Mangled Mannequins

Shopfront mannequins are falling to pieces.

There was a time when a mannequin was the sculptural equivalent of fashion model. Like a fashion model, the mannequin was intended to reflect our social, professional and aesthetic aspirations. Although she was permanently frozen in an idealistic tableau – artificial in every sense – she represented a living human being. Seeing her hacked into pieces, with body parts scattered across a shop floor, I am reminded of the scene of a brutal murder.

Mannequins in GAP are dismembered, with body parts spread across the store.

Mannequins in GAP are dismembered, with body parts spread across the store.

At GAP, mannequins appear to have been sliced in two, with legs on one side of the shop and dismembered torsos on the other. More widespread is the practice of simply lopping off the head or legs. Headless mannequins seem to have become the norm.

Some of these mannequins have been reduced to resemble dressmakers’ forms. This reverts to the style of some of the earliest shop mannequins of the 1850s, which were headless dress forms made from wicker or cane[1]. Such mannequins were not designed to express personality or lifestyle; just to display the silhouette of the garment. In such close imitation of a dressmaker’s dummy, the mannequin draws attention to the creation, rather than the wearing, of the clothes. We are reminded of the dressmaking process, and the labour that goes into making the garment.

Some headless and limbless mannequins resemble dressmakers' forms. This reminds us of the labour of the dressmaking process.

Some headless and limbless mannequins resemble dressmakers’ forms. This reminds us of the labour of the dressmaking process.

In the 1870s, heads and limbs were introduced to make the mannequins more representative of the customer. For the next 60 or 70 years, manufacturers went to great lengths to achieve realism, even using real hair and live models [2]. 1920s mannequins began to be seen as expressive rather than simply functional. The addition of interchangeable arms and moving parts in the 1930s allowed them to express with their entire bodies, and they could be seen to be engaged in activities which were a reflection of a lifestyle[3]. Over the following decades, mannequins went through periods of realism and artistic expression, always representing a customer’s body or values. Like models in fashion photography, mannequins began to appear in staged scenes and against styled backdrops. The shop display became an opportunity for retailers to associate a set of ideals and values with the garments on display.

What we see in the highstreet today seems to contradict the established purpose of a mannequin, as well as the rules of marketing. The removal of the head imposes anonymity. These bodies could belong to anyone and everyone. Faceless anonymity is also a tactic employed by Maison Martin Margiela in his catwalk shows. Margiela is infamous in his anonymity. He does not explicitly claim ownership of his designs. At Maison Martin Margiela, clothes are given plain white labels, bearing no name[4]. This anonymity and invisibility is a practice continued throughout the entire branding and distribution process. Margiela stores are not identified with signage. Within the stores, staff wear white lab coats with no identifiable marks, and white sheets cover the furniture in the stores. Anonymity even extends to Margiela’s shows, in which models often walk the runway with covered faces.

Anonymous models for Martin Margiela.

Anonymous models for Martin Margiela.

Generic, anonymous mannequins on the highstreet.

Generic, anonymous mannequins on the highstreet.

Without a face to represent an ideal, models or mannequins become unable to represent the target consumer or his/her aspirations. Instead, they imply a kind of democracy in which the consumer could be anyone. The consumer cannot directly see him or herself reflected in the mannequin, and so the retailer opens itself up to any possible consumer. The headless mannequin tries not to impose an idea of who its target consumer may be.

Even where heads are still used, they have become blank and expressionless. Some are dehumanised: coated with cloth or pattern. They are generic, anonymous – like cloth dolls or androids on a production line.

These two tactics seem to make sense independently of one another. The dressmaker’s form is effective at invoking ideas of dressmaking, and the headless mannequin is effective at broadening a target market to include any possible customer. Problems arise when we see a half-hearted or confused approach to reducing the body. The mannequins in the window of GAP Kids are posed expressively, as if the bodies are having fun, but their heads are missing. It is as if these bodies have been decapitated mid-play. The result is an unsettling compromise between liveliness and lifelessness. They are alive, but without personality or identity.

Mannequins at GAP Kids are headless yet animated - simultaneously lively and lifeless.

Mannequins at GAP Kids are headless yet animated – simultaneously lively and lifeless.

References:
[1] Thesander, Marianne, The Feminine Ideal, London: Reaktion Books, 1997, 75.
[2] Dwyer, Gary, Window Dressing: Idealized women in the age of mannequins and photography, Lulu, 2008, 4
[3] Schneider, Sara K., ‘Body Design, Variable Realisms: The Case of Female Fashion Mannequins’, Design Issues Vol. 13, No. 3 (1997), 7.
[4] Mackenzie, Mairi, …Isms: Understanding Fashion, London: Herbert Press, 2009, 120.

Images:
Martin Marigiela: http://blog.gettyimages.com/2008/10/01/maison-martin-margiela-house-of-the-macabre/#.Uapvu473C_E
All other images: author’s own.

Dress as Object: What happens to clothes without a body?

Joanne Entwistle tells us that ‘dress cannot be understood without reference to the body’ [1]. Clothes are designed to dress the body, and their purpose is unfulfilled if they are not worn. Much as I respect Entwistle’s writing, I am inclined to disagree. When we first encounter a garment, it is often hung limply on a hanger or draped over an abstract plinth. If I take a trip to Zara for a new cardigan, I will find it folded on a pile of a display table. This method of display means that I am primarily drawn to a garment not because of how it may fall on my body, but because of the qualities of the fabric.

ZARA_Opening_02

When we see a garment on a model or mannequin, it is understood at communicating the identity of the wearer. An outfit on a body connotes a certain lifestyle or role. In rigged displays, clothes are removed from the context of being worn. We are forced to see them for their own merits. Fit becomes secondary to texture and colour, and the identity of the wearer is made distinct from the identity of the garment.

24-Issey-Miyake-store-by-Moment-Design-Hakata-03

Only by separating the identities of the wearer and the garment can we appreciate clothing for its own merits. This is something that has driven Issey Miyake to display his garments in ‘installations’ rather than catwalk shows [2]. Miyake’s primary interest is in the possibilities of textiles. As a student of graphic design, his design education focused on the use of abstract and geometric shapes, and block colour. Miyake has sought to transcend the boundaries of the established fashion industry by locating his work in unexpected contexts. He has, for example, displayed his garments as frozen sculptures in museums, or photographed them as objects[3]. His 1997 Arizona collection was shown suspended on single wires rather than on models ‘to emphasize their sculptural abstraction’ [4]. This shifts the focus away from wearability towards the garment as a fixed shape; a sculptural form and a graphic surface.

10.-Issey-Miyake

Consumers have come to appreciate the significance of Miyake’s work as an object. In 1999, he released a line called A-POC (short for ‘a piece of cloth’). Rather than ready-made garments, this line presents knitted tubes with seams and hems woven into the fabric. ‘Each section of tube contains a mini wardrobe within it. All the consumer has to do is cut out each item, following a set of easy-to-follow instructions’ [5]. A-POC’s particular ingenuity is most visible in its flat state – before the consumer has removed their garment from the tube. It is this flat, incomplete form that has enticed consumers. Many have chosen to leave it uncut, displayed on the walls of their homes as a single piece of art [6].

a-poc-queen-textile

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As shop displays move away from the convention of dressing clothes on mannequins, there will be a shift in the way that we view fashion. In rigged displays, the garment may be appreciated as entirely removed from our experience of wearing it. An increase in concern for surface design – patterns and embellishments – is indicative of this shift. We are beginning to learn to appreciate the qualities of the garment itself, distinct from how it makes our bodies look in the mirror.

References:
[1] Enwtistle, Joanne, and Wissinger, Elizabeth (2006) ‘Keeping Up Appearances: aesthetic labour in the fashion modeling industries of London and New York’, The Sociological Review 54 (4), pp. 774-794.
[2] Mackrell, Alice (2005) Art and Fashion, London: B T Batsford, p. 154.
[3] Breward, Christopher (2003) Fashion, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 92.
[4] Quinn, Bradley (2002) Techno Fashion¸ Oxford: Berg, p. 150.
[5] Blanchard, Tamsin (2001) ‘Electric Frocks’, The Observer [online], Sunday 7 October 2001, http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2001/oct/07/features.magazine37
[6] Vance, Lin (2001) ‘Issey Miyake’s A-POC: A piece of cloth’, in Graphis [online], May/June 2001, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3992/is_200105/ai_n8936766/

Images:
Zara table display: http://sassisamblog.com/2011/04/19/inside-zara-sydney-store-fashion-heaven/
Rigged display: http://www.superhighfashion.com/fashion_stores.htm
Issey Miyake’s Arizona exhibition: http://arttattler.com/designfuturebeauty.html
Issey Miyake’s A-POC, as intended use: http://www.niwdenapolis.com/2008/01/poc-piece-of-clothing-by-issey-miyake.html
Issey Miyake’s A-POC, as wall display: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scarydan/2542427942/

Man or Mannequin?

The Guardian posted a curious news story yesterday, describing a recent burglary attempt in Italy. A group of men broke into a designer clothes shop, and were later caught “standing stock still in a display, trying to pass themselves off as shop dummies.”

What is perhaps most remarkable is the men’s age. Both were in their seventies – well past their physical prime – and yet it was not their physical form that was their undoing. Indeed, the arresting officer claimed that “dressed in jacket and tie, the two men were almost elegant enough to pass for the mannequins they stood alongside.” The men only gave themselves away by their inability to stand still without “trembling “[1].

Typically, mannequins are not representative of a shop’s clients, and even less so its burglars. They are idealized forms, representing the clients aspirations. Mannequins are necessarily idealised, because fashion is not about reality. It is about ambition. Underpinning fashion is the desire to imitate “social elites by their social inferiors”[2]. Designers and retailers present the consumer with a fantasy, encouraging them to imagine themselves as someone better: wealthier, and more successful; slimmer and more attractive.

If these burglars were able to masquerade convincingly as mannequins, even for a moment, does it suggest that the shop’s display had an unusual level of realism? Or, does this story tell us less about the shop display, and more about the arresting officer who was momentarily convinced by the burglars’ disguise? This officer saw two elderly men in the context of a window display without realising that looked out of place. For some reason, he was unable to tell realism from idealism.

Screen shot 2012-12-20 at 13.10.07

Mannequins have an interesting historical relationship with realism. “Dress cannot be understood without reference to the body”[3], and so seeing a garment hanging limp on a peg is insufficient to demonstrate its potential. Clothes are designed to dress the body, and their purpose is unfulfilled if they are not worn. For this reason, when clothing is displayed it is commonly displayed on a human body, or on an artificial substitute for a body, such as a mannequin. Initially, models and mannequins were introduced to show consumers how a garment would look on their own bodies. Realism was therefore considered vital.

In the 1920s, when Jean Patou began using live models, he aimed to employ women that not only showed the clothes well, but also to provide a means by which his customers could “identify more easily with his designs”. Other designers of the same era continued to use models with this goal in mind, selecting models whose shapes reflected the audience, including short or stocky women. In short, the ideal model at this time was deemed to be one who was “ordinary”, emphasizing the “accessibility” of the garments. Catwalk shows thereby aimed to show audiences reflections of themselves, in models to whom they could relate [4]. Similarly, mannequins were designed to be as lifelike as possible [5].

Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947 dramatically changed the modelling industry. The New Look prioritized glamour and extravagance over practicality, and so the models were chosen to reflect this ideal. Dior’s models did not reflect the consumer, but who she aspired to be. They were groomed, sophisticated, and confident [6]. The model became a symbol of an ideal woman and lifestyle. By the 1950s, Dior’s methods had been adopted by mannequin designers. Mannequins became idealised. Male mannequins became muscular and tall, and women’s mannequins became slender, with impossibly long legs and narrow waists. This trend stayed with mannequins, which still today reflect an impossible ideal rather than a reality [7].

Mannequins_bw

Although it has been sixty years since this shift took place, there still exists a level of self-denial about the level of realism in fashion displays. Consumers are easily persuaded to make purchases after viewing a garment on a mannequin, no matter how dissimilar the mannequin’s form is to their own body. This blurring of reality and idealism is the central theme of Michael Gotleib’s 1998 film, Mannequin. The film tells the story of a window-dresser whose muse is a mannequin brought-to-life.

The role of Emmy, the titular mannequin, is played by Kim Cattrall and a series of fibreglass imitations of the actress. With her astonishing beauty, Cattrall is able to convince audiences that she could pose as a mannequin. Notably, her character is not just an ordinary girl but an ancient princess who has harnessed magic to travel through time. It would seem that the impossibly slender form and flawless beauty of a mannequin is only fit for royalty. We could not imagine a plain and ordinary girl in this role. And yet, the very fact that this fantasy exists, suggests that audiences crave the idealism of a window display to be reflected in the reality of their everyday lives or flawed bodies.

Mannequin-Still2

Two aging burglars, apparently inconspicuous alongside the chiselled fibreglass forms of male mannequins, tell us that we still believe mannequins are reflective of reality. Advertisers and retailers have been successful in trying to convince us that their artificially idealised vision could come true. One Italian officer, at least, is so influenced by the pretence of reality that he is unable to tell the real from the ideal. For him, the retailer’s vision is convincing. The burglars too, were so confident in the achievability of the retailer’s display that they believed themselves able to replicate it. Mannequins may be idealised, but we are in such denial that we fail to recognise when a real form infiltrates a display. We still believe that, if we buy those overpriced designer garments, we could look as good as the mannequin as the shop window.

[1] Klington, Tom (2012), ‘ Dumb and dummies: Italian trio held over shop break-in,’ The Guardian [online], 17 Dec 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/dec/17/shop-dummy-italian-thieves-arrested
[2] Crane, Diana (2000), Fashion and its Social Agendas, London: University of Chicago Press, p. 6
[3] Joanne Entwistle, cited in Perthuis, Karen de (2005) ‘The Synthetic Ideal: the Fashion Model and Photographic Manipulation’, Fashion Theory 9 (4), p. 410.
[4] Soley-Beltran, Patricia (2004), ‘Modelling Femininity’, European Journal of Women’s Studies 11 (3), p. 311.
[5] Dwyer, Gary, (2008), Window Dressing: Idealized women in the age of mannequins and photography, Lulu, p. 4.
[6] Soley-Beltran, Patricia (2004), ‘Modelling Femininity’, European Journal of Women’s Studies 11 (3), pp. 311-312.
[7] Dywer, p. 11.

Images:
Male mannequins: http://www.myglassesandme.co.uk/2012/04/currently-showing-at-zara/
Mannequins through the ages: http://www.csuchico.edu/pub/inside/archive/02_12_12/05_deadly.html
Mannequin movie still: http://www.allmovie.com/movie/mannequin-v31327