Though passers-by often fail to so much as notice them, mannequins can reveal as much about the culture of their time as the clothing they display does. And, with his family business and the help of creative collaborators, Ralph Pucci is single-handedly responsible for many of the major developments in the modern-day mannequin industry. Pucci joined his parents’ New York mannequin-repair company in 1976 and began manufacturing the forms, teaming up with such design talents as Ruben Toledo, Andrée Putman and Maira Kalman to redefine the genre through diverse and dynamic new shapes, colors and body gestures. Now, in anticipation of Pucci’s 40th anniversary in the business, 30 of the company’s greatest hits are featured in a new exhibition, “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin,” opening tomorrow at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.
The forms on view range from the sculptural to the anatomically accurate, and will be presented alongside a replica of the Pucci studio, where the in-house master sculptor Michael Evert will be in residence to demonstrate the mannequin-making process. Some double as artwork: “Birdland,” created with Ruben Toledo, is a surrealist shape originally designed to display accessories, while the heads of the “Swirley” collection are drawn from Kenny Scharf’s Pop Art paintings. Mannequins from Pucci’s in-house collection, many created by Evert, derive inspiration from such sources as the music of Philip Glass and classical Greek and Roman sculpture. And Maira Kalman’s “Ada,” first produced in 1994 and based on one of her illustrated characters, features a face far removed from classical ideals. “I had numerous clients tell me, ‘You’re out of your mind,'” Pucci says of the model. “Not only did it sell, but it was one of the most successful mannequins we have. It reinvented the mannequin world for that little time frame.”
Other silhouettes in the show also reflect socioeconomic currents. “The Form,” created by Andrée Putman, was designed during the recession of the late ’80s, when struggling department stores were showing dresses on inexpensive dressmaker forms. A collection of athletic mannequins in yoga poses created in collaboration with Christy Turlington in 2001 anticipated a shift in lifestyles as well as a changing definition of physical beauty. “If you look at the thread,” Pucci says, “it captures the moments of all the important trends in design, fashion, art.” And though many of the mannequins in the show are not currently in production, they may return to department stores yet. “I’m hoping some of them have a second life,” Pucci says. “And I think they will; fashion is a fast business. When you’re looking at some of these pieces, they look as fresh as tomorrow.”
“The Art of the Mannequin” opens to the public Tuesday, March 31 at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, madmuseum.org.
By Eviana Hartman