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Master mannequin maker Ralph Pucci creates models as beautiful as the real-life wearers of the clothes. He shares his techniques and inspirations.

December 2016 - Milieu Magazine

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My parents started a mannequin repair company in 1954, and I joined the family business in 1976. Right away, I thought, “Why are we repairing other peoples’ mannequins when we could be making our own?” So, we hired a sculptor, and about a year later we debuted our first collection, called Action. From the beginning, I realized that all of the mannequins available on the market were ladylike, delicate in form, which was fine, but we needed to stand out. We made ours sculptural, architectural, and colorful.

Then, as now, I find that there are limitless options and ideas. Our mannequins invoke elements of pop culture, art, music, models, Henry Moore, anything…. Fashion is a very fast business; people always want new. When we started our furniture line, it was a great contrast, in that it was more about timelessness, quality, longevity. he mannequins are more of the moment, faster, so producing both is really a great combination.

Our first collaboration was in 1986 with Andrée Putman, which taught me that working with others, especially those outside of our business, really gives you fresh ideas. We went on to create three different mannequins together, and she was the one who got me into the furniture business because she was looking for somewhere to represent her collections in the U.S.

The next collaboration was with Ruben Toledo, followed by Patrick Naggar and then Maira Kalman. I had been reading Maira’s books on Max the dog to my young kids as their bedtime stories, and we all loved them. It took about a year, but one night a light bulb went of, and I tracked her down in Rome and asked if she would try to create a mannequin. At that time, in the early ’90s, mannequins were all very Zen and predictable, and I just knew that her sense of whimsy would stand out.

We started sculpting just two or three heads to see how her drawings would translate, and as soon as we saw them, we knew her collection, called Ada, was going to be magical. One of the first to see it was the department store chain Dayton Hudson’s, which ordered a lot; Ada became their mannequin for workday-casual, which was just breaking at the time. Ever since then, I knew that a mannequin could help create a brand, and that each needed to make its own statement.

By Ralph Pucci