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Un-Defining Beauty

Design Retail - March 2017

Design Retail Design Retail

When Rebecca Moses, the fashion designer-turned-illustrator, seized the opportunity to collaborate with industry veteran Ralph Pucci to envision a series of hand painted mannequins who embrace diversity and rock Afros, freckles and crooked noses, she knew there had to be an injection of purpose, an authentic reason behind the unorthodox “Mesdames” mannequins.

“We are changing as a society we’re not black and white any longer,” Moses says. “I think that many women, especially young women, are really wanting to embrace who they are, not try to change it. To me, we have to redefine, or un-define, beauty.” In recent years, Moses, who had always sketched and painted her designs, found that her artwork was taking on more significance, prompting her to illustrate a book (called “A Life of Style”) in 2010 and further her graphic-driven storytelling with magazines like Italian Vogue.

A conversation began after Pucci saw her illustrated book, and Moses told him there was another medium she wanted to explore: the three-dimensional mannequin.

As the story goes, she and Pucci saw eye-to-eye, noting the state of retail and, at times, the minimal, homogenized mannequin display world before them, and she said: “You Know, fashion today is so much more than the clothes. It’s about the personality of the woman, so how are we going to share that?” Moses began working with Pucci’s longtime sculptor, Michael Everett. The collaborative concept referenced paintings she had done two years prior, but the opportunity to take her ideas into 3-D propelled fresh questions.

“We wanted to make models impressive, but we didn’t want to distort them, so it was important that we could get it to capture the mood of the illustration, not get too bizarre, but keep them not so realistic,” Moses says.

The designer and sculptor brainstormed through the different ways they could create unique sets of eyes, which she would later hand-paint. Then they wondered what they could do with hair, all in an effort to defy any standard definition of beauty. All the while, Moses also was creating paintings for the exhibit on canvases “true to scale even beyond it,” she says. “I was doing canvases and then going back to three-dimensional forms, so it was really working in multi-mediums at the same time.”

The result is a New York exhibit that features about 30 highly expressive, diverse mannequins and Moses’ accompanying colorful, whimsy-driven paintings. “We need to have inspiration to make us aspire,” Moses says, and for her that’s putting pink freckles on a mannequin or featuring one with an Afro and no make-up.

Quirky variety prevails “IRL” as Moses asks of her audience. “if you have curly or kinky or wavy hair, if you like it, why not embrace it? Why don’t you celebrate it? I really want to empower women to celebrate themselves and that imperfections can be their signatures and that which defines them.”

She adds that her Mesdames aren’t there to “intimidate, but to embrace the person looking at them.” The Opposite gender, by the way, has embraced Moses’ paintings even more so. “I always thought it was going to be more women-friendly, but it seems that men really respond to the mood of the women,” Moses says. “I find it fascinating myself.”

The show has been extended through April 1, 2017.

By Zoé Zellers