Obituary: Adel Rootstein

Beverley d'Silva
Wednesday 23 September 1992 23:02

Adel Rootstein, mannequin designer, born Warmbaths South Africa 1930, married Richard Hopkins, died London 20 September 1992.

ADEL ROOTSTEIN was a pioneer in a unique field of fashion: she elevated the display mannequin to new heights of artistry and relegated the common showroom dummy to the bargain basement. In Rootstein's hands, mannequins became (almost) living embodiments of the age, while dummies would never be more than lumps of plaster.

Rootstein founded her mannequin company with her husband, the industrial designer Richard Hopkins, from a small backroom in Soho in the Sixties. Flourishing at the heart of swinging London, they produced their handcrafted mannequins using the latest fibreglass technology. The personal touch would become Rootstein's signature in commercial dealings. Her gentle, considered manner inspired goodwill, and, despite the company's expanding to international status and employing 200 staff, it retained the happy, experimental elements of its first days.

In the unpredictable world of fashion, Rootstein's reputation and success was made from her proven reliability as a forecaster and talent-spotter. She could identify a trend up to 18 months before it hit the streets and then locate the right face and figure to embody it. Rootstein saw the potential in Twiggy's elfin, gamine look before the Sixties media vultures swooped; she spotted Sandie Shaw before 'Puppet on a String'; she made a mannequin of Joan Collins before Dynasty revived her flagging fame. These and other Rootstein mannequins are now collector's items. They have been amongst those chosen each year to be displayed in the Museum of Fashion at Bath and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The mannequins, lifelike even to having facial pores and covetable figures, act as cultural and economic barometers. In the early Eighties, a time of escapism from recessionary gloom, Rootstein mannequins were invested with Hollywood glamour. The mid-Eighties and the health boom brought a more natural non-model model look. 'Suddenly we were modelling mannequins on our receptionist and the garage mechanic,' said Michael Southgate, Rootstein's creative director. In recent years, she opted for an eclectic mix of professional models, such as Yasmin Le Bon, more male mannequins (especially soigne types of athletic build), reflecting men's increased fashion consumption, and, oddly, brash society hostesses. This year, Rootstein launched the mannequin series 'Rave' (past series have included 'Heroes', 'Body Boys' and 'Classy Lady Longlegs'), which was modelled on the fashion- world hostess Susanne Bartsch. 'It is the greatest change since the Sixties,' said Rootstein. 'Once more, the focus is on the club scene, escapism and fun.'

One of Rootstein's most successful (and newsworthy) mannequins was that based on Dianne Brill, the New York society hostess and model for the high-fashion designer Thierry Mugler. Brill's curvaceous form ('She's all pneumatic breasts, tiny waist and landscape bottom,' drooled one editorial) and her 40-24-39 measurements were dubbed by Rootstein 'The Shape of the Nineties' with much trumpeting of curves as the new fashion requisite. Some criticised Brill as not a conventional choice or obvious beauty, but in that she was typical of Rootstein. Being ahead was her forte and she was respected (and keenly observed) for her ability to translate the zeitgeist into human - or, rather, fibreglass - form. Key to the creative process was her artist John Taylor, who sculpted the clay model from which a plaster cast was made. Those who posed for Taylor include Joanna Lumley, Susan Hampshire, Patrick Lichfield and Simon Ward (featured in a series 'The Actors').

In the last year, the Rootstein Hopkins Group Ltd was bought by a Japanese company, one with which she had enjoyed close working links for almost 20 years.

Rootstein trained in window display in her twenties, but was said to have been fascinated by the subject from the age of 11. Her fashion philosophy, for all its creative kudos, was underpinned by sound commercial sense: 'Our success lies in the product that does what it is supposed to do - to sell clothes.' Above all, she understood the importance of display and was aware of the void that existed between fashion coverage by the glossy international magazines and what actually appeared in store windows. 'There must be excitement to make people buy. We aim for a theatrical vision of real life.'

(Photographs omitted)

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