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New York, 1981

New York, 1981

And Man made Mannequin… an unlikely story

An exhibition of photographs of glamorous mannequins alongside a fantastic range of couture hats seems like a match made in heaven – and that’s what’s on offer at Caroline Morris Millinery & Art in Kings Road in St Leonards until 25 April. Since opening her millinery shop and art space in 2019, Caroline has exhibited local, internationally acclaimed artists such as Katherine Reekie, Oska Lappin and Susan Elliott. Each exhibition invites a creative exchange between hat designer and artist  – in this case, photographer John Ferro Sims. PR consultant Debra Boraston takes up the tale.

John’s interest in mannequins began in the late ‘70s, an era when imagination and sophistication existed. As a location photographer, his work took him all over the globe; assignments have included shooting industrial projects in Russia, Japan, USA and Australia for corporate clients, more than 50 of the world’s super yachts and over 14 books on subjects ranging from food and wine to architecture and landscape.

Wherever he was working he would wander the streets ‘window shopping’. Our conversation revealed that the allure of mannequins and an interest in fashion photography actually goes back to his degree in Photographic Arts at the then Polytechnic of Central London, the subject of his dissertation being how photography portrayed women in advertising. Over the decades he built a huge archive of images that tell a story of social and commercial change.

Atlanta81 350

Atlanta, USA, 1981

Mass-produced

Mannequins today are pretty much the same everywhere, from high-end fashion boutiques to chain stores. Barometers of contemporary culture and taste, they have now become mass-produced along with the globalisation of manufacturing and marketing. Political correctness has played a role too; featureless heads and torsos and identical androgynous forms avoid the risk of giving offense regarding ethnicity, size and sexual orientation.

Take a walk down London’s Oxford and Regent streets and many of the windows have reverted to simple tailors’ dummies. Where has the fantasy and imagination gone? Where’s the drama? How often does a window display actually make you stop and look? It wasn’t always so.

I called into the gallery when the exhibition was being hung. In a selection of about 25 photographs there are smart and sultry male mannequins, whimsical ‘50s-style brides, sexy lingerie-clad sophisticates, bonkers cross-dressers and somewhat spooky half-finished mannequins in the world famous Adel Rootstein factory. But, of course, it’s not just the subject matter that’s intriguing, but the vision of the photographer.

Shop window as theatre

I talked to John about the diversity of these images; “I’ve always seen shop windows as theatre,” he explained. “Of course, the glamour can be striking, but my eye is also drawn to imperfections that can have a humorous or bizarre affect. And with careful framing and focus I can create juxtapositions between the models that the general viewer, or even the window dresser, may not.”

In John’s view, mannequins are the true focus of a transient decorative art, once seen, soon forgotten. Even in the heyday of elaborate displays, when the windows were changed, everything was dismantled, recycled or thrown away and rarely photographed for posterity.

New Bond Street, London, 2004

New Bond Street, London, 2004

Caroline Morris agrees: “As a hat maker I am predisposed to love elegance, fantasy and extravagance. John’s photographs encapsulate not only the glamour and creativeness of fashion, but also the skills required to make the mannequins and the inventiveness and precision that go into dressing them.”

Ironic title

Finally, I had to ask John about the exhibition title. “Like many of the titles I come up with, this one was pretty much spontaneous. I like alliteration and there’s an allusion to the Bible’s story of The Creation and Eve’s incarnation from Adam’s rib… an unlikely story indeed. We casually refer to artefact as being manmade, when we really mean made by humans. So this title is somewhat ironic, since one of the most renowned mannequin makers ever, Adel Rootstein, was a woman.”

Now living near Rye, John’s connection with Hastings and St Leonards goes back more than 40 years and has featured in an earlier touring exhibition called ‘Dreamland’. He regards this area as a burgeoning hub for art and performance and cultural diversity: “Quirky, retro, eclectic, these are all words that come to mind and I’ve come across quite a few mannequins posturing and lolling around in the interesting shops hereabouts,” he says.

Caroline is also involved with A Town Explores a Book, the next edition of which explores HG Wells’ The Time Machine, so alongside the mannequins she is also exhibiting millinery with a theme of ‘Time Travel’.

 

And Man Made Mannequin – an unlikely story To 25 April at Caroline Morris Millinery & Art, 59 Kings Road, St Leonards-on-Sea TN31 6DY (tel 01424 444410). Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-4pm, and by appointment at other times. Private view Saturday 29 February 4-6pm.

Framed & signed prints are for sale from £150 to £250.

London, 2004

London, 2004

 

Posted 16:45 Tuesday, Feb 25, 2020 In: Photography

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