The model is one of the vital cogs in the couture house and ready-to-wear machines. Shaped by and for fashion, she embodies all the contradictions of an industry torn between business and creativity and chronically committed to producing images. Models are reproduced ad infinitum from the earliest 19th century fashion photographs through todays magazines, advertising slots and videos.
Initially produced by the Rencontres dArles for its 2012 edition, the exhibition Mannequin - le corps de la mode was a major success and is now being extended in Paris by Galliera as part of its extra-mural programme at Les Docks - Cité de la Mode et du Design
Close to a 120 prints, the majority of which are from the Galliera museum collections, as well as videos, fashion magazines and other works were gathered for this exhibition. Photographs by famous names such as Horst P. Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, Henry Clarke, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Nick Knight, Corinne Day and Juergen Teller are displayed alongside life-size objects including window mannequins and dummies.
Models were once called «mannequins», a borrowing from French and initially a reference to the wickerwork dummies used to display garments in the dressmakers workshop. When applied to living models the term kept its implication of an «inanimate object» existing to call potential buyers attention to the garment. The model, to use todays word, has been tirelessly promoted as a feminine ideal of youth and beauty, an artificial embodiment of perfection intended to win over the clientele. She has been reduced to a specific format, forced into repetitive, mechanical poses and moulded with makeup and retouching. The model as model body must meet physical and aesthetic requirements which leave little or no room for individuality or realism.
Beginning in the early 20th century, high society women and actresses were long fashions ongoing icons. It was only later that the faces and names of professional models became generally known, revealed by the couturiers and photographers whose creations and muses they were. As stars and celebrities they were instruments for selling the glossies.
From the anonymous model to the cover girl, from the clothes horse to the sex symbol, from the supermodel to the girl next door: ambivalence is all in the sheer mass of photographs devoted to the models commercial, aesthetic and human worth, and the stereotypes she represents. The exhibition offers a history of fashion photography from the point of view not only of the photographer, but of the model as well.