In the first half of the 20th century, mannequins were usually little more than human-shaped clothing hangers, meant to display fashion, not to serve as design objects in themselves. But in the 1970s, New York-based designer Ralph Pucci began to endow mannequins with personality and artistry of their own. His hand-casted models were inspired by everything from Greek and Roman sculpture to the glam-rock costumes of the New York Dolls.
Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin, opening March 30 at the Museum of Art and Design, reveals how Pucci (no relation to fashion designer Emilio Pucci) used the power of design to elevate boring utilitarian objects into art. The 30 mannequins on view are displayed naked, with none of the garments they originally modeled–they don’t need adornment to be worth looking at. Highlights include a mannequin made in the image of Diane von Furstenburg; a series modeled after painter Kenny Scharf’s Swirley characters, with three eyes, purple hair, and smiley faces; a mannequin in the style of illustrator Maira Kalman’s whimsical drawings of New Yorkers; and a half-bird, half-woman design, inspired by sculptor Alexander Calder’s surrealism.
Pucci’s business was originally a mannequin repair shop. Then he expanded to become a mannequin maker that helped pioneer the idea of the “supermodel”–the personified mannequin, whose designs took cues from pop culture and fashion. In the mid-’70s, as exercising became trendy, Pucci made mannequins doing handstands, jogging, and stretching. Such a design approach improved the mannequin’s utility and made shop window displays more eye-catching. It’s probably thanks to Pucci’s legacy that some of today’s mannequins have even grown pubic hair.
Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin is on view at MAD from March 31 to August 30, 2015.
[via WWD (subscription required)]