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MailTribune.com
  • Retailers pin hopes on realistic mannequins

    Makeup, a little flab, body hair round out today's 'silent' seller
  • NEW YORK —
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  • NEW YORK —
    The one-size-fits-all mannequin is getting a makeover.
    Wings Beachwear's mannequins in Miami sport flower tattoos, just like some of the women who shop there. The mannequins at American Apparel's downtown New York City store have pubic hair peeking through their lingerie. And at David's Bridal, mannequins soon will get thicker waists, saggier breasts and back fat to mimic a more realistic shape.
    "This will give [the shopper] a better idea of what the dress will look like on her," says Michele Von Plato, a vice president at the nation's largest bridal chain.
    In 2007, the company scanned thousands of women's bodies to figure out what the average woman looks like and applied those measurements to its first mannequins.
    Whereas the original forms were closer to a size 6 with 36-26-36 bust-waist-hip measurements, Von Plato says the new torso has less of a difference in measurements between the bust and the hip. The breasts are now flatter on top and rounder underneath. And the plus-size mannequins will now show the imperfections of getting heavier, with bulges in places like the belly and back.
    Stores are using more realistic versions of the usually tall, svelte mannequins in windows and aisles. It's part of retailers' efforts to make them look more like the women who wear their clothes. That means not only adding fat and hair, but also experimenting with makeup, wigs and even poses.
    This comes after two decades of stores cutting back on mannequins to save money. Many have been using basic torsos that can cost $300 compared with the more realistic-looking ones that can fetch up to $1,500. Now, as shoppers are increasingly buying online, stores are see mannequins as a tool to entice shoppers to buy.
    Indeed, studies show mannequins matter when shoppers make buying decisions: 42 percent of customers recently polled by NPD Group Inc. say something on a mannequin influences whether they buy it. In fact, mannequins ranked just behind friends and family in terms of influence.
    "Mannequins are the quintessential silent sales people," says Eric Feigenbaum, chair of the visual merchan-dising department at LIM College, a fashion college in New York City.
    Stores have played with the look of their "silent salespeople" for more than 100 years. Until the early 20th century, the most common ones were mere torsos. But with the rise of mass-produced clothing, full-length mannequins became popular.
    The first ones were made of melted wax and had details like human hair, nipples and porcelain teeth. By the 1960s, stores were investing in hair and makeup teams specifically devoted to taking care of the mannequins. That decade also started the trend of mannequins being made in the image of celebrities.
    The late Adel Rootstein, founder of the eponymous mannequin maker, created a mannequin based on elfin model Twiggy in 1966. A year later, it made the first black mannequin based on Donyale Luna, the first black cover girl.
    The next decade or so ushered in an era of hyperrealism, with mannequins showing belly buttons and even back spine indentations, says ChadMichael Morrisette, an expert in mannequin history. But by the late 1980s, the trend moved away from realistic mannequins and toward torsos or faceless mannequins. Now, retailers are doing another about-face.
    Saks Fifth Avenue, for instance, spent about a decade using mostly mannequins that were headless or faceless. But in the past two years, the luxury retailer has been showcasing more mannequins with hair, makeup and chiseled features. "There's this whole generation of shoppers that hadn't seen realistic mannequins," says Harry E. Cunningham, a senior vice president at Saks. "We saw it as an opportunity."
    Others also see oppor-tunities. Ralph Pucci International, a big mannequin maker that creates figures for Macy's, Nordstrom and others, plans to offer versions with fuller hips and wider waists next year.
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