Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Making of a Mannequin: MAD About Linda Fargo and Mike Evert

We received an email from the Museum of Arts and Design stating that in connection with their current exhibition, Ralph Pucci: The Art of the Mannequin, they were going to have a live demonstration of the art of mannequin making featuring Bergdorf Goodman powerhouse Linda Fargo as the model, with sculptor Michael Evert creating the face.  We didn't know what to expect, but it sounded like fun, so off we went.

To our surprise and delight, Linda did not have to sit stock still and stone faced, and instead talked at length about the importance of mannequins to the retail business.  She told numerous anecdotes and traded stories with Michael, all while looking fabulous.

Michael himself was a whirlwind.  With the deft hands of a man who has done this for many years, he started with an undistinguished lump of water-based clay, and with each movement made noticeable changes.  The pedestal the clay stands on is on rollers, so he could - and did - roll it around the floor: in front of and behind his model, to her left and right, so he could get her likeness correct on all sides.  Another head, on the work table below, is wrapped in plastic to maintain its moisture.  Some parts of his work are better done when the clay is wet; other parts have to wait till it's a bit dryer and harder.

Linda noted that it is difficult to put mannequins into more than a few basic poses, partly because the clothes look best when they are not creased (by elbows and knees, for example, which is why you will seldom see mannequins in yoga poses), but also because specially posed mannequins can pose problems for those who dress them.  One guest inquired about bendable knees and elbows.  Linda, who worked for many years in Bergdorf's display department, replied that those make the mannequins bulkier, which can create problems when putting the clothes on.

We got to see what various mannequin molds look like.  The yellow mold on the top shelf is a full body; below that are legs and arms; and the red mold in the middle is a head.  Linda said that not just anyone can handle Bergdorf's mannequins.  After all, they cost around $1,000 each, and one misstep can break a mannequin's arm or leg.    Along that line, she pointed out that mannequins have very simple feet to accommodate the great variety of shoes they wear.  Too many shoes were being ruined while being wrestled on and off realistic feet.  Mannequins change as styles change, and in their extensive warehouses, Bergdorf's has mannequins from decades past.  (Linda is a self-described "hoarder" - a plus in her business, though not a trait that works well for most of us in our private lives).  When older mannequins come out, display staffers try to dress them appropriately for their period, so they look right in every respect.

Here we see Linda the mannequin begin to take shape.  On the shelves at the back are a variety of mannequin heads - some very realistic (Christy Turlington's likeness is among them); some verging on the abstract, which is the way Linda said mannequin heads are trending these days.

Of course we were very curious to see how the final product would turn out, but we are OLD, and it was standing room mostly (we deferred to those we judged to be our elders).  So rather than breathe down the artist's neck,

we took the elevator and

retreated to Robert's, the MAD penthouse restaurant with a lovely view of the city, and an interesting cocktail menu,

where we had a pair of cocktails.  (That's a pair of cocktails between the two of us, you wags, not a pair of cocktails each.)  Jean's glass came with a tiny orchid balanced on the rim, which she carried around the rest of the evening.

Satiated, we made our way back downstairs where an assortment of unconventional mannequins met us at the elevator.   Most mannequins, Linda said, are characterized by "beautiful, well proportioned neutrality", since "mannequins are to retail what models are to magazines".  Birdie, the zaftig mannequin in the center, was designed by Ruben Toledo in a nod to the realities most of us face.

When we returned to the workshop, we could see that Linda the mannequin looked quite a bit more like Linda the person.  Our long suffering model was full of self-deprecating humor, and made us all laugh, saying things like "more hair, less face", and "I really think we should take this opportunity to idealize me."

"I really did wonder why I said 'yes' to this", she said at one point, but we can see she needn't have worried, and she herself seemed to be enjoying the event as much as we were.

An added treat for Jean was running into Steph Anderson, a friend from the early 1980s who had worked at Macy's in visual design and who worked with Linda in that period. Needless to say, Jean and Steph had a lot of catching up to do. She reminded him that she still decorates her mini-holiday tree with the tiny black glitter covered dinosaur and tiny Kewpie Doll ornaments he'd made for her.

We just had to share a few more shots of the mannequins in the exhibition on the 2nd floor. Ruben Toledo also designed Zen Zen, the mannequin on the far right in 1983. By 1988, his work had changed dramatically as evidenced by Birdland, the highly stylized black organic shaped figure in the center.

Interior designer Andree Putnam designed this trio of mannequins. Far left is the 1986 The Olympian Goddess. The year before, she designed The Mistress in the center. In 1988, she designed The Form, an accessory mannequin used to display scarves, hats and belts. The alabaster body sits on a raw fiberglass stem.

Back in the 1980's, Jean had numerous Andree Putnam sightings at downtown restaurants and clubs, often in the company of Larissa.  Here is a closeup of The Olympian Goddess whose face harkens back to the Surrealists.

Putnam's The Mistress looks like she stepped out of a Lichtenstein painting.

After a great evening, we headed home and stopped on the traffic island on Park Avenue in front of one of the Calatrava sculptures where, as luck would have it, we met fashion stylist Jacci Jaye,who was sweet enough to take our opening photograph.


  1. Fabulous!! The post and the both of you!



  2. This looks like a very cool event - I like the varied styles of mannequins (Birdy and Birdland are my favourites!) and Linda has such a gorgeous smile! Of course you two had to sneak a cocktail in there.