A house model (also known as a mannequin) is a fashion model who works exclusively or near-exclusively for a particular fashion brand, house or label. A house model can also be associated with specific cosmetic or perfume brands.
The role of the house model began to be clearly defined in the mid-19th century, when Charles Frederick Worth gained a reputation for showing his designs to prospective clients upon live models. Worth's own wife, Marie Vernet, had been a model for the Parisian drapers Gagelin and Opigez before their marriage, and she continued to act as a model for Worth's early designs.
The London couturier Lucile, is widely credited with training the first professional fashion models in about 1897. She is also linked with the first runway or "catwalk" fashion shows. The use of live models as mannequins became increasingly popular throughout the 1910s, leading to those that followed the trend such as Georges Doeuillet of Paris becoming noted for it.
By the 1920s, it was standard practice for fashion houses to employ in-house mannequins. Such a profession was considered normal enough to be the job of the heroine of the 1927 Alfred Hitchcock film The Lodger.
From the late 1940s, individual house models began to become well known by their names or professional names. They could also move from one house to another. "Lucky" (Lucie Daouphars (ca.1922-1963)) was originally a house model for Jacques Fath before becoming the top house model for Christian Dior. Dior gained a reputation for his line-up of dedicated house models, all of whom he gave nicknames (including "Alla" and "Victoire").
Dior's house models would also model for fashion photographs, although this was not standard practice. Many photographers preferred photographic models such as Dovima, who were not affiliated with any specific fashion house. One of the few exceptions to this rule was Joanna Lumley, who worked as a house model for Jean Muir in the mid to late 1960s, and was frequently photographed wearing Muir's designs.
Some house models gained insight into the fashion trade through their jobs, and went on to become designers in their own right, such as Emmanuelle Khanh, who modelled at Balenciaga and then Givenchy from 1957 to 1963 before launching her ready to wear fashion label.
The definition of the house model in the present day is less clear. Couturiers continue to employ house models, although it is rare for the model to be affiliated exclusively to a specific brand or label. A model may be called a house model for a certain designer due to being frequently featured in that designer's advertisements or catwalk shows, without working exclusively for them. For example, Kate Moss's widely known work for Calvin Klein, particularly her Obsession advertisements is a small part of a wide-ranging modelling career. Julia Stegner, the house model for Hugo Boss for several seasons, also did modelling work for other fashion houses and brands.
The house model need not be exclusively a model. An actor or celebrity may be invited to act a role similar to that of the house model by being the "public face" of a brand or label. For example, L'Oreal has many "spokespeople" including Andie MacDowell and the Bollywood actor Aishwarya Rai to endorse its beauty products and act as a public face for the company.
- Krick, Jessa. "Charles Frederick Worth (1826–1895) and The House of Worth". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/wrth/hd_wrth.htm (October 2004)
- Georgina Howell, Vogue Women (1998), 85; Kate Mulvey and Melissa Richards, Decades of Beauty: The Changing Image of Women, 1890s-1990s (1998), 35; "Fashion's Stage: The Methods of the Theatre at the Dressmaker's," The Illustrated London News, June 13, 1908; "Lady Duff Gordon – 'Lucile,'" Harper's Bazar, Aug. 1914, 38-41
- Evening dress by Doeuillet, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed 21 March 2012
- 'Monsieur Dior would prod us with a stick!' Interview with Svetlana Lloyd, former model at Dior. Accessed 18/1/2012
- Joanna Lumley: Did You Know?, BBC Knowledge. Accessed 18/1/2012