“Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin”

Ralph Pucci

Last night, I attended a press preview for “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin”, at the Museum of Arts and Design. This concise jewel of an exhibition, (organized by MAD’s Chief Curator Lowery Stokes Sims and Barbara Paris Gifford, Curatorial Assistant and project manager), runs through August 30, 2015, and is a must see. It distinguishes itself as the first to explore the work of Pucci, a visionary trailblazer who has created sculpture like mannequins that are not only bona fide works of art (‘think’ Giacometti, Brancusi, and Moore), but reflect the zeitgeist of the times: the past four decades to be exact.


Reproduction of the sculpture studio

The exhibit is mounted in three distinct galleries on the second floor, and includes approximately 30 of Pucci’s most important works; an on-site recreation of his sculpture studio (where the “magic” happens); and a curated selection of jewelry by Isabel and Ruben Toledo from MAD’s permanent collection; they are exhibited on Ruben’s surrealistic jewelry mannequins, and fill the entire Tiffany Jewelry Gallery (which was re imagined as a moonscape).

Jewelry on Ruben Toledo’s signature form

During the course of the preview, Ralph made his welcoming remarks and talked with pride, recalling how his parents started the business from scratch in Malverne, Long Island, back in 1956. “In 1976 we began with action mannequins which were perfect for the athletic clothes at the time”. He then walked us through the exhibit and singled out the mannequins that represented his most noteworthy collaborations (or as he put it, “the key moments in time”):

The Olympian Goddess and The Mistress by Andree Putman

“The Olympian Goddess”, 1986: The legendary Andree Putnam (who was responsible for his going into the furniture business), wanted a fresh new look for the Barneys that was opening on west 18th street. What resulted was his very first collaboration: an art deco mannequin that was very tall, androgynous, with broad shoulders.

Ruben Toledo’s Birdland

“Birdland”, 1988: For Ruben Toledo, it was all about “the freedom to explore” and “being different”. The collaboration that resulted in 1988, was inspired by Alexander Calder, and was perfect for displaying jewelry.

“Olympic Gold”, 1989: This collaboration with Lowell Nesbitt (which rethought the idea of male beauty), made People Magazine’s first “50 Most Beautiful People” issue in 1990.

Ada, Maira Kalman

“Ada”, 1994: Maira Kalman created a “whole story of herself” that was fun and whimsical, (“you wanted to smile”) and this was part of her Tango series, which included three male and three female mannequins.

Mannequins by Kenny Scharf and Ruben Toledo

“Swirley”, 2000: Part of Kenny Scharf’s whimsical and fun cast of iconic characters, (some had one eye, some had three, and other had cone heads), it was one of Pucci’s most risk taking collaborations.

Christy Turlington

“Christy Turlington”, 2001:  The supermodel was all about healthy living and doing yoga, so much so that she even launched a complete line of active wear under the name Nuala (Ralph Pucci was the first to design a mannequin doing the yoga pose).

Diane von Furstenberg

“Diane von Furstenberg”, 2013: This was created for the 40th anniversary of her iconic wrap dress (he made 250 of these) and with their ancient Chinese terra cotta warriors’ pose and the designer’s facial features, they have since become DVF’s signature mannequin, used in all her stores.

Maira Kalman’s Ada and Patrick Naggar’s Nile

“Nile”, 1995: Patrick Naggar, a French artist, architect, and designer, was inspired by Greek and roman vases, and this recalls works of Giacometti and Moore.

When Ralph Pucci joined the family mannequin business in 1976, all the other mannequins were similarly staid and ladylike. He literally broke the mold by famously spraying theirs in bold, high gloss colors. As he noted, “We went where someone else wasn’t, and that became the design philosophy from there on out”. His work allowed for a broad inclusive idea of physical beauty that had been previously unheard of. He thinks of his mannequins as living things with distinct personalities, and you could really sense that, as you took it all in. Alas, just as I was about to begin a conversation with “Ada” and “Birdie”, I figured it was time to go LOL.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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