Changing how we think about ideals might just begin by changing our representations of them. Specifically, mannequins, the cold, uncanny statues used as stand-ins for the human form. A mass-produced army of inanimate bodies regulated in a way that live ones never could be, mannequins are statues of our perceived perfection. And quite frankly, they’re rather bland. But for designer and painter Rebecca Moses, they presented an opportunity to bring her characters to life. “How do we expect consumers to relate to a blank face?” she mused at the opening of her new show Mes Demoiselles—Imperfectly Perfect. “You’re not just selling clothes, you’re selling a dream, you’re selling a story. When you sell a story, you gotta create magic. You gotta celebrate the story. I think the major goal [with this show] was to do that. I feel that retailers have to create stories for their [word]. I mean, everyone has the same products, so how do you differentiate?”
Imperfectly Perfect is a collaboration with furniture, lighting, and mannequin manufacturer Ralph Pucci, who frequently pairs with those in art and fashion to rethink mannequins and display. But Moses’ work has the unique perspective that the mute statues should still exude personality—individuality—that can be identified not only through clothing (promoting fashion as a tool of self-expression through actual mannequins is, inexplicably, a novel idea. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?), and being different. “The world is changing. We’re not perfect,” she said. “We have to celebrate our imperfections, and celebrate a new beauty that’s very indefinable.”
The all of the many mannequins and busts in the show have names (“I never do anything without naming it,” she explained) and backstories, as well as clear sartorial identities. Moses worked with stylist Freddie Leiba to put together outfits that she designed. “I think that everyone has their own style mojo. They’ve got their own rhythm,” she said, referencing a character named Kitty. “And that’s what I tried to create when I did the clothes.” Kitty, who was wearing a dress, turban, and a large, beaded brooch, was described as “bourgeois”, with a “hip, cool edge to her.” Moses’ paintings also hang throughout the space, adding even more visual character than their 3-D counterparts.
Imperfectly Perfect could not have debuted at a more fitting time. At The Business of Fashion's recent Voices conference, diversity in fashion (or the lack thereof) was explored at length. Model Joan Smalls spoke about how her mixed heritage informed her view of the diversity in the world. And casting director James Scully discussed how any type of otherness now makes it more difficult for a model to succeed. But Moses believes that diversity in not just race but personality is coming to define the modern woman. “Women are blending. We’re not Black and White anymore,” she said. “Some of us are Asian and Jewish, or Black and Chinese, Native American, and Irish. The look is not one look.”
Mes Demoiselles—Imperfectly Perfect is on view at Pucci's Gallery Nine in New York through December 13th.