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If only mannequins could talk: The untold stories of Ralph Pucci's mannequins

August 2015 - Examiner

Examiner Examiner

If you are like me, who loves fashion but never pays attention to the mannequins, this exhibition is for you.

How many of you go to the store or walk by a window display and stop to see what the mannequins look like aside from what they “wear”? I doubt there are many people who do that, and until I saw this exhibition, I was one of those who didn’t really pay attention to the mannequins – their shapes, looks, “facial expressions” and so on.

The only time, really, I notice a mannequin - as a stand alone from the clothes and accessories it has on - is if it is in an other than white color. However, apparently, there’s true art and concept that goes into "sculpturing" a mannequin. I’m saying - sculpturing, because according to the Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin exhibition currently running at the new Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) that just opened a few months ago in New York City, the process to create a mannequin is more than just drawing a shape, it involves molding, sculpting, cutting, polishing and so on. At the exhibition, you can see the whole process on the TV monitors, as well as you will visit a "room" where the process takes place that showcases the equipment and tools used in producing a mannequin.

This unique exhibition tells a story how high fashion designers very carefully choose the shape, the facial expression, and the pose of a mannequin to "hang" their collections on, often involving famous graphic designers and illustrators, such as Robert Clyde Anderson, Stephen Campbell and Ruben Toledo, which whom Pucci collaborated on a few of his mannequins. Pucci also often based his mannequins’ designs on the inspirations from his travels, culture, art, trends, social changes in the society, and famous people, etc.

Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin is the first museum exhibition to explore the work of renowned New York-based designer Ralph Pucci, who is widely regarded for his innovative approach to the familiar form of the mannequin. Having collaborated with luminaries such as Diane von Furstenberg, Patrick Naggar, Andrée Putman, Kenny Scharf, Anna Sui, Isabel and Ruben Toledo and Christy Turlington, Pucci’s mannequins not only expand the parameters of this ubiquitous sculptural form, but reflect major cultural trends of the past three decades.

Pucci wasn’t just presenting ordinary, standard mannequins, he was creating a world around his collection, whether it was an environmentally anxious collection, where he commissioned to make a mannequin off the sitting in a yoga pose Christy Turlington - that has a striking resemblance to the model like alive - or when he commissioned Ruben Toledo to design a mannequin “Birdie” – a size 16 mannequin, inspired by the work of Fernando Botero and Toledo’s own mother-in-law – the first high-fashion plus-size mannequin ever to grace the windows of Barney’s New York in 1999 – Pucci’s answer to the growing importance of the larger women segment in fashion. And for those who know a bit of the fashion, especially when it pertains to New York City, knows that Barney's, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue stores take their window displays very serious, hiring the best creative directors for that, not to mention the fierce competition to get that spot!

As Pucci was building his business in the 1970s, the notion of the “super model”—the living mannequin with a personality—emerged. Pucci captured this catalytic moment in his work, finding inspiration from sources as varied as Greek and Roman statues and the performance costumes of the New York Dolls. Pucci personified the previously anonymous form in new and challenging ways, creating visions of physical beauty that were more specific, empowered, and diverse than the fashion industry had previously allowed. More than commercial armatures or sculptural forms, his mannequins became agents of change in our attitudes to the body, to fashion, and to individual identity.

The Art of the Mannequin includes over 30 of Pucci’s most important mannequins, as well as an in-gallery recreation of his sculpture studio. Pucci’s master sculptor and longtime collaborator, Michael Evert, will be in residence during the exhibition's run to give visitors a first-hand look at the creative process, from initial modeling in clay to the rendering of the fiberglass end-product.

This has been an eye-opening exhibition for me. I came out of this exhibition not only with so much knowledge behind the mannequin production, to say the least. But I've learned a lot about the designers, artists and cultural trends that were involved as the inspiration behind the mannequins' designs. Not to mention the fact that I’d never look at a mannequin the same way again.

By Alisa Krutovsky