'Mannequin, Le Corps de la Mode' (Model - the Body of Fashion) is an exhibition currently on show in Paris at Les Docks - Cité de la Mode et du Design, the fashion museum used for last year's Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons / Rei Kawakubo exhibitions.
Via 120 images, 10 films and 40 magazines, we're taken on a visual journey examining the history of how models have evolved within fashion photography to become key players in both the creative aspect, and the commercial value of fashion imagery. The exhibition explores their clotheshorse-to-star-status, how varying body shapes impacted fashion and societal trends / movements (such as heroin chic to surgical enhancement), and how fashion paints and projects its ever-changing vision on to this human blank canvas.
The exhibition is curated by Sylvie Lécallier, an expert on fashion photography at the Galliera Museum in Paris, and is a striking collection of imagery by iconic and groundbreaking photographers such as Horst P. Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Nick Knight, Corinne Day and Juergen Teller. One observation I made not long into the exhibition is how nudity crept into fashion modelling in the late 60s, and has continued to gain ground ever since - just look at photographers like Ellen von Unwerth (my idol), whose work is an eclectic array of powerful, provocative femme fatales - clothes are surplus to requirement because you're so drawn to the model's aura.
There may have been less nudity in the early 19th century, but Marie Vernet Worth - widely considered the world's first model - was every bit as captivating in her couture creations, all created for her by the first modern couturier Charles Worth, who is also credited as being the inventor of the fashion show.
Another part of the exhibition that stood out to me is a set of photographs of a young Kate Moss, taken from the 1990s Brit style and pop culture bible, The Face. Moss, then a gangly 15-year-old teen, was casually laughing and playfully jumping around in the images, rather than staged poses as with other photography of the time. It was more like a portrait of life, capturing emotion and movement from behind the lens. This arty yet freestyle aesthetic is something many photographers began to adopt, and still use as their signature today.
For those of you who still think modelling is about not getting out of bed for less than £10,000 a day, and eating fresh air for breakfast, lunch and dinner - I can confirm that models DO actually eat (like horses most of the time) and 10 x £10,000 would be a more realistic figure to get out of bed these days.
But that aside, I guarantee you'll walk away from this exhibition with a greater understanding of the changing role and impact of models within fashion, they're not all dummies you know - well, the window mannequins are of course.
'Mannequin - Le corps de la mode' runs until May 19, 2013 at, Les Docks, 34, quai d'Austerlitz, Paris 13e. Definitely one to see.
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