Retail displays trace their roots back to the traders and merchants of the medieval period, when sellers sold stuff locally to buyers who came in person to choose from what was offered. Later, mail order gave people the opportunity to "visit" the store via catalog from home, but the process was essentially the same: you visited the store, just via catalog, and you selected stuff - done their way, though, rather than yours. And with the rise of the big box stores, the number of categories of stuff being sold increased, but not the basic model: they stocked the merch and you visited and bought some, after which you (or the postal service) carted it off.
So basically, since the Middle Ages, while the details and complexity have changed, the basic model of retailing hasn't changed that much.
Until recently, that is, with the dawn of the innerwebz and computer technology.
Hopefully retailers are holding onto their chic chapeaus because the winds of change are morphing into a pretty epic gale. Particularly with the way consumers want their fashion served up. In the past, the clothing mannequin was appropriate, especially so in modern times as people shifted away from having their clothing made to order (or making it themselves) to buying it ready-to-wear. (antique-reproduction fashion doll by Rachael Kinnison)
On the form, you could envision how it would look. Or, probably more correctly: how you hoped it would look.
For the mannequin-forms have always represented our aspirations, beginning back in the late 14th century with what could well be the earliest documented case of aspiring to better-living-thru-fashion. This auspicious event occurred in 1391, when the King of France shipped a life-size doll to the Queen of England, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394), the eldest daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and the first wife of King Richard II. And why was she was sent this mannequin attired in the manner of the French court? Why, to oil the ongoing peace negotiations! (Fashion, not love, apparently conquers all.) Similarly, the de Medici ladies were sent small dolls clothed in the height of English court fashion by the British monarch. And Marie Antoinette followed suit, sending her mother and sisters fashion dolls to keep them in the style know.
Fast forward a few hundred years to the 1970s, when the fashion "super model" emerged, a living, breathing mannequin with a personality. And the man who probably most adeptly captured this trend in frozen 3D form is Ralph Pucci, whose work is the subject of a new museum exhibition at The Museum of Arts & Design (MAD). RALPH PUCCI: The Art of the Mannequin explores major cultural trends of the past three decades through the lens of 30 of Pucci's innovative mannequins.
He has collaborated over the years with the glitzier members of the fash & society pack, including Anna Sui, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Patrick Naggar, Andrée Putman, Kenny Scharf, Christy Turlington and, of course, the queen of self promotion, Diane von Furstenberg. "Finding inspiration from sources as varied as Greek and Roman statues and the performance costumes of the New York Dolls, Pucci personified the previously anonymous form in new and challenging ways, creating visions of physical beauty that were more specific, empowered, and diverse than the fashion industry had previously allowed," explain MAD’s Chief Curator, Lowery Stokes Sims, and Curatorial Assistant Barbara Paris Gifford. "More than commercial armatures or sculptural forms, his mannequins became agents of change in our attitudes to the body, to fashion, and to individual identity."
What's interesting about this exhibition, to me, is the timing: it highlights how massive the changes are that are now shifting the way we shop. As we look ahead to, say, 2020, there are two big "M's" shaping the landscape: Millennials & Mobile. According to Retail 2020: Reinventing retailing—once again - A joint project between IBM and New York University Stern School of Business - the currently shopping-happy Baby Boomers will be dealing with aging family members, unemployed children and trying to scrape their pennies together for retirement - so their spending will be down. 80 million Millennials, however, will be reaching their late 30s and shopping up an e-storm, dropping an estimated $500 billion mostly via their phones (mobile).
And the traditional mannequin will no longer suffice. Obviously, if you're shopping online, the mannequin will be virtual, but with the rise of widespread Virtual Reality technology, expect the presentation of fashion to become intensely personal. With immersive tech offered by Oculus Rift and especially Magic Leap, the mannequins will look exactly like you. Or, they might have your face attached to the body you want. And you'll be able to shop in 3D and see exactly how an item of clothing will fit you - and only you: your look, your body (or desired body), your aspirations.
The mannequins of old currently enjoying their last 15 mins of fame at MAD were arguably the best shorthand - given the available technology - for showing the aspirational side of the fashions they presented. Going forward, however, the more personal, the better. Think back to that scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise looks up at a billboard which has "read" that it's him and features him in the ad he sees. Currently, the tech is less invasive in that it doesn't know it's you, per se, but thanks to facial-recognition scanning, ascertains your sex, ethnicity and age and presents you with an ad tailored to your demographic and predicted tastes.
Which is an incredibly effective way to market a product.
As VR experts Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson discuss in their book INFINITE REALITY: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution (William Morrow, 2011), when people were shown images of themselves in virtual reality on a billboard promoting a product, they "expressed a preference for the brand, even though they knew their faces had been placed in the advertisement," they write (p.119). "In other words, even though it was clearly a gimmick, using the digital self to promote a product is effective. Personally, I found this quite astounding. And possibly scary when you consider the implications for how personally online merchandise will be presented...which leads back to this relic of the increasingly obsolete offline world.
Nonetheless, the exhibition looks fascinating and interactive. Pucci’s master sculptor, Michael Evert, will be in residence throughout, demonstrating the process of mannequin design, from initial modeling in clay to the fiberglass end-product. That alone is worth the price of admission for fashionistas and design freaks alike.
RALPH PUCCI: The Art of the Mannequin runs from March 31, 2015 to August 30, 2015. Info & tix at MADmuseum.org.
(personally-targeted advertising...really personal...in Minority Report via source)
- Lesley Scott
NOTE: Honoring the past to help us pave the way forward fashionwise is a signature of the Folkspun fashion tribe. For more of my posts & podcasts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.