Mario Bava’s films Sei donne per l’assassino (Blood and Black Lace, 1964) and Il rosso segno della follia (Hatchet for the Honeymoon, 1970) looked at visual deceptions and dichotomies between animate bodies and inanimate dummies, body alterations, fashion and death.
In Blood & Black Lace in particular wickerwork and metal cage dummies become often interchangeable elements with the dead bodies of models Isabella, Nicole, Peggy, Greta and Tao-Li, who, from vitally important workers of a couture house, turn into disposable things.
Borrowed from the French language, the word "mannequins" originally referenced wickerwork dummies used to display garments in a dressmaker's workshop.
Early professional models wore indeed a black undergarment in rigid silk or satin at times with full-length sleeves so that flesh was not exposed.
These blacks slips often gave the models the undesired appearance of inanimate dummies.
Lucile was the first designer in London to abandon the practice of wearing undergarments and who opted for fashion shows and presentations that resembled those of her French contemporary Paul Poiret.
It took a few more years before the faces and names of professional models were revealed by couturiers and a few more decades to see them turned into supermodels, muses and icons.
An exhibition entitled "Mannequin - Le Corps de la Mode" ("Model Bodies - The Crux of Fashion") organised by the Musée Galliera in Paris, will be exploring through a wide range of images and objects, the history of models from inanimate "mannequins" to cover girls and sex symbols, passing through supermodels and girls next door.
The museum is still under renovation, so this exhibition - originally produced by the Rencontres d'Arles for its 2012 edition - will be opening at the new cultural centre Les Docks in February.
"The model is at the heart of fashion photography; it traverses its history, it is a remarkable common thread to read fashion photography," exhibition curator and coordinator of the Musée Galliera photography collection Sylvie Lécallier told Irenebrination.
"I worked on the pictures we keep at the Musée Galliera as I know them well. Then I looked into the collections of other museums or directly from photographers, collecting images that were necessary to complete the purpose of the exhibition."
The photographs included also look at the relationship between the presentation of women and femininity and consumption as fetishism, better summarised by Walter Benjamin as the "women as consumers Vs women as consumed" dichotomy.
The latter is Lécallier's favourite photographer.
"His 'Go-Sees' series is subtle, it offers a unique look at young women who want to become a model," she states.
"Juergen Teller is always questioning photography and his work is very intelligent. The most iconic image featured in the exhibition will be instead the one portraying Kate Moss taken by Corinne Day for The Face in 1990. This is one of the first images released of Kate who was 15 years old at the time of the shoot. This image marked the history of fashion photography."
The exhibition will also feature life-size objects, garments and accessories, and the visitors will find some of them pretty unusual.
"We will have a dressmaker's dummy which dates from 1905 and that seems completely distorted because it reproduces the silhouette fashion gave women at that time - the S silhouette", anticipates Lécallier.
Yet, while the S silhouette is by now a nightmare from another time, the modern fashion industry has found new ways to reinvent the female body.
Idolised as goddesses of beauty, contemporary fashion models often preserve an aura of artificiality as their sculpted bodies are retouched through digital manipulation before becoming part of carefully studied glamorous shoot published on glossy fashion magazines.
Even though "Mannequin - Le Corps de la Mode" doesn't strictly look at models as emissaries of a system of exploitation, reification and alienation, the images included could still be seen from a sociological point of view.
"Though this is not an exhibition with a sociological purpose, it definitely poses sociological issues about the representation of the female body," concludes Lécallier.
“Mannequin - Le Corps de la Mode”, 16th February 2013 - 19th May 2013, Les Docks - Cité de la Mode et du Design, 34 quai d'Austerlitz, 75013 Paris, France.
Model from Paquin, Anonymous, 1917, Copyright Galliera/Roger-Viollet
Paul Poiret and his models, Anonymous, 1925, Copyright Galliera/Roger-Viollet
Model Bettina, Henry Clarke, August 1951, Copyright Henry Clarke/Galliera
Model Nicolle Meyer, Charles Jourdan campaign - Summer 1978, Guy Bourdin, Copyright Guy Bourdin with kind permission from the Michael Hopper Contemporary Gallery, London
Model Kate Moss, Corinne Day, 1990, Copyright Corinne Day/Galliera
Kristen McMenamy 3, Juergen Teller, 1996, Copyright Juergen Teller with kind permission from the Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York/GallieraMember of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
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