Beware Beautiful Women: The 1920s shopwindow mannequin and a physiognomy of effacement

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Abstract:

French advertising theory of the first decades of this century posited the shopwindow fashion mannequin as one of the most advanced and modern forms of publicit√©. The veristic wax dummies on display in barbershop windows and old–fashioned shop vitrines were now outmoded (it was claimed), replaced by a more streamlined ‘stylized’ mannequin. Such modern mannequins were acknowledged as an intrinsic component of the fashion industry, and in particular of Parisian haute couture. This stylization of the female body took a variety of forms, the gilding in gold or silver of the mannequin’s ‘skin’, for example. The most important distinguishing feature of the modern mannequin, however, was identified as its facelessness, an eradication which was deemed necessary to the effective display of haute-couture garments. This essay outlines the kinds of looking associated with the 1920s stylized mannequin in order to explore the significance of a gaze predicated on the emphatic erasure of the female face. It argues that the Surrealists’ fascination with the shopwindow dummy reveals the extent to which advertising theory of the period (as manifested by these ‘new’ mannequins) was concerned not only with modes of marketing, but also with defining and orchestrating a modern urban gaze.

Document Type: Original Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1467-8365.00068

Affiliations: Birkbeck College, University of London

Publication date: September 1, 1997

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