Realism and Ideals in the Designs of Adel Rootstein

Shop Window Mannequins, 1945-1970 by Olivia Gecseg

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Design by Olivia Gecseg

I borrowed the title, ‘Le Mannequin’, from Léon Riotor’s 1900 book to represent my essay on mannequins, idealised beauty, and 1960s consumerism. Adel Rootstein, whose business my essay focused on, designed mannequins in the 1960s in the image of ‘real’ women, such as Twiggy and Donyale Luna. While society and the media decree what form beauty ideals take in each decade, it is also up to us how we interpret them, hence the interactive element of the dot-to-dot silhouettes, representing mannequin shapes from the fifties, sixties and the present day. On the other side of my page, the photographs are of the present day facades of twenty-three of the once-swinging boutiques of 1960s London. I used Richard Lester’s book, Boutique London, to map out every shop mentioned. Clusters of pins formed around Carnaby Street, the King’s Road and in Kensington. I spent a day walking around the city, taking pictures of all the shop fronts, some of which were no longer shops, but most had been transformed into modern chain stores. The one photograph in pink is of the Clockhouse, home to a Vivienne Westwood boutique since 1971. Although renamed many times (Let It Rock (1971), Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die (1972), Sex (1974), Seditionaires (1976), Worlds End (1980) – it is the only remaining ‘original’ shop from my map, and therefore I awarded it a special colour.

 Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.

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