Mannequins have evolved beyond window dressing

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

They are an important part of the sales staff.

“The mannequin is made to wear clothing, and you want to see the clothing and see it well,” says Ralph Pucci, owner of Ralph Pucci International in New York City. “A beautiful mannequin will make it easy to show the clothing, and it can create an overall spirit of the store. The mannequin is the silent salesperson.”

A mannequin is more than a piece of fiberglass, Pucci says. “I see mannequins as art. The mannequin world is inspired by fashion and art and music and modern dance — all of the elements of pop culture rolled into one.”

His mannequins can be seen in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Nordstrom. At Pucci, the mannequin body form is worked and reworked down to the last detail. His company fine-tunes the intricate details so people who see the mannequins stare at their beauty.

“We try to take it to the next level,” Pucci says. “It is difficult for brick and mortar stores today because so much more is being purchased online. So stores have to come up with ways to separate themselves. You can buy a less expensive mannequin that comes with a thick neck and thick ankles and big arms. Or you can choose one that has a more elegant shape.”

Most are made of fiberglass and start as clay. They are usually 12 to 15 pounds but can weigh more.

Today's version can be so lifelike.

Just walk by Carl W. Herrmann Furs, Downtown. Steve — yes, some mannequins have names — stands tall at the entrance wearing one of the store's luxurious fur coats. He never flinches. His sculpted face has hair that is perfect and his eyes seem to connect with yours. Some people think he is a security guard, says president Guy Herrmann.

“There have been times people have told me, ‘I like that mannequin's hair,' or ‘What an interesting face,' and I am like, I want you to notice the clothes, not the mannequin,” says Herrmann. “The mannequin is supposed to sell the clothes.”

These “still models” are available in any gender. They can have facial features and options complete with body parts, hair and nails.

Mannequins sell for as low as $200, but quality ones go for $850 to $1,600, Pucci says.

“It shouldn't have a big neck and look like a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Pucci says. “A good retailer offers an entertainment atmosphere when customers enter the store. So, mannequins can add to creating a fun shopping experience.”

An interest in mannequins comes from our obsession with celebrities and reality television, says Lindsay Huggins, senior fashion market editor for Self magazine.

“We want to see mannequins come to life,” Huggins says. “We want them to seem as real as possible. And I prefer them to have heads, especially the female mannequins. I don't like to see female mannequins without a head.”

Some stores tailor the size of the mannequin to the clothes it will be wearing, she says. That way, you can see what a garment looks like on a plus-size versus a petite person. Huggins says there is an advantage to seeing an entire head-to-toe look so customers can get the picture of the entire outfit.

Mannequins are sometimes what draw people into a store, says Marissa Rubin, senior market editor for People Style Watch.

“They walk by and they may never have gone in that particular store, but they see something on a mannequin and it interests them,” Rubin says.

Drawing in customers through interesting window displays is a great way to attract new customers, says Lisa Slesinger, co-owner of Larrimor's, Downtown, with Tom Michael.

With Larrimor's 31 windows, they are constantly changing the outfits on display. Last week, there were 42 mannequins inside the store and in window displays. Often there are more. Male and female forms are strategically placed throughout the boutique, some even sitting.

Slesinger says she prefers mannequins without hair. She buys both pearlized and matte finishes, and all are off-white.

“We don't want them to speak to a specific age or background,” Slesinger says.

Jane and George stand at the bottom of the steps inside Willi's Ski & Snowboard Shop in Castle Shannon.

“We give them names because we get used to them because we are working with them all the time,” says Donna Gagliardi, manager at Willi's. “We are constantly dressing them, and people notice what they are wearing. A lot of what they wear sells.”

Gagliardi, who has 34 years with Willi's, says the mannequin world has changed from the beginning when mannequins were big hangers with sticks for legs and arms to today's lifelike mannequins.

“Because they are so well-recognized, when customers come in the door, we are always looking to find what fits them the best and which outfits they look sharp in,” Gagliardi says. “We also change the mannequins in our windows all the time, too. That is what people notice when they drive by. It brings them into the store. Mannequins definitely make the clothes look better. They really help us sell.”

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