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The lives of mannequins, and how they reflect our own

September 2016 - Northeastern University

Northeastern Northeastern Northeastern

Most shop­pers prob­ably view man­nequins as ves­sels through which retail shops pro­mote clothing and acces­sories. But if you ask Ralph Pucci, AS’76, these fashion fig­ures are artistic expres­sions of soci­etal expec­ta­tions and cul­tural interests.

Pucci has been an inno­vator in the man­nequin field for more than three decades, ever since he joined the family man­nequin repair busi­ness and switched its focus to building and selling its own mannequins.

“When I first came into the industry, man­nequins were very lady-​​like and proper, and they typ­i­cally came with wigs, eye­lashes, and makeup,” explained Pucci, who grew his busi­ness into an inter­na­tional com­pany. “But over time they became more abstract and more daring.”

Through the years, Pucci has cre­ated man­nequins to reflect the mood of the times. There were the athletic-​​themed man­nequins of the late-​​1970s, inspired by the 1976 Summer Olympics; the MTV-​​culture man­nequins of the ‘90s; and today’s simple-​​looking man­nequins, which have been designed with cost in mind.

“Man­nequins are a reflec­tion of the time we live in,” Pucci said. “And they are con­stantly changing. We are about cre­ating the wow factor, or the iden­tity, for a store.”

A ret­ro­spec­tive of Pucci’s work is cur­rently on dis­play in Northeastern’s Gallery 360, where it will remain until Oct. 23. Titled “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Man­nequin,” the exhibit com­prises a col­lec­tion of the models as well as a time-​​lapse video of man­nequins being built from start to finish.

In con­junc­tion with the exhibit, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary sym­po­sium of pro­fes­sors from the arts and social sci­ences will con­vene in the Curry Stu­dent Center Ball­room on Thursday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. to examine the art, busi­ness, and pol­i­tics of mannequins.

“Man­nequins are some­thing people always see, and we want to inspire people to think about how inten­tional the designs are and how man­nequins shape us,” said Eliz­a­beth Hudson, dean of the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design.

Titled “Fash­ioning Bodies: The Art, Busi­ness and Pol­i­tics of Man­nequins,” the sym­po­sium will include two panels, a brief his­tory of the man­nequin, and a con­ver­sa­tion between Pucci and School of Jour­nalism Director Jonathan Kaufman.

One aspect of the exhibit that Hudson espe­cially likes, and hopes to see dis­cussed in the sym­po­sium, is that it dis­pels the notion of the artist as a soli­tary figure, plug­ging away in a dark studio. Many of the man­nequins on dis­play in Gallery 360 were the result of a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort between Pucci and other artists, writers, and designers.

“The notion of art itself is under ques­tion around the world,” Hudson said. “This sym­po­sium is inspired by the idea of the man­nequin as an art form, which is not some­thing people talk about.”

by Joe O'Connell