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The lives of mannequins, and how they reflect our own

Most shoppers probably view mannequins as vessels through which retail shops promote clothing and accessories. But if you ask Ralph Pucci, AS’76, these fashion figures are artistic expressions of societal expectations and cultural interests.

Pucci has been an innovator in the mannequin field for more than three decades, ever since he joined the family mannequin repair business and switched its focus to building and selling its own mannequins.

“When I first came into the industry, mannequins were very lady-like and proper, and they typically came with wigs, eyelashes, and makeup,” explained Pucci, who grew his business into an international company. “But over time they became more abstract and more daring.”

Through the years, Pucci has created mannequins to reflect the mood of the times. There were the athletic-themed mannequins of the late-1970s, inspired by the 1976 Summer Olympics; the MTV-culture mannequins of the ‘90s; and today’s simple-looking mannequins, which have been designed with cost in mind.

“Mannequins are a reflection of the time we live in,” Pucci said. “And they are constantly changing. We are about creating the wow factor, or the identity, for a store.”

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Ralph Pucci, AS’76. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

A retrospective of Pucci’s work is currently on display in Northeastern’s Gallery 360, where it will remain until Oct. 23. Titled “Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin,” the exhibit comprises a collection of the models as well as a time-lapse video of mannequins being built from start to finish.

In conjunction with the exhibit, an interdisciplinary symposium of professors from the arts and social sciences will convene in the Curry Student Center Ballroom on Thursday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. to examine the art, business, and politics of mannequins.

“Mannequins are something people always see, and we want to inspire people to think about how intentional the designs are and how mannequins shape us,” said Elizabeth Hudson, dean of the College of Arts, Media and Design.

Titled “Fashioning Bodies: The Art, Business and Politics of Mannequins,” the symposium will include two panels, a brief history of the mannequin, and a conversation between Pucci and School of Journalism Director Jonathan Kaufman.

One aspect of the exhibit that Hudson especially likes, and hopes to see discussed in the symposium, is that it dispels the notion of the artist as a solitary figure, plugging away in a dark studio. Many of the mannequins on display in Gallery 360 were the result of a collaborative effort between Pucci and other artists, writers, and designers.

“The notion of art itself is under question around the world,” Hudson said. “This symposium is inspired by the idea of the mannequin as an art form, which is not something people talk about.”

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