By Judy D’Mello
August 17, 2023
Karl Lagerfeld, the prolific fashion designer of Balmain, Chanel, Fendi, and his own line, who died in 2019, once famously said that fashion didn’t belong in museums because no one wanted to “look at a bunch of old dresses.”
And yet, earlier this year, his own work was the subject of a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” ran from May to July and featured about 200 dazzling creations from the designer’s legacy.
Now, a piece of that show lives on at the Retreat Boutique in Bridgehampton: Ten bespoke mannequins used in the Met’s retrospective were donated to the charity thrift store, helping to make its vast collection of “preloved” items — many with couture labels — look more enticing than ever.
For the Retreat, East Hampton’s domestic violence nonprofit, the boutique’s revenue from sales of its “bunch of old dresses” goes toward providing free services, advocacy, and shelter for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. How the clothes are displayed, in the windows and within the store, is therefore an important part of the equation, and that task falls to Ani Antreasyan, an East Hampton resident who volunteers at the boutique as a window dresser and display stylist. She is also the reason the Lagerfeld mannequins are now gracing the windows of the boutique.
“I worked at the Met for 12 years starting in 1986,” she said during a recent phone call. “And for a while I was the assistant to the head designer of the museum, helping put on the exhibits. The Costume Institute always had exhibitions coming and going, so I worked with them often.”
Ms. Antreasyan, who is now an artist and real estate broker, said she jumped at the opportunity to go the Lagerfeld show in the spring, calling it “one of the best displayed and installed shows I’ve ever seen at the Met.”
Back in Bridgehampton, while attending to the boutique’s window display, she grew increasingly frustrated wrestling with the antiquated mannequins, probably 20 or 30 years old, that were missing limbs, difficult to dress and undress, and constantly toppling over. “They gave me a really hard time,” she said, and wistfully thought back to the statuesque display models she had seen at the museum. It sparked an idea.
“I still have a lot of friends at the Met so I contacted someone and asked her what their plans were for the mannequins post-show. She said they had no plans for them!”
The Met agreed to donate 10 mannequins that were custom-made in Italy for the Lagerfeld show. These female body forms with fully articulated limbs feature heads inspired by the lines of a German Art Deco porcelain sculptor whose work Mr. Lagerfeld collected. Their hands, meanwhile, showcase elongated fingers for a more expressive gesture.
“I was so overwhelmed seeing these mannequins in the Retreat Boutique that I had goosebumps,” said Ms. Antreasyan, after unpacking the boxes that were delivered on August 1. “I saw them in all their glory at the Met and having access to such beautiful products makes me feel so grateful and happy.”
The Lagerfeld mannequins and Ms. Antreasyan’s artistry are on display at the Retreat Boutique in the Bridgehampton Commons. Admission is free, though leaving without dropping a few dollars might be tough.