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BY NANCY SERAFIN
Where every design truly starts— from an idea first sketched out on a template, to fabric draped over a dress form, and finally to couture styled on a mannequin. These forms became essential to the creation and promotion of fashion at every level. They have been around for thousands of years; it is said that a wooden dress form was even found in King Tut’s tomb. From then on they were exclusively used by the wealthy and prominent until “Haute Couture” took off in 19th century Europe, and forms officially began to shape the fashion industry (House Appeal).
Eventually, these dress forms developed into mannequins, a name originated from the Dutch word manneken, or “little man” (Hue). Unlike dress forms, there are endless variations of mannequins, ranging from completely abstract to realistically life-like. Much like humans, mannequins have evolved and changed over time. Some of the first were made with wax, wood, glass eyes, real human hair, and weighed up to 300 lbs. New art deco abstract figures were introduced in the 1930s. Made from new materials, these mannequins weighed much less and were the first shift toward the 30 pound, fiberglass, modern mannequin we know today. Throughout history, their appearances and expressions evolved with society’s own identity. For example, during World War II, their faces appeared to be very severe, whereas during the 50’s they looked much happier (Hue).
In the late 1980s, Adel Rootstein’s firm created the mannequin, “Dianne Brill,” based off of the real life measurements of the model who worked with Thierry Mugler, Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood. Her curvy measurements paired with a tiny waist quickly became the blueprint for many other mannequins and models. Many say that the key to Rootsein’s mannequins was that “those girls have life” (Hue). The true purpose of a mannequin is to sell clothing, and even though they are inanimate objects, they attempt to bring the clothes to life. Which brings us to the 1990s and the advent of the supermodel.
Until the “Supers,” models were essentially living mannequins. They were there to give shape and form to the clothing, their styles and characteristics depended on certain trends, and they had the ability to pose and be posed. Supers refers to “a whole slew of women who catapulted from fashion notoriety to full-blown celebrity status in the early 1990s” (Fashionista). To name a few… Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangalista, Cindy Crawford, and Christy Turlington. Within a few years, these women (along with others) became household names “who dominated every catwalk, campaign, and cover imaginable” (Fashionista). Earning the title of a supermodel, meant much more than having a pretty face and mannequin-esque body. These women had to be able to bridge the gap between fashion culture and popular culture.
George Michael saw the Supers on a cover of British Vogue, and knew he wanted them for his “Freedom! ‘90” music video. As the cover models, they were already well-renowned in the fashion world, but “appearing together in a music video for a hit song because they were successful fashion models was entirely new, and introduced them to an audience that might not have followed high fashion — but one that certainly had MTV” (Fashionista). Then in his Fall 1991 show, Gianni Versace placed the stars of the music video as the finale of the fashion show. Campbell, Crawford, Turlington, and Evangelista closed out the show by lip synching the words to “Freedom! ‘90” strutting the runway together, as one supermodel power house. It was only the beginning for this crew of Supers. They became a staple in Versace fashion shows, and also appeared in many infamous advertisements, campaigns, and photoshoots. Pretty soon, this was the new standard for designers, and every fashion house wanted as many household names on their runway as they could afford (Fashionista).
The first true supermodels of the 1990s transformed the fashion industry. All of a sudden models were becoming globally recognizable icons, and it became more important WHO was wearing what rather than the other way around. Today’s generation of supermodels includes Kendall Jenner, Bella & Gigi Hadid, Joan Smalls, Liu Wen, and many others who are all considered some of the highest paid models in the world (L’Oreal). They have gotten to where they are from the blueprint that the Supers laid out for them decades ago: to be a true titan of the industry, you have to be recognizable beyond the industry. It all started with a mannequin, which gave rise to models, and eventually, supermodels, who continue to shape many iconic fashion brands.
(Hue) "The Life and Times of Mannequins" by Alex Joseph. https://issuu.com/hue-mag/docs/hue_2
(Fashionista) “Gianni Versace and the Birth of the Supers” https://fashionista.com/2018/08/gianni-versace-the-supers-models-freedom-90
(House Appeal) “Dress Forms” https://houseappeal.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/fashions-form-function-haute-coutures-dress-form/
(L’Oreal) “Highest Paid Models 2022” https://www.lofficielmalaysia.com/fashion/highest-paid-models-in-the-world-kendall-jenner-gisele-bundchen