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Pierre Imans’ Wax Mannequins And The Ideal Female Body

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When we showed you the hypnotic mannequin produced in Paris by Siegel & Stockman, we wanted more. We found them. Below we feature the work of Pierre Imans, whose mannequins were designed to be as lifelike as possible.

 

This extravagant 1928 window display for Atwater Kent radios shows the heightened realism of many mannequins following World War I. Image via the Library of Congress.

The 1928 window display for Atwater Kent radios, Washington D.C.

 

Often set in a fashionable tableau – on a cruise ship, perhaps, or in the salon drinking a digestif – Imans’ wax, human haired, glass-eyed, porcelain-toothed dummies had named like Roberta, Elaine and Nadine. Eschewing the ideal of a perfect female body shape, Imans’ figures had flat chests, wide hips, middle-aged faces and came available in a size 46. Imans’ mannequins reflected the diverse body shapes of women, those potential customers who’d eye the clothes on show.

 

Atelier de Pierre Imans mannequins

Pierre Imans emotion on male mannequins, circa 1930s.

 

Emily and Per Ola d’Aulaire write:

“Most experts agree that the succession of stages set in motion during the Industrial Revolution—the manufacture of large, steel-framed, plate glass windows, the invention of the sewing machine, the electrification of cities—cleared the way for its arrival. The men and women who strolled the boulevards were the audience; all that was needed were players.”

 

Atelier de Pierre Imans mannequins

 

 

Jane Munro tells us about the dummies in Silent Partners:

‘Two leading French companies making display mannequins in the first years of the 20th century were Pierre Imans and Siégel (later Siégel Stockman, still in existence today). For the first two decades of the century both firms produced mannequins that were predominantly made from wax, a material highly valued for its ability to simulate flesh. The Dutch-born Imans gained a particular reputation for his sophisticated and refined wax figures, and was well -placed to develop this particular line, having studied with the sculptor Ludovic Durand, one of the chief modelers at the Musée Grévin, the hugely popular waxwork museum in Paris that opened to the public in the mid-1880s. However the association only made Imans all the keener to distance himself from the museum-style waxworks, which he denigrated as banal and grotesque.”

 

Pierre Imans mannequin modeled after Josephine Baker

Pierre Imans mannequin modeled after Josephine Baker

 

Imans considered himself not as a wax modeller but as a ‘sculptor and ‘ceroplastician’ (statuaire céroplasticien), purging the very word ‘mannequin’ from his promotional vocabulary and describing his figures simply as ‘Les Cires de Pierre Imans’ (‘The waxes of Pierre Imans’)…

He was renowned. In 1925, to preserve the body, Imans’ company produced a skin of life-like wax to cover the hands and face of St. Bernedette of Lourdes.

From the 1920s a range of new materials such as cérolaque and carnasine (a mixture of plaster and gelatine) were introduced to produce mannequins that were lighter and more resistant, and also new finishes and effects that were designed to enhance the mannequin’s luxury status and to ensure that it took its place seamlessly in the context of a window display.

These were not mannequins, but ‘créations artistiques’, ‘great masterpieces of modern sculpture’ , mannequin-making demanded creative and intellectual impetus, and as such was itself a form of ‘l’art tout court’ (‘art pure and simple’) ‘

 

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