Our Mannequins, Ourselves
What fake bodies say about real people
Long before the Met Gala, I was able to sneak into the Metropolitan Museum to get a peak of this year’s fashion exhibit. And this is what I saw:
No fashion show, or fashion display, is complete without mannequins. Lots and lots of mannequins. And these mannequins at the Met are actually famous mannequins that you see everywhere, in stores and shop windows everywhere.
The model is called Schläppi, and they’re made by the Italian mannequin manufacturer Bonaveri. Once you see this face, you’ll notice it everywhere.
Look at how Bonaveri makes the Schläppi- it’s full of so much love:
This year, the Costume Institute is displaying an array of clothes by the designer Karl Lagerfeld. And those mannequins who are waiting to be dressed in Karl Lagerfeld clothes…you might notice they don’t have the stereotypical Schläppi head. The Met worked with Bonaveri to make custom heads, based on porcelain figurines that Lagerfeld used to collect (you can read more about that process here)
I watched as Senior Research Associate Joyce Fung dressed one of these mannequins… which first meant covering her in pantyhose. (The mannequin covered in the tan pantyhose in the background gives a good idea of what’s to come)
These mannequins all require a lot of pantyhose. And you’ll hear why.
So when you go see the Karl Lagerfeld show at the Met (Eugene Rabkin had my favorite review of it), look up at the mannequin wearing the mesh suit! That’s the one I watched Joyce dress. And keep in mind, it took her nearly half an hour to do it. Just this one mannequin. It’s wild.
Part two is a story I thought I knew, but NYU Costumes Studies Graduate Katherine Pan made me see it in a whole new light.
Her thesis is a comparison of two famous mannequins, Cynthia, from the 1930s, and Miquela from today. I first heard about Cynthia when I worked at 99% Invisible- we did a great episode on Cynthia and Lester Gaba back in the day, and it provides some fabulous background. But Cynthia was a mannequin. A literal mannequin. And she was a celebrity
I had definitely heard of digital influencer Miquela (formerly known as Lil Miquela) before. But I had never considered her as a mannequin. Katherine really made me see her differently. In many ways, she’s in Cynthia’s lineage.
Other Articles Of Interest
Ok. This is incredible. This is the best guide. Crafted With Pride is an index of over 750 companies who are still making clothes in the US … and there is SO much good stuff in here! Excellent workwear, excellent glasses, beautiful boots- baby clothes, you name it. And it’s so fun to look up companies by state! I discovered some real gems right in my own backyard that I didn’t know about. This beautiful book is well worth the $30… because most of these companies have been around over 30 years and will probably be around another 30.
I am just falling down a rabbit hole of vintage Elsa Klensch videos
And speaking of mannequins and models- I posed for the latest J.Press campaign! That was so fun! I promise, I only shill for brands after I cover them.
And thank you so much to those of you who decided to donate to this substack. I’m so touched and it means a lot. It’s really important for me to keep these notes and transcripts accessible and not charge for them, so I wasn’t even planning on adding a paid tier at all. But it means the world that so many of you made pledges and offers. It really helps me out. So thank you.
I’m going to take a tiny bit of a break so I can work on the next batch of four episodes. But the show will be back, and I’m so excited to share these next few with you.