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.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Quickie With Dianne Brill

Dianne Brill, legendary New York City party queen, high fashion model, intimate friend of Andy Warhol, and stylist for the Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and Prince, was sculpted as a Rootstein mannequin.

Hailed as “The Shape of the Decade,” Brill’s mannequin, complete with her characteristic bouffant hair, pneumatic chest and chandelier hips, has dazzled shop windows all over the world.

To be a Rootstein mannequin, Brill, like most subjects, spent three weeks in a London studio posing for the clay replica that was made of her body. Adel Rootstein, the company's foundress, and Kevin Arpino, her protégé, oversaw the process, while John Taylor, Rootstein’s top chisel, sculpted Brill's body.

“John is like a magician, funny and talented like the whole Rootstein gang,” said Brill. I felt like a muse for those weeks as he noticed and adored everything about my body.”

Though they are inanimate, Rootstein mannequins do not lack personality. The Dianne Brill mannequin, for example, is posed with her hands spread out to her sides and one foot in front of the other as if she’s making an entrance; something that Brill is famous for doing.

“Holding the Dianne Brill ‘making an entrance’ stance for those weeks half naked was challenging,” said Brill, “but the result was perfectly me.”

Over the years, Brill has enjoyed seeing her body pop up in various places.

"Once I walked past Selfridge's in London,” said Brill. About 18 of my mannequin were lined up all in a long row, all in their underwear. It was outrageous!”

Simon Doonan, the top window dresser at Barney’s New York famous for featuring personalities such as Bette Middler, Tina Brown, Dan Quayle, Cher, Magic Johnson, and Madonna in his windows, also did a Christmas display including Brill.

"I used to stand by the window and have my boyfriend take pictures of me with it; I was so happy to see that all the creative and pose work became such a beautiful reality,” said Brill.

Though Brill’s mannequin still flaunts the legendary and unusual 40-23-39 measurements that Brill herself no longer even has, this former muse of fashion designer Thierry Mugler’s and favored model for Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood still considers being a Rootstein mannequin as a present force in her life.

“Sometimes I see them in odd places like a German chocolatier’s window dressed in a pink satin dirndl and a white ruffle hat. I like to see the blonde ones best because they feel most like me,” said Brill, whose sky-high platinum locks make
Barbara Eden of “I Dream of Jeannie” look like she has a buzz cut by comparison.

“Every once in a while I’ll still get someone that will Fedex me my arm or something and ask me to sign it,” said Brill. “I sign it, of course, but I prefer to stay naive about what they're doing with it afterwards."

Brill is currently living in Switzerland promoting her makeup line, soon to be avialable in the U.S.
Check it out

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Movie Review: Lars and the Real Girl

The movie “Lars and the Real Girl” was just released. Basically, a delusional 30 something year old named Lars orders himself a mannequin (sex doll) named Bianca, but doesn’t use her sexually. His attraction for her is everything but physical – the closest he gets to touching her involves pushing her wheelchair or lifting her in and out of a bed (which he doesn’t even share with her). A doctor suggests to his concerned brother that he just play along with the fantasy, something that the entire town ends up doing. Church members embrace her, women at the salon are happy to do her hair and give makeovers – she ends up being so popular that Lars hardly gets to spend any time with her. 

In the end, Lars is cured. He is able to detach himself from Bianca, (he imagines that she falls very ill and dies), and moves onto the perky blonde girl that's been eyeing him at the office. While the screenplay and scenery of the movie are nothing extraordinary, I rather appreciated that the movie forced the audience to entertain the idea that a mannequin could be treated as a human. Bianca was a companion to Lars; her "company" helped him gather the courage to build real human relationships, and helped his community (who became rather smitten with her), better understand his eccentricities.

I have an inkling that this movie may be inspired by the true story of Lester Gaba, a mannequin maker in the 1930's that fell in love with his creation, "Cynthia." Cynthia was made of wood and posed in a sitting position, elbow on her knees and a cigarette in her hand. She accompanied Gaba everywhere; to social clubs, on carriage rides, and to his seat at the opera. Gaba required a team of 3 men to help transport her around (wooden mannequins are much heavier than the fiberglass ones used today), but despite these difficulties, Cynthia was beloved by many. Designers sent her dresses, Cartier and Tiffany's event lent her jewels. Unfortunately, Cynthia met her untimely death at a salon when she slipped out of a chair and shattered into a thousand pieces.

Whether Gaba's story was the inspiration for "Lars and the Real Girl" or not, it is somewhat intriguing that the possibility of mannequins coming to life has been a recurring theme in our culture.