Mannequins get realism makeover

David's Bridal senior vice president Michele von Plato shows a plus-size mannequin last month during an interview in New York.  David's, the nation's largest bridal chain, started changing its fit mannequins to reflect the average body.
David's Bridal senior vice president Michele von Plato shows a plus-size mannequin last month during an interview in New York. David's, the nation's largest bridal chain, started changing its fit mannequins to reflect the average body. Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

Retailers hoping forms that look more natural will help attract customers to stores to buy

New York - The one-size-fits-all mannequin is getting a much-needed makeover.

Wings Beachwear's mannequins in Miami sport flower tattoos 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 (a 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.

Stores are using more realistic versions of the traditional tall, svelte, faceless 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, white, headless, no-arms-or-legs 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 seeing mannequins as a tool to entice shoppers to buy.

Indeed, studies show mannequins matter when shoppers make buying decisions. Forty-two percent of customers recently polled by market research firm 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 merchandising department at LIM College, a fashion college in New York City.

Saks Fifth Avenue spent about a decade using mostly mannequins who 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 opportunities. 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.

David's Bridal also is going for a more realistic look. 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, David's Bridal's 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.

American Apparel, the teen apparel retailer known for its racy ads, this month has mannequins in its store in New York's trendy SoHo shopping district that are wearing see-through lingerie that reveal pubic hair and nipples.

Ryan Holiday, an American Apparel spokesman, says the number of customers in the store has increased 30 percent since the debut of the mannequins. "We created it to invite passersby to explore the idea of what is sexy and consider their comfort with the natural female form," the company said in a statement.

The windows were attention grabbing, with most people on a recent Friday, stopping, pointing and laughing. "It's a brilliant idea," said Ali Mohammed, 55, a New York resident who works in construction in the area.

But Allison Berman, 19, thought the realism went too far. "I see this as sexual," says another New York resident.

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