WOULD YOU CONSIDER the term “dandy” a compliment? The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design votes yes with its new exhibition, “Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion,’’ opening this Sunday. The wide-ranging show explores the psyche of the sartorial-minded male through the last two centuries, suggesting that nonconformity and meticulousness of dress are something to be celebrated and admired. The umbrella theme is the power of clothing and fine craftsmanship, with photos illustrating some of the personalities behind the distinctive garments on display.
RISD’s fashion proposition is something many men now embrace, even if the more out-there trends can mystify: blazers with shorts, Thom Browne’s ankle-baring trousers, and leather skirts over harem pants (thanks, Kanye!).
“Bostonians today mostly want ‘elegant Dandy’ — beautifully made modern classics with intricate, updated detailing,” says Riccardo Dallai Jr., who with his father owns the 35-year-old avant-garde Riccardi boutique on Newbury Street. As examples, Dallai holds up two Lanvin jackets: one an exquisite blazer with impeccable top-stitching and fitted silhouette, the other a luxurious tartan bomber with removable leather front piece. Men who buy those fashion-forward yet timeless pieces — then make them distinctively their own — are classified as “Connoisseurs” and “Historians” in the RISD show.
Edgier fashions are also top sellers at Riccardi — and something you’ll see plenty of in RISD’s exhibition. But who’s buying? Style-savvy Bostonians, visiting international students, and local celebrities, according to Dallai. Indeed, I watched as five hip young males quickly purchased everything from the coolest Giuseppe Zanotti high-tops ($775) to the most glamorous brocade Givenchy sweat shirt and shorts (price: don’t ask). Though RISD would call them “Explorers,” Gym Dandies seems right to me.
> On display until August 18 at RISD’s Museum of Art, 224 Benefit Street, Providence. 401-454-6500; risdmuseum.org