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Drama Queens
They’re pouty, peppy and full of glamour. Today’s mannequins say, “Look at me!”
By Lauren Mang

Drama is everywhere in fashion, from the gauzy, girly, boldly colored looks of spring to the “fierce” feathered frocks of “Project Runway” winner Christian Siriano. And fashion’s ebbs and flows are turning the tide this season in favor of mannequin collections with more glamour and drama.

“There’s a shift from generic, headless body forms in favor of mannequins with more personality,” says Victor Johnson, director of visual presentation for the New York-based specialty apparel chains Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor Loft. “Mannequins with heads or unique poses can be utilized as branding elements alongside storefront and fixture design.” The fashion retailer’s spring windows, a nod to 20th Century sculpture studio Curtis Jere USA, employed a bunch of active poses and a proprietary head developed by Adel Rootstein (New York).

But why the shift? It wasn’t that long ago that retailers were giving up the presence of a mannequin altogether, using simple merchandising tables and hangers to present clothes.

“There was a time when all retailers wanted to look like the Gap and mimic its style of merchandising without visual elements,” says Richard Rollison, executive vp of mannequin company Universal Display and Design (New York). “Everyone started looking the same. Now, to differentiate themselves and bring back the drama and excitement in the shopping experience, retailers are bringing back the mannequin.”

They’re also going beyond the basic style.

“Retailers in appropriate markets that want to be trend leaders are going to experiment with more-dramatic, more-animated poses,” Rollison says. “Now we’re seeing a resurgence in mannequins that run, jump and imitate action.”

And the drama doesn’t stop there. Colors, translucent or high-gloss finishes and realistic head styles are also popping up in mannequin-makers’ showrooms, offering chic alternatives to the traditional form.

Pocket Full of Poses

Sal Lenzo, vp of creative, marketing and sales at Lifestyle Forms and Display Co. (New York), thinks shoppers are tired of seeing the typical white headless mannequin positioned forward with its arms along its sides.

 During last December’s National Association of Display Industries (NADI) show in New York, Lifestyle’s showroom presented more dynamic seated and lounging mannequins in a cocktail setting with a vintage vibe. “They show the clothes differently and engage the customer more because there’s a thought process behind putting the display together,” says Lenzo, a 25-year visual merchandising and fashion veteran whose career includes stints at Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Burberry USA. “They may take more thought in the store. You can’t just throw them on the floor like you’d do with a standing pose. But they create that drama that we’ve been missing.”

Many other manufacturers are also showing these new poses. DK Display Corp. (New York) introduced the “K Collection” from New John Nissen at NADI. And, at EuroShop in February, Italian mannequin manufacturer Almax S.p.A. (Mariano Comense, Italy), unveiled its hip, attitude-filled lounge environment with energized and glamorous “David” and “Sharon” collections.

Universal’s Rollison notes that certain dynamic poses, especially those with heads, can help a shopper remember a store after she’s left. “A head is more theatrical and attracts attention,” he says.

 Color Me Fine

“Colors for mannequins tend to follow the fashion trends,” says Ron Knoth, creative director for dress form maker Visual Merchandising Intl. (New York). And one of the hottest colors in apparel is gray.

More than a handful of manufacturers incorporated the smoky shade into their collections this season. Goldsmith Inc. (Long Island City, N.Y.) presented “Natalie,” the “Suit Collection,” “Tween’s” and “Children’s” in gray. Mondo Mannequins (Hicksville, N.Y.) sported special gray-colored finishes, including its “Carbon Fiber” and “Net Finish.” And Universal Display also featured the ashen color in its men’s and women’s lines.

 These gray gals and guys are what retailers want and have popped up in a variety of installations. Luxury department store retailer Neiman Marcus (Dallas) recently introduced soft gray abstract mannequins from Ralph Pucci’s “Manikin Collection” into its contemporary department. The forms also have a custom head.

“This new mannequin has much more attitude, curves and movement than the previous more-static poses,” says Chris Dixon-Graff, senior project manager for Neiman Marcus. “And any neutral color makes a good canvas for styling merchandise.”

White, of course, is the original neutral, and one color that plenty of retailers still use. For Neiman Marcus’ fine apparel and couture department, white stylized Pucci mannequins, wearing everything from Marni to Lanvin, provide a timeless look. “You don’t want the mannequin to overpower the merchandise,” Dixon-Graff says.

But if fashion dictates what colors are hot for mannequins, how do you keep colorful clothes from clashing on a colorful mannequin? “It can still work if the colors clash,” Knoth believes. “Barneys Co-op uses that fairy tale blue. It’s an obnoxious color, and a lime-green outfit looks atrocious against it, but a shopper won’t forget that image.”

However, if a retailer is intimidated about taking the pigment plunge, finishes like high-gloss, metallics or translucent materials are offering another alternative. “A little color goes a long way,” Universal’s Rollison says. “But if a retailer is unsure, a neutral black in a high-gloss finish is still very dramatic.”

Retailers seem to be more adventurous with colors. Even stores that in the past remained true to basic white forms are incorporating touches of color with one or two mannequins. “White won’t ever go away,” Knoth says. “It’s like the little black dress: It’s great, it works, but when the woman goes into her closet and finds that chartreuse dress, it’s going to make her feel different.”