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Plastic models fashion a real-world statement in New York

By Brooke Elliott, CNN
The mannequins have been posted on eBay, with starting bids of $500, with proceeds going to charity.
The mannequins have been posted on eBay, with starting bids of $500, with proceeds going to charity.
  • "Sidewalk Catalk" is a unique display of 32 synthetic models in New York's fashion district
  • The street show makes a statement about why the area is vital to its industry
  • Prominent designers created diverse displays that are attracting tourists and locals

New York (CNN) -- Fashion models have often been accused of being beautiful, but plastic. On one block in the heart of Manhattan, they really are.

A stretch of Broadway has been transformed into a "Sidewalk Catwalk" -- 32 life-sized synthetic models on pedestals seeming to strut their stuff through New York City's fashion district. From Hilfiger to Von Furstenberg, the latest trends and brand image from 32 designers are on display.

"What makes this experience really fantastic is all these fashions are really meant to make a statement about why this area is so important, why this area has to be zoned and [to] keep it for fashion," Geoffry Gertz, a professor of fashion at Parsons School of Design, said.

Historically, New York fashion designers manufactured and produced their product in the city. In recent years, Gertz said about 90 percent of fashion goods production has been shipped overseas, where labor and materials are less expensive to mass produce.

"I think it's key to all of this, is how to inspire the youth? How do we protect an industry where they can come and buy fabric, buy trim, buy threads, find a factory to make it all?" said the fashion professor.

The show was created by the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, and is aimed at showing tourists and New Yorkers the historical and artistic representation of the industry.

"It's just beautiful to see, to walk down Broadway and see all these things," said Ben Issacs, who works near the display. "I hope to see a lot more of these beautiful things in the future."

"The way the designers present themselves to the consumer is in retail -- we wanted to give them a way to present themselves creatively as artists," said Barbara Randall, executive director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District . "Giving them a public place for art is a way to do that, rather than presenting themselves commercially."

Designers protected the dummies from the elements by wrapping the mannequins in materials. They face extreme heat in the summer in the city and prodding and poking tourists, though on one weekday morning, the models stood quietly while tourists and locals sat reading and eating nearby.

To build the models, designers used metals, sequins, glass, paint, hemp and stone -- and in the case of designer Yeohle Teng, brick and cement to enclose a mannequin with a wall.

"The mannequins are so different from each other, there's no main theme at all, and the people are just as diverse as the mannequins," Randall said.

Designs ranged from Victor Alfaro's mannequin, draped in tailored parts of a real parachute, to Diane von Furstenberg's mannequin covered in leopard print and the personally painted insignia "love is life," to Betsy Johnson's streetwalking pink and platinum doll drawn in black and covered in sunflowers.

Tommy Hilfiger recreated the American flag much as Jimi Hendrix recreated the national anthem at Woodstock in '69, with a mannequin walking through a torn waving plastic American flag.

Similar to Los Angeles's street angels, and New York City's former cows and bulls statues, the mannequins are being auctioned off to private donors. These mannequins have been posted on eBay, with starting bids of $500 -- all proceeds will go toward the Material for the Arts organization -- the biggest contributor of materials to public schools and charities in New York City. Randall said she has received offers from one individual donor who may purchase a series of mannequins, and put them on private display in another city.

The unique fashion show runs until September 3, on Broadway between Times Square and Herald Square.

CNN's Gabriella Casanas and Richard Roth contributed to this report