The Power of the Moustache

January 2022

Sometimes a partnership fit is so good it almost hurts. We wanted to share some learnings from this kind of project, where no money changes hands but everyone wins.

National museum The Wallace Collection wanted to stage an exhibition of portraits of Dutch master Frans Hals, to revisit and complement their own painting The Laughing Cavalier – an iconic image of a dashing, moustachioed, man-about-town. The potential quality of the exhibition was never in doubt, but how to make it relevant in today’s world? 

We brought the museum together with Movember, the male mental health charity best known for its ‘Mo’ bros’ who fundraise by growing their facial hair.

Putting the two brands together provided an instant ‘ah-ha’ moment - a mutual halo effect, and broadened access into the two very different audiences.

The partnership drew on the exhibition themes of maleness and the pressure on men to confirm to certain ideals of masculinity. In England and Wales, suicide is the leading cause of death among men aged 20 – 34 and each year; more than 4,300 men die by suicide in the UK. For the charity, raising awareness and starting conversations is vital. The exhibition shows that although our concept of masculinity has changed, the pressure on men to conform to certain ideals of manhood is nothing new.

Social media content included a ‘shave down’ of The Laughing Cavalier, and the museum allowed free entry on Movember Mondays to those with a moustache or a Movember fundraising page. 

With an audio guide by Grayson Perry and a slow-looking guide for mindful art experiences, the partnership was on a roll. Museum director Xavier Bray is also to be applauded for gamely joining in and growing his own ‘mo’ which he sported at a gala private view of the exhibition for patrons of both organisations. 

Top tips:
-    If resources are tight, integrate the partnership into existing activity and edit your programme, stripping down ideas to only those that will really deliver
-    listening to your partners needs is vital – don’t presume you know what they want
-    the ‘no cash’ element means it can be hard to prioritise - appoint a ‘driver’ to make sure things happen