Mannequin by Kenny Scharf, fashions by Rubin Chapelle
Hiroshi Tanabe mannequins, 1997, fashions by Susan Cianciolo
Ralph Pucci, Girl Mannequin, 2008, fashion by Frank Tell
As Ralph Pucci was building his mannequin 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 getups of the New York Dolls. Pucci characterized the previously anonymous form in new and challenging ways, creating an idea of physical beauty that was more specific, empowered, and diverse than the fashion industry had previously allowed. More than commercial armatures or sculptural forms, his mannequins are agents of change in our attitudes to the body, to fashion, and individual identity.
Opening March 31, Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin presents the artist’s 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.
Opening March 31 at the Museum of Arts, NY, The Art of the Mannequin will include nearly 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. In conjunction with the installation of mannequins the renowned designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo will curate a selection of jewelry from MAD’s collection which will be installed on Ruben’s famous surrealist jewelry mannequins. The exhibition runs through August 30, 2015.
Pucci, who has published two illustrated books—Show and Wall—with Glitterati Incorporated, shares his insights on the art of the mannequin with The Chic. In 1954, his family opened a mannequin repair shop, and in 1976, when he joined the family business in 1976, he greatly expanded the company's purview and reputation. He began by hiring a sculptor to make original mannequins, and from that Ralph Pucci International was born. Ever since, the company has been ahead of the curve.
As Pucci recalls in the introduction to Show, “The ‘show’ begins in 1954 when my parents, Nick and Lee, opened a mannequin repair shop in the basement of their Mt. Vernon, New York, home. Over the next twenty-two years, the repair business grows into a successful company in the New York metropolitan area. The repair shop is now located on 20 Street in New York.
“I join the family business in 1976. We hire a sculptor and start to make our own original mannequins. After learning the ropes, enjoying the ‘creative types’ who purchase the mannequins, I begin to see great opportunities in the mannequin business. A collection in 1980 of male and female mannequins in athletic poses called “WORKOUT” is our first hit. Macy’s buys hundreds, painted in high-gloss black, and uses them as ‘sculpture’ to create an Olympic environment.
“Gimbel’s in New York, Marshall Field’s in Chicago, J. Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, and The Broadway in Los Angles all use “WORKOUT” with great success. I hit on something unique and different—all the other mannequin companies (there are about ten good companies worldwide) are making very proper, lady-like mannequins with makeup, wigs, and nail po9list. “WORKOUT” is totally different. It is sculpture.
“I realize that I can take the inspiration, creativity, and spirit of the pop culture of the early 1980s and create mannequins that are consistent to the times we live in. We move our factory and showroom to a 15,00 square-foot loft in Soho.
“Mannequin collections that follow are reclining mannequins as Greek and Roman statues designed for lingerie departments in finishes evoking ancient marble. Mannequins in catlike/dance poses are sprayed bright red, yellow, and blue with wild white wigs (“NY Dolls’ Johnny Thunders”), which are created by the amazingly talented Angel Estrada, who works with me before becoming one of the most promising fashion designers and before AIDS takes him at a very young age.
“Another collection I am very proud of is ‘Avalon,’ a series inspired the Roxy Music album—mannequins in severe, static poses with New Wave pompadour, sculpted hair made ‘totally original’ by leaving the mannequins raw, unpainted, and just sanded, so that they look like stone. The collection has a chic punk feel, so I commission Stephen Sprouse to dress the collection for the show (this is before Stephen Sprouse has his first historic fashion show at the Ritz in New York City).
“!985. This is a very important year. I meet the legendary Andrée Putman, who is in New York to design the first boutique hotel, Morgans. We create the ‘Olympian Goddess,’ a six-foot, very severe, art-deco-esque mannequin for Barney’s downtown store. A very young Isabel Toledo dresses the mannequin for the Show—hundreds attend the opening party at our Soho showroom to meet the ‘grand dame of design’—then Andy Warhol and Keith Haring arrive. The party goes into a frenzy as they sign autographs on T-shirts, breasts, anything their jumbo markers can sign. Pucci makes ‘Page Six’ of the New York Post the next day.
“Andrée Putman asks me to represent her furniture collection, Ecart International, for the entire country—the year is 1990. I am not in the furniture business! 1992: We move to a very spacious 30,00 square-foot factory/’showroom at 44 West 18 Street. We take the penthouse floor of this amazing warehouse in a landmark building with extraordinary NYC views and two, twenty-foot skylights. We expose the aged brick and make a very raw, chic space. Our mannequin factory takes 15,000 square feet on the 11 floor of the building.
“My showroom is truly one of the greatest spaces in New York City—maybe in the world. I see so many opportunities. I start to invite artists from all the different artistic worlds to design me mannequins: to create something new, fresh, different, and unique. Ruben Toledo collaborates on numerous collections. Architect Patrick Naggar creates a mannequin inspired by an Egyptian vase. I ask Maira Kalman—the children’s book author—whose Max Makes a Million I read a million times to my children before the lightbulb goes off in my head—to turn Max and Ada into mannequins. I’m most proud of the ‘Tango’ collection because it takes lots of courage to transform the zany characters into high-fashion mannequins, and the idea is a hit—a big hit. ‘Tango’ goes on to sell in the thousands all over the world.
“Kenny Scharf, the pop artist, creates a one-eyed, green Flinstone-esque mannequin, which lands on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Each Show gets more and more interesting, fun, and successful. The crowd that each Show attracts becomes a New York happening, with a mix of artists, businessmen, models, musicians, actors, visual directors, and architects in attendance. … Each Show is a mix of the arts: a mural painted by an up-and-coming artist, to complement the furniture. Art and photograph enhance the total vision; music by Miles Davis, Philip Glass; operas by Vivaldi—they all complete the scene.
“I’ve always felt that mannequins should be elegant, modern, edgy, and hip. Furniture should be eternal, exquisitely made, something cherished forever. Art should make you think. A successful Show would be a ‘wow.’ The passion, love, excitement, and creativity of each Show must be felt and enjoyed.”
Stephen Campbell Nouvelle Vague mannequins, 2000, fashions by Ruben Chapelle
Anja Kroencke Goddess mannequins, mural, 2005, fashions by Jeffrey Chow
Fashions by Benjamin Cho