Blog 63 10/03/2018 Perfect Figures: The Life-like Mannequin
Perfect Figures: The Life-like Mannequin
The evolution of the mannequin probably dates back to the 15th c when they were used by milliners to show their customers how head-dresses and hats looked. At first they were made of wood but during the 18th c full-size wickerwork versions came into use. The 19th c saw the advent of the papier–mâché mannequins. The real changes came during the second half of the 19th c after the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. This enormous showcase of the latest innovations in technology and design, the pinnacle of the Industrial Revolution, took the world by storm and opened up never before possibilities in consumerism.
Out of this buzz of activity came the new department stores. The first department store was Harding, Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine, a large, Georgian shop opened in Pall Mall in 1796 for the newly affluent middle-class women who could shop and socialize at leisure without the need for a chaperone, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th c that they really started to take off, mainly by drapers and textile merchants who were able to utilize products such as plate glass windows and lighting. Americans such as Rowland Hussey Macy who founded Macey’s in 1858, followed by Benjamin Altman and Lord & Tayor, were quick to spot this new era of taste and buying power of the new generation of middle-class woman. Le Bon Marché in Paris, opened in 1838 and was revamped in 1852 and Galleries Lafayette didn’t open until 1912, three years after Harry Gordon Selfridge opened Selfridges. Harrod’s, the first department store to install a moving staircase was built in 1898 on the site of an earlier one.
Needless to say, these stores needed to display their clothes and accessories in a better way than that used by drapers and dressmakers. And so the “fashion” mannequin was born. The word mannequin comes from the Flemish word “manneken” meaning little man or figurine and that is exactly what the artists intended them to be. The two leading companies were Pierre Imans and Siegel, which would later merge to become Siegel & Stockman which is still in existence today. Both these brands became famous during the Edwardian and Art Deco decades. In 1900, Stockman was selling almost 30,000 busts a year a few years before he met Mr Siegel, whose specialty was mannequins and metal accessories hangers. So the company became ‘Siegel & Stockman’ and settled in a big factory in Saint-Ouen, near Paris. Since the beginning, the Stockman’s dressmaker’s form has been handcrafted from papier mâché. This recycled paper is applied on a mold. After cutting off the mold, the bust is stapled back together and sanded. Then the bust is padded and covered in fabric. At the end, the bust is imprinted with the Stockman logo and the size and shape references. During the Art Deco era the mannequins were more life-like, in-keeping with the trends at the time, especially those produced by Pierre Imans. At this time, Siegel & Stockman’s mannequins appeared to take on a “hypnotic” quality, inspiration for such figures in films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
In 1900, Stockman was selling almost 30,000 busts a year a few years before he met Mr Siegel, whose specialty was mannequins and metal accessories hangers. So the company became ‘Siegel & Stockman’ and settled in a big factory in Saint-Ouen, near Paris. Since the beginning, the Stockman’s dressmaker’s form has been handcrafted from papier mâché. This recycled paper is applied on a mold. After cutting off the mold, the bust is stapled back together and sanded. Then the bust is padded and covered in fabric. At the end, the bust is imprinted with the Stockman logo and the size and shape references. During the Art Deco era the mannequins were more life-like, in-keeping with the trends at the time, especially those produced by Pierre Imans. At this time, Siegel & Stockman’s mannequins appeared to take on a “hypnotic” quality, inspiration for such figures in films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Pierre Imans, a Dutchman, considered himself a sculptor and described his figurines as “Les Cires de Pierre Imans” (The Waxes of Pierre Imans) and he did not like the word mannequin at all. He gained a reputation for sophisticated figures after studying with the sculptor, Ludovic Durand who worked for the Musée Grévin, the popular waxworks that opened in Paris in the 1880’s. He was the first artist to produce a coloured mannequin and his art drew on the art of Art Nouveau and later Art Deco.
At first the mannequins were made of wax because it resembled flesh but from the 1920’s onwards, a new range of materials were introduced. Made of a mixture of plaster and gelatine, Céralaque made the new mannequins lighter and more robust and added a luxury appeal that became a creative part of a window display. Life-like mannequins were not only the domain of the fashionable West either; the Japanese also used them. The 1920’s and 30’s was also the era of the androgynous look and Imans’ lesbian mannequins were featured in an exhibition in Paris 1920, called the “Streets of Paris”.
His work was so revered that he was asked to create a wax imprint of the “incorruptible” Saint Bernadette’s face and hands after her third exhumation. This remains on display in Nevers, France.
With their real glass-eyes, real hair, eyelashes and eyebrows, and porcelain teeth, Imans gave his figurines personalities and names such as Roberta and Nadine, and they reflected the perfect female body shape of the era. They had flat chests, wide hips, and middle-aged faces purposely geared towards the wealthy socialite. By today’s ideas of aesthetics, they look eerily spooky and one cannot look at them without thinking of the blow-up dolls in the sex industry. Yet the quest for life-like figures has been with us for centuries. The sculptures of classical Greece were once gaudily painted and given life-like eyes, and they were adorned with real jewellery including earrings attached to pierced marble ears. Even today, one only has to travel to India or parts of North Africa and the Middle East to see mannequins with painted eyelashes, eyebrows, lips and rosy coloured cheeks, to know that they still exist.
In the early 1900’s a good mannequin cost about $15, quite a high price at the time. Today, Pierre Imans’ wax figurine’s cost a few thousand.
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