Thursday, January 20, 2011

"Fashioning a Collection": Costume Mannequins

Last weekend I attended the Fifth R.L. Shep Triennial Symposium on Textiles and Dress, "Fashioning a Collection: Vision and Viewpoints". The symposium had been sold out for weeks, so when I was offered an extra ticket I jumped at the chance! (Thanks Lauren!) It was an amazing day of talks and papers, focusing on both LACMA's current "Fashioning Fashion" exhibition and the scholarship behind it.

Akiko Fukai, the director and chief curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute, opened the day's talks. She spoke about how the KCI was one of the first major institutions to collect western historical fashions in the 1970's, and how they were able to develop their collection for a relatively low cost because there wasn't competition from other museums at the time. It sounds like they acquired their collection for a tiny fraction of what it would cost today!

She also spoke about the physical considerations of displaying these historical garments - Fukai described it as a challenge to display them in an "authentic and artistic" manner, which is even harder to do in Japan, because they have had to learn what this means in a western culture. To accomplish this, the KCI has developed a range of mannequins that have different body types (sloping shoulders, high bust, monobosom, etc.) and are highly adjustable in their size and movement. They can't just pin the garments back like in a shop window, so they have to make the mannequin fit the clothing!

Front and Profile View of Mannequins - 18th C, Beginning 19th C., Mid 19th C., Belle Epoque (L to R)

Mannequins showing life-like movement

If you're interested in how LACMA set up their exhibition, check out their blog entry, Fashioning Mannequins. What a fascinating job it would be to dress these dolls!


  1. So fun to see you there. I was watching you take these pictures during the event and remembering thinking, "Hmmmm, wonder what the cute blond is up to...." Had no idea it was you. And now I see what you were doing, you clever kitten! I was just trying to explain this to someone; now I can share it! Thank you.

  2. Brilliant! So glad you shared photos- I was trying to explain this to Matt ;)
    So glad you could come!! :D


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