.

Do you think glamour is synonymous with wealth? 

Lily Bling: Absolutely not. You’ve got wealthy people that are the most basic boring people. And then you’ve got those who aren’t wealthy but are the most inspiring and beautiful creatures. So I really don’t think they come hand-in-hand.

Finally, what’s your ‘manifesto’?

Lily Bling: Honestly my motto is live, laugh, love! I think everything you do in life should be based around having a gorgeous time. If you’re negative everyday, go to a fucking party and get bummed! For me it’s so important to not give a fuck and to really have fun with what you’re doing. Like the tattoo on my right hip says YOLO. Of course there are serious things in the world going on, but when possible, enjoy, laugh, and entertain.

LVLY by Lily opens December 3 at Bistrotheque – 23-27 Wadeson Street, E2 9DR from 8-12pm