Like garments, academic articles are largely produced “backstage” and the labour that goes into them is equally unseen. I am thrilled to finally share this essay free of charge to readers and to let it go, but it is important to me to acknowledge the hands, hearts, and minds that have been involved in its extended genesis and début on the public stage. I feel it is important to place “Body Doubles” in the context of the histories of my evolution as a scholar, the field of Fashion Studies, and of the launch of the inaugural issue of our journal.
“Body Doubles” was originally a chapter of my doctoral dissertation, which I completed in 2002. I would not write the same article today, nor would I now have the time to do quite the amount of archival and actual sleuthing it required. However, I have continually updated it to reflect the expanding literature in our field, and I do feel it draws on the unique richness of approaches and frameworks at our disposal as scholars of fashion. The research process involved everything from systematic digital searches for the word mannequin in French literary sources (in the relative infancy of such technologies), close readings of obscure images I unearthed in the Cabinet des Estampes at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris that form part of my art historical training, as well as talking to an eighty-year-old tailor in Paris and kinetically experiencing the actual studio environments and techniques of making clothing in the setting of a French fashion school. In terms of theoretical frameworks, I began with a Marxist-feminist approach and have attempted to incorporate, so to speak, some of the possibilities offered by Actor-Network Theory (ANT), if only in a preliminary manner. A peer-reviewer asked me early on whether the mannequin was an object or an idea. I can now say with conviction that it is both, and more.
In reflecting on the process of working on the mannequin, an object that literally embodies dehumanization, I concluded that my labour on it, if often angst-ridden, has been anything but alienating. In fact, working on the mannequin’s inanimate form has allowed me meet and establish strong intellectual and emotional ties to so many people and places that I’ve become more sentimentally attached to this article than any other. I am reluctant to let go of this “actor” in my life. As a student, this work helped me grasp the mechanics of tailoring and pattern drafting when I took a summer course at the Parisian École supérieure des arts et techniques de la mode (ESMOD), the school founded in 1841 by tailor Alexis Lavigne. For my research, I was determined to access Lavigne’s papers in ESMOD’s archives, but in order to do so I had to formally enroll as a fashion student and learn his techniques, which have been passed down for over a century. It was a humbling but illuminating experience.
When it left the workshop, this research helped me get my first job. Professor Christopher Breward encouraged me to present “Body Doubles” at a conference at the London College of Fashion. I wish to express my gratitude to him — his book on the Hidden Consumer was a lifeline during my doctoral work. At that conference I met Professor Caroline Evans, a fellow mannequin scholar, who became a true friend and mentor. This article is dedicated to her. I also made Barbara Burman’s acquaintance, and she was instrumental in setting me on the track towards my first paid position at the Winchester School of Art in 2002. Barbara, along with Lesley Miller and Judith Attfield, were ideal mentors who revealed the manifold possibilities of the History of Dress and Textiles to me. I also want to thank Professor Valerie Steele, whose work has legitimated the field and who famously launched the journal Fashion Theory in 1997, just as I was writing my dissertation proposal. My thesis advisor Professor Michael Marrinan gave me essential critical feedback, and Audrey Colphon, our fashion technician at Ryerson School of Fashion, patiently helped explain the utility of mannequins for draping in the studio. I also want to thank the graduate students in Ryerson’s MA Fashion program, as well as the wonderful anonymous peer-reviewers (and many friends) who gave me such helpful suggestions for improving it over the years. I’ve done my best.
The mannequin helped me on my journey from being a lonely graduate student in Art History with a love for dress and material culture to an interdisciplinary scholar able to collaborate and co-edit a new journal in the field with my friend and fellow idealist Dr. Ben Barry and an incredible international editorial board. I have learned so much from my pioneering mentors in the field of Fashion Studies and the generosity of my community of scholars, creative practitioners, and students. Thank you all.