November 24, 2010

Perqs of a New York Socialite ca. 1964

Today's New York social scene is no different than the past, with perpetual photography and designers clamoring to dress the media darlings. But in 1964 a unique kind of socialite emerged.

She was very much like her flesh-and-blood counterpart - practically identical. Strange men dressed her, though she never complained. And unlike her comrades, she didn't have to watch her figure.

This line-up of vintage mannequins debuted at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1964, breathed into plastic life by a team of fashion-forward artists. Every one was modeled after New York's "high-born, wealthy jet-setters" of the day.

The creation began with Henry Callahan, then display director for Saks Fifth Avenue's shop windows. Society painter Piero Aversa sketched their "snappy, young, alive" countenances and sculptor Mary Brosnan created the figures.

So who's who behind the glass? The 1964 models included Lorna Goodman (wife of a Bergdorf-Goodman executive), Women's Wear Daily fashion columnist Carol Bjorkman, and Oleg Cassini himself.

Said Lorna's husband Edwin: "It's a little uncanny to say goodby to your wife in the morning, and then see her standing in all the windows when you get to work". Lorna's appearance was so strikingly young that Bergdorf's used her only for the "Miss Bergdorf" line of youthful contemporary designs.

The idea of creating mannequins from famous faces was not new in the 60s. In the 1940s they were sometimes modeled after movie stars, though fashion editors Emmy Ives and Carmel Snow were captured in molded profile during this period. Well-known models of the day likewise were cast in plastic in the 1960s. Even Audrey Hepburn's likeness appeared window-dressed for "My Fair Lady" in 1964.

Despite the variety of faces, these mannequins were all built alike - 34-22-35. And at the time, fashion demanded a natural shoulder, jutting hips and "super-chic bosom" of "exactly 9 inches from the shoulder blade". Socialites (then and now) would have a difficult time keeping those proportions!

Ads shown are from D.G. Williams Inc, a Seventh Avenue supplier of mannequins and displays. References include Display World Magazine 1964 and 1965.

View the Vintage Vixen selection of vintage Oleg Cassini, Saks, and Bergdorf labels. Also over 700 vintage Audrey Hepburn styles.