In anticipation of Ralph Pucci’s 40th anniversary, 30 of the company’s greatest hits are featured in a new exhibition, Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin, which opens to the public today March 31, 2015 at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.
Most people fail to notice mannequins in passing, but they can reveal as much about the culture of their time as the clothing they display does. Ralph Pucci’s company is an internationally recognized high-end mannequin, lighting and furniture showroom based in New York City. Today, he is considered one of the best in the world in these design fields.
With the help of his family business and creative collaborators, Ralph Pucci is single-handedly responsible for many of the major developments in the modern-day mannequin industry. In 1976 Pucci joined his parents’ New York mannequin-repair company, teaming up with such design talents as Ruben Toledo, Andrée Putman and Maira Kalman to redefine the genre through distinct new shapes, colors and body gestures.
The forms on display range from the sculptural to the physically accurate, and will be presented alongside a reproduction of the Pucci studio. Michael Evert, the Pucci in-house master sculptor, will be present to demonstrate the method to mannequin-making.
Some pieces are more like pieces of art: Birdland, created with Ruben Toledo, is a surrealist shape originally designed to display accessories, while the heads of the Swirley collection are drawn from Kenny Scharf’s pop art paintings. Evert created many mannequins for Pucci’s in-house collection, and took inspiration from things such as the music of Philip Glass and classical Greek and Roman sculpture.
Other silhouettes in the show reflect the socioeconomic times: The Form, created by Andrée Putman, was designed during the recession of the late ’80s. A time when struggling department stores were showing dresses on inexpensive mannequins. A collection of athletic forms in yoga poses created in collaboration with Christy Turlington in 2001 anticipated a shift in lifestyles as well as a changing definition of physical beauty.
“If you look at the thread,” Pucci says, “it captures the moments of all the important trends in design, fashion, art.” And though many of the mannequins in the show are not currently in production, they may return to department stores yet. “I’m hoping some of them have a second life,” “And I think they will; fashion is a fast business. When you’re looking at some of these pieces, they look as fresh as tomorrow.”