Before fashion went hip and everyone was a designer, there was post-war optimism and the dawn of the new era. Masters to be, Helmut Newton and Melbourne great Athol Shmith were photographing the young and beautiful women of Melbourne both locally and abroad.
The ‘mannequins’, as they were termed, would run up and down Flinders Lane from client to client, managing themselves and their business. The art of conversation and networking was an invaluable asset for continued work, whether with the manufacturers, designers, photographers or fellow mannequins.
The term mannequin was used up until the 60s, but quickly fell out of vogue as the youth-led revolution changed the way we looked at and consumed things. Mannequin was old and being a model was ‘mod’ and cool. The figures changed – well, the silhouettes at least – and were less ‘New Look’, cinched waist and propriety, and more doe-eyed, sack dress freedom; a glimpse of what was to come.
Mannequin at Como house is a well-overdue tribute to these women and the trends and styles they inspired and wore.
The first thing you should know is that things at Como House are done right. At the opening, there were lovely tributes, dedications, history lessons (wonderfully disguised as stories) and gifts for the trustees, contributors and organisers. It was all very fitting for the location and guests, who ranged from those who witnessed the days of the mannequin and former mannequins themselves, to the relatives and descendants of the original owners of Como House, the designers and muses.
It was a quite a night as we stood outside the home, a vintage Jaguar parked in front as we sipped cocktails made by the staff of Madame Brussels. If not homage to Gatsby himself, it felt like we were on set, or invitees to a Ralph Lauren garden party/photo-shoot. Very nice.
This period is not so much a forgotten time in Melbourne’s history, but one that is so easily brushed over. And Mannequin reminds us not only how important it is to take time to remember these moments but also how good we were.
Robert Fritzlaff, couturier, attendee and exhibitor from Melbourne recalls the mannequins with great fondness, particularly their figures, because you needed curves and a shape to make these pieces of work come alive. The exhibition explains that the models went a step further, exaggerating and accentuating their silhouette with a little help from crinolines, waist cinches and hip pads; this was the fifties after all. Times may change but a beautiful woman is a beautiful woman and these women are welcome at any party.
Drifting in out of the rooms, past old campaigns and outfits, images and products of the era, the majority of the retrospective remains current or classic. Some displays suggest a wonderful naïveté of the times; the bold look ahead following the restraint of war and depression. Others show the strength and pride of an industry that thrived and provided so much.
It is without a doubt a walk down memory lane, but its relevance is no less significant.
The kind people at the National Trust have given us five double passes to visit Mannequin at Como House. The first five in will be the best dressed. To win email firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Mannequin’ in the subject line.
The exhibition is open until July 17.
Corner Williams Road & Lechlade Road, South Yarra
(03) 9827 2500