Mannequins at the Fashion Museum | The Fashion Museum

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Mannequins at the Fashion Museum

30 October 2020

Picture this. A deserted warehouse, somewhere on the outskirts of Bath, but with three rooms crammed full of statuesque life-like figures; it’s a rich tableaux of mannequin history. 

These 300 phantom figures give a rare glimpse into the little-known world of shop window mannequins and dress makers’ forms, from the 1900s to the present day. Here are some of those feature figures.

Adel Rootstein Display Mannequins

Many of the figures in the Fashion Museum collection are by Rootstein, a world leader in the design and manufacture of display mannequins. The company was founded by Adel Rootstein in 1956 in London and went on to change the look of retail fashion forever. Working with sculptor John Taylor, Rootstein created some of the world’s most iconic mannequins, specialising in re-creating fashion personalities of the day, from Twiggy and Donyale Luna in the 1960s to Yasmin le Bon and Jodie Kidd in the 1990s. The Rootstein collection at the Fashion Museum includes over 100 figures, many donated each year since 1963, as part of the Museum’s annual Dress of the Year scheme. Rootstein is now owned by Italian mannequin manufacturer Bonaveri, who are working through the company’s rich archive to revive the iconic brand. www.rootstein.com

Rootstein mannequin, Dress of the Year 1997

Rootstein mannequin ‘Body Boys’ collection, Dress of the Year 1986

Rootstein mannequin, ca.2000s

Pierre Imans

There are complete figures and separate heads by Pierre Imans, the leading mannequin manufacturer in Paris in the early 1900s, in the Fashion Museum collection too. Dutch born Imans opened a workshop for mannequin making in Paris in 1896, which became known for producing highly naturalistic figures modelled in wax. 

Imans considered himself a sculptor, describing his figures as Les Cires de Pierre Imans, that is as wax sculptures rather than mannequins. Promotional catalogues from the 1910s show figures with names, ‘Beatrix’ for example, against a painted diorama background; there are also images of the skilled workers painting the delicate skin tones and make-up of the mannequins, and implanting the glass or resin eyes, and real hair onto heads and eyebrows.

Wax mannequins continued to captivate the imaginations of painters, photographers, and filmmakers in Paris, particularly the Surrealists.  Famously sixteen mannequins lined the entrance corridor at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris in 1938, and inside mannequins also featured in the work of Andre Masson and Salvador Dali.

Unattributed mannequin ‘Amy Mortisha’, ca.1920s

Unattributed

Many of the mannequins in the collection at the Fashion Museum have no maker’s mark or attribution. What we do know is that they have been used in displays throughout the museum’s long history and have been given their own identity along the way!

Unattributed mannequin ‘Barbara Ann’, ca.1920s

Unattributed mannequin ‘Witch’, ca.1920s

We hope that over the coming months and years new light will be shed on the historic mannequin collection at the Fashion Museum, enabling the figures to play a part in the emerging history of shop window display mannequins and dressmaking and tailoring figures.

For further information on mannequin makers in Paris:

Jane Munro, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin From Function to Fetish, Fitzwilliam Museum /Yale University Press, 2014

Alison Matthews David, Body Doubles: The Origins of the Fashion Mannequin, 2018

https://www.fashionstudies.ca/body-doubles