Wednesday, January 23, 2008

To explain...

This blog is a product of my lifelong fascination with mannequins. My initial intent was to get more of a behind the scenes look at how and where mannequins are made -- something about fleets of headless or half painted bodies piled next to bushels of fake hair and moveable fingers intrigued me. After sweet-talking my way into a Brooklyn factory (with a video camera, no less) where thousands of mannequins are made yearly, I began to discover the remarkable ways in which mannequins are representative of an ever-changing human ideal that can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. This and other discoveries are documented on this blog, which I have stopped updating, but that I hope will still be enjoyed by those with a Mr. Rogers, land-of-make-believe like fascination with nude people made of fiberglass.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The men and women were piled onto a metal flatbed and stripped naked, some with nothing but clear numbered plastic bags over their heads, and some with no heads at all. Their limbs were contorted, their toes broken, and bits of their ears and eyelashes were missing. Stray upper torsos were strewn next to a sampling of dismembered legs, some discolored, others with holes in them, and a select few still curiously standing in an upright position.

Behind the flatbed were a sea of cardboard boxes and piles of oversized bubble wrap folded neatly on the floor. A sign on a nearby cabinet read: "Adel Rootstein: We're only human, the mannequins are the perfect ones."

Representative of a human ideal, mannequins are “the perfect ones” because in order to incite the desire to buy, they must project an image that consumers yearn to emulate. As beauty ideals, trends, and values are in constant flux, however, these fiberglass renderings of humans are forever re-synchronizing to the frequency of zeitgeist.

Mannequins didn’t always have nipples, for instance. There were no practical or commercial reasons for them to have any until the 1970’s when the women’s liberation movement popularized bra-less tops that required more realistic breasts to showcase in the windows. The same goes for the long, shapely legs that are now seen on mannequins; in the days of ankle skirts, mannequin legs were no more ornate than shower rods. It wasn’t until the arrival of the mini in the 1980’s that mannequin makers toned calves and thighs so that the skirt’s many virtues could be appropriately showcased...

This is the beginning of a 3,000 word feature that I'm currently working on. If it's worthy of posting when I finish, I'll link to the final text.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Brief History of Mannequins

When mannequins first appeared in store windows just after the Industrial Revolution, (1860’s England), they were far from perfect. The glass pane had just been invented, and as street lights became more prevalent, shop owners were eager to advertise their wares to evening strollers. Made of wood and stuffed with sawdust, these mannequins often weighed upwards of 300 pounds due to the iron fillings in their feet that kept them standing upright.

It was considered an improvement when they were finally made out of wax -- until they began melting under the hot filament lights of the displays. Even in their primitive and imperfect stages, mannequins served their sales purpose; women were drawn to the objects displayed on them. As retailers caught on to the sway that mannequins had over women, they began making them look and act more like their target consumers.

During World War I, for instance, mannequins became sprightlier as women began to join the workforce. By the arrival of the 20’s, “They tended to look a little tired-eyed...” said Robert H Hoskins, an assistant professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in an issue of Smithsonian Magazine. “As if to say, ‘I know where the speakeasies are.’ ”

By the end of WW II, mannequins became noticeably voluptuous, almost as a treat for the boys who had just gotten back from the war.

Shortly after, mannequin maker Adel Rootstein decided that mannequins were not hip enough to reflect the latest trends coming out of 1950's London. She began scouting out real models to base mannequins on, infusing the dummies with life and an identity.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Manneken Piss

The word "mannequin" comes from the Dutch "manneken," which means little man or little doll.

Perhaps the most famous "manneken" is Manneken Piss is a legendary Belgian landmark. No taller than a two year old, manneken piss is in his very own special alcove in downtown Brussels, where, winkie in the air as he pees away to the delight of tourists.

Like the mannequins in the Rootstein showroom, Manneken Piss has his very own clothing designers that make all of his costumes.

Here he is around Halloween:

Around Christmas:

And dressed as a Musketeer:

A fun Fact about manneken piss:
When Viagra made its debut in Belgium, they pumped up the force on the water behind Mannken's winkie, and had his pee shooting all the way across the street.

Manneken Piss also has a sister, Janneken Piss, that fewer people know about. Unlike the splendid plaza location that her brother has, Janneken is located at the end of a long, rather deserted street. There are bars up in front of her, and she is set far back, which makes her even more difficult to see.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Garden of the Gods -- Latest Mannequin Collection at Rootstein

Photo slideshow from the Rootstein cocktail party on December 6th 2007:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mannequin in a Suit; A Law Suit

Bloody scalps, cracked teeth, loss of feeling in the fingers, root canals, slipped discs, unconciousness...herpes. All this from mannequins??

Here's a brilliant article by Roy Rivenberg, staff writer at the L.A. times, about the uncanny accidents that can happen around mannequins:

"Attack of the Mannequins" might sound like a horror film title, but, for some shoppers, it could also be a documentary.

Diana Newton, 51, of Westminster sued the J.C. Penney Co. last month after she was allegedly thwacked on the head by a department store dummy.

Newton said she was ambushed by a legless female mannequin at the company's Westminster Mall store, a skirmish that left her with a bloodied scalp, a cracked tooth, recurring shoulder pain and numbness in her fingers.

The alleged attack was the latest in a string of mannequin mayhem incidents nationwide.

"There are a slew of lawsuits like this," said mannequin manufacturer Barry Rosenberg, who joked that stores should run background checks on dummies before letting them mingle with shoppers.

Most of the cases involved mannequins toppling over onto customers, but an Indiana woman claimed she caught herpes from the lips of a CPR training dummy. She dropped her lawsuit against the American Red Cross in 2000 after further tests revealed that she didn't have the disease, according to news reports.

The alleged Westminster Mall incident happened nearly a year ago in the women's department at J.C. Penney. Newton said she wanted to buy a certain blouse, but the only one in her size was being worn by a mannequin.

When a salesclerk tried to remove the garment, the dummy's arm flew off and struck Newton's head, according to her lawsuit, which was filed in Orange County Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages.

"I felt a burning sensation," she recalled. Then, blood cascaded down her face, she said.

Paramedics arrived and patched her gash. Feeling woozy but stable, Newton drove home, then had someone take her to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach for further treatment.

"'My mom got beat up by a mannequin' was the joke around my house," Newton said.

Her attorney, A. Jay Norton, said the case might sound comical, but he insisted the mannequin inflicted lasting damage on his client.

Norton said Newton still suffers shoulder pain and "strange sensations in her hands." Read more about Newton's cracked molar and other mannequin inflicted injuries here...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Salvador Dali and the Defenestrating Bathtub

According to Mary Portas in her book, The Art of Retail Display, Salvador Dali was commissioned by the New York store Bonwit Teller to create two window pastiches exploring the myth of Narcissus.

Dali, the eternal optimist, responded with a mannequin propped in a bathtub full of muddy water, crying blood tears, and surrounded by hundreds of hanging hands holding mirrors (What would Ovid say?). The store deemed Dali's interpretation too extreme for its windows, and ordered him to take it down. According to Portas, Dali slipped while emptying the bathtub, which then sent the latter crashing through the store window and onto 5th Ave. Never losing out on the chance for a spectacle, Dali supposedly dove after it (out the window and onto 5th Ave).

(Perhaps the precursor to Dali's myth of Narcissus)

Simon Doonan, the legendary head window dresser at Barney's, recounts the story differently. According to his version, store employees were instructed to take the display down so as to spare the surrealist's feelings, but when he found out what had happened, Dali pushed the bathtub through the window in a fit of rage.

I was unable to confim which version was true, but either way, a muddy bathtub and a bloody mannequin were defenestrated onto 5th Ave! Bergdorf's hasn't done that.

(Dali's Backyard)

My inkling: I've been to Dali's house in Figueras, and judging by the rather strange objects that still remain in it, most notably his large collection of taxidermied animals, I am more convinced by the second version.