Brussels’ best-dressed statue finally has a museum to call its own. Since the opening of the GardeRobe Manneken Pis earlier this month, the capital’s most famous landmark gets to show off his overflowing wardrobe of close to 1,000 outfits, all tailor-made gifts from across the globe that leave a convenient hole so that the Manneken can keep doing his business.
While his tiny stature often takes international visitors by surprise, the sheer volume of the peeing boy’s wardrobe is sure to inspire a few dropped jaws. With over 960 suits at his disposal – a number that grows by 20 to 25 items every year – and his cramped closet at the City Museum on the Grand-Place only displaying a fraction of that, the Manneken was long overdue for a proper space to present his unique collection to the world. That space now exists on the Rue du Chêne 19, a hop, skip and jump from where he stands proudly peeing from his pedestal. Meanwhile, the City Museum’s room now features a treasure trove of historic tales and curious paraphernalia revolving around Brussels’ rebellious little lad.
At the new museum, baptized the “GardeRobe Manneken Pis,” 130 outfits on 130 exact Manneken models are on display, broken down into seven distinct categories. Since the beloved bronze boy has been the recipient of costumes donated by monarchs, embassies, folkloric organizations, charitable groups and many others, his colorful wardrobe isn’t just extensive; it’s about as diverse as the heart of Europe itself. At “folklore,” you’ll find a Chinese dragon costume covering every inch of the Manneken, and at “celebrities,” you’ll see the boy keeping Elvis alive in spirit. Political, religious, or advertising garb are about the only things you won’t see him wear – the Manneken is all about culture and inclusion. Everything else, from Lithuanian basketball player to tiny scuba diver, is on the table.
Dressing up the cheeky boy has been a favored tradition of the city since the 17th century, with a 1615 painting already showing him in shepherd’s clothes during the historic Ommegang parade. For a long time, the donors were mainly Brussels institutions and foreign monarchs such as Louis XIV, who gave the city a lavish gentleman costume in 1747 to apologize for his Brussels-stationed garrison that had attempted to steal the little guy. The Sun King’s gift is the oldest preserved costume left, and Brussels artist Isabelle de Borchgrave has created a paper replica of it to display in the new museum.
It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the Manneken’s closet started expanding slowly, and he began to be decked out for special occasions. By the 80s, things had really started snowballing, with 15 new outfits added every year, and the jostle to offer him extravagant or humorous ones has only intensified since. At the moment, the Manneken’s naked body gets covered up 130 days of the year, and a detailed calendar has been put into place so that the public knows when exactly he’ll be wearing what. The newest item in the bunch, made for the opening of the museum, is a replica of his first known costume: the shepherd’s clothes from the 17th-century painting.
Both the GardeRobe Manneken Pis and the Manneken-Pis room at the Maison du Roi (the City Museum) are accessible with the same ticket. The Manneken’s fountain forms the connective tissue between the two spaces.