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At the headless cocktail party

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As a big fan of '80s movies, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Mannequin, the story, quite simply, of a guy who falls in love with a department store mannequin. She, of course, turns out to be real but she's under a spell blah la la spoiler spoiler spoiler, they fall in love happy ending roll credits. Because I've wondered before if mannequins actually did come to life after a store closed at night (blah la la crazy talk nuthouse involuntary commitment), I felt very much like I'd stumbled into a cocktail party when I entered the Indianapolis Museum of Art's (4000 N. Michigan Road) third-floor Textile Gallery for the Body Unbound exhibit. The mannequins' poses add a great deal of oomph to the displayed outfits, whose works by Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake, and others, already speak volumes. Arms akimbo or a leg thrust forward in their best you-betta-WORK catwalk stomp, the mannequins embody attitude. Rounding a corner to find a roomful of (fiberglass) people whose conversations you have clearly just interrupted is a bit daunting. The headless thing doesn't help.

As much as I liked seeing some of the ways fashion had evolved — leaving behind the corset for the sake of other foundation garments, like the girdle, for instance — was indeed interesting, but there's enough I don't understand about the fashion industry to keep me a permanent outsider. Until recently, I didn't know that models weren't supposed to smile or have any discernible body shape because they are the designer's moving hanger. It doesn't help me like the approach, however. If I were a designer, I would want my models smiling and laughing, breathing that much more life into the presentation of a creation that was already going to garner attention. Allow this analogy between fashion and a funeral: I don't want to mourn the loss. I want to celebrate the life. I'm glad the mannequins used for this exhibit have bodies that actually seem to say something, even if it simply seems to be, "Who are you and how did you get past security?"

Body Unbound is open through January 30. Visit www.imamuseum.org for more information.

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