Mannequins come alive in Pittsburgh window display
"Did she just blink?" said Erica Parran of Penn Hills as she peered Aug. 21 at the mannequins in the windows at the former Kaufmann's/Macy's Department store in Pittsburgh.
"She did," Parran said. "These are real mannequins. How cool is that? It was shocking when I first realized they are real. I need to be a live mannequin in that window."
The idea to have models showcasing fashion in the windows that held many stylish looks in the past was a way to help promote the upcoming Settlement Engine's Fashion Week Downtown Sept. 18 to 21. There will be a launch party on Sept. 18 at Social House 7, Pittsburgh, with the runway show Sept. 19 at Market Square, followed by a pop-up vendor event on Sept. 20 at PPG Wintergarden in Pittsburgh and trunk show events at various Downtown Pittsburgh boutiques.
The live models struck poses from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., moving occasionally to change positions. With the steamy temperatures outside, these women were not only hot in looks, but also hot inside the small window space. A few small fans were in place to help get some cool air circulating.
When they were done, still mannequins were dressed in the outfits, which will be on display until Sept. 18.
"It was little hot, but not too bad," said model Cheyenne Swearingen, of Braddock, who was wearing a corset and jeans. "I kept trying not to look at people. I picked a spot to look at on the building across the street. It was fun. I have never done this before, but I would do it again."
The idea for the display came from Michael Anthony, owner of 3RM Group, based in Beechview. He contacted the project manager at Core Realty, based in Philadelphia, which bought the property for $15 million and is planning to use it for shops, restaurants, entertainment, parking, hotel rooms and apartments. The company agreed Anthony could have the live models there as well as utilize some of the other windows to showcase artists and photographers. He calls the displays "Galleries at Kaufmann's Grand by Michael Anthony."
Anthony teamed with artist Camerin "Camo" Nesbit of Homewood on the corset Swearingen wore. Anthony designed the piece and Nesbit painted it. Nesbit's work also was featured in one of the windows -- a mural he painted that he calls "Two Times For Sid," which was inspired by Penguins' star Sidney Crosby and the team's back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships. He said he was excited about being part of the art showcased.
"This was just a great opportunity," said Nesbit, who also created a painting of Steelers star wide receiver Antonio Brown, displayed on one of the doors to the former department store. "You never know who will walk by and see it. Sports and fashion are both big in Pittsburgh. I love seeing the fashions and other artwork and photography. There are a lot of talented people in this city."
Anthony, who is a jeweler, photographer and sometimes fashion designer, is curating 26 windows. It's taken some work. Before the live models could step inside, Anthony had to paint the walls, sweep the floors and wash the windows.
"Having live models is something I have always wanted to do," Anthony said. "It's a cool way to unveil fashions, and I thought lunch hour would be the perfect time. We just wanted to create a buzz."
The models stopped Joe Kleppick of East McKeesport in his tracks on his lunch break from his job for Allegheny County.
"I thought I saw one blink," he said. "I was like, 'what the heck was that?' It's different, and it totally caught me off guard."
Kleppick and Parran weren't the only ones to stop. Many people did a double-take, snapped pictures and talked to each other about the scene which Anthony created. Some got business cards from designers about making a purchase of the styles being showcased.
"Michael came up with an idea to turn an eyesore into something beautiful," said John Valentine, executive director of Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation, which helped plan the event and is involved with Fashion Week. "He did most of the work. I think this was a wonderful way to showcase some of the fashions people will see during Settlement Engine's Fashion Week Downtown."
Designer Suz Pisano of Pittsburgh's North Side said it was awesome to be part of this event.
"To have my work in the window is amazing," Pisano said. "Pittsburgh is a town where anything is possible. I truly believe that."
Designer Brian David said he couldn't wait to do this because it's not every day your collection gets to be showcased on a live model in a window in Downtown Pittsburgh. The Greentree resident said this is the perfect way to get the word out about Fashion Week.
It is, agreed designer James Houk of Brookline, especially since the unveiling was in an iconic fashion building.
"I love watching the reaction of people on the street as they walk by and glance at the models," said Houk, who also has artwork displayed in one of the windows. "I want Pittsburgh's Fashion Week to be recognized like all the big-time fashion weeks, because we have such wonderful designers here."
Designers Leesa Miscevich Kassler of Elizabeth and Lana Neumeyer of O'Hara got to experience the live modeling by wearing their own designs.
Known for her use of recycled and re-purposed materials, Faith Pongracz of Mt. Lebanon used mirrors and CD cases to create an edgy look.
"With my background in visual retail space, I was so excited to be a part of this," she said. "It's like using the space as a live billboard. I see fashion as art so anytime you can display your designs like this — on live models in such a perfect space — people can see the creativity behind it."
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-853-5062 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.