An extensive new fashion exhibition dedicated to workwear has opened at the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam featuring several rare garments from the Westminster Menswear Archive. 

The Westminster Menswear Archive’s non-hierarchical collecting policy means we have an extensive range of workwear in our collection as well as designer versions that have been inspired by those creations. For example, the exhibition includes an extremely rare jacket created in 2000 by the Italian sportswear brand C.P. Company known as the beekeeper, which was inspired by studying the actual suits worn by beekeepers. We were able to loan this as well as one of our modern beekeeper suits used by aviarists to the exhibition.

The exhibition also includes a Japanese Sashiko fireman’s coat, a 19th century British workwear smock, a French chainmail apron, a pair of British Police CBRN overboots, and an American firefighters proximity suit from the Westminster Menswear Archive, which was originally shown in the Invisible Men exhibition in 2019.

Curated by Eldina Begic, other items on display include tabi boots (popularised by fashion house Maison Martin Margiela), Lygia Clark’s participatory ‘therapy’ jumpsuits and masks, the ‘Flexicap’ by Maria Blaisse, items from Helmut Lang’s Stellar Collection, overalls by Yohji Yamamoto, the 11-person Red Coat rain suit by Nicola L, a jumpsuit by London vintage collectors Vintage Showroom, and the ‘space suit’ with zip-off legs worn by members of the Dutch Provo movement. There are also jumpsuits by the Italian futurist Thayaht and designer Aleksandr Rodchenko, avant-garde theatre costumes by Stepanova and Popova, X-rays of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing suit, and a Bonne Suit by Amsterdam designer Bonne Reijn.

Says Aric Chen, General and Artistic Director of Nieuwe Instituut: “We’re pleased to present this exhibition that shows how functional design has helped shape the social and cultural dimensions of fashion and, in following, our societies and cultures themselves. Workwear brings up questions around class, labour, solidarity, and equality—while also revealing the beauty, ingenuity and creativity to be found in the utilitarian.”

Along with garments from the Westminster Menswear Archive, there are also items from the Massimo Osti Archive in Bologna, such as the Stone Island Zeltbahn cape and prototypes for the hoods of the Milia Miglia jacket and the ICD range designed by Massimo Osti.