Down in the basement of MOV, we’ve been assembling a strange collection of female forms. These mannequins and body forms will wear glamorous garments in the upcoming Art Deco Chic exhibition opening March 8, 2012. However, in the meantime they are naked and exposed in all their bodily eccentricities.
We’ve been challenged to find mannequins that are the right size and shape to wear clothing from the 1920s and 1930s. Luckily, guest curators Ivan Sayers and Claus Jahnke collect vintage mannequins along with vintage clothing. Ivan’s 1920s mannequin was made by the firm of Pierre Imans of Paris. She has a beautifully modeled wax face, while her torso is wrapped in coarse muslin. You would not mistake her for a man, but possibly for a thirteen-year old girl. Her breasts are barely there, her waist minimal, and hips very slim. Her straight up and down figure was the ideal 1920s female body, designed to fit the era’s straight-cut, sack-like garments (more noted for their surface decoration than for their shaping).
Claus has a lovely mannequin from the late 1930s made by Fery-Boudrot of Paris (we’ve taken to calling her “the blonde”). She will wear an elegant outfit made in Germany or Austria, the areas in which Claus specializes. Many of the 1930s evening dresses depend for effect on flowing drapery and scarves. The backs of the dresses were especially elaborate so that the wearer looked good on the dance floor. We look forward to posing the blonde and her companions to show off these late 1930s garments to best advantage.
We turned to Kevin Smith from Arm & a Leg Mannequins Rental to help make up the numbers for the exhibit (which will have between 66 and 71 garments — the debates are still raging). Kevin provided a group of Rootstein figures from the 1990s with strongly modeled faces and moulded hair. First we tried evening dresses from the 1930s on the Rootsteins, but the dresses only came down to their shins. At 6’ tall, the Rootsteins are all leg. This led us to try garments from the late 1920s. By the late 1920s, the idea was to abbreviate the garment and show lots of leg. The classic flapper-style garments look great on these elegant Amazons.
The non-vintage mannequins will be painted a neutral colour (the exhibition designers, Matt Heximer and Sue Lepard from 10four Design Group, choose Benjamin Moore’s “Mannequin Cream”). Right now a crew headed by museum fabrication coordinator Dave Winstanley are sanding, priming, and spray painting the contemporary mannequins. We have to wind our way through a maze of bodies to have a word with Dave these days. He appears unimpressed by his female companions, and as he carefully sprays a selection of female arms dangling from the painting rack he points out the nearby “hand rail”, a long board that holds a hands upright for easy spraying.
If all goes well, our meticulous prep work will be invisible to visitors once the exhibition opens to the public on March 8. The point is to focus you on the amazing clothes, while the armature of display fades into the background.