The Evolution of The Mannequin
Something you see everyday and you don’t even notice — the mannequin.
The first mannequins were made in France with papermache in the mid-19th century. Then they were cast in wax and then evolved into being made of plastic. They were also known as manikin, dummy, lay figure or dress form. Made with articulated joints used by artists, tailors, dressmakers, window dressers and others especially to display or fit clothing.
Fashion goods began to be displayed in lifelike room settings with mannequins. Known as “open displays,” these windows relied on themes and narratives, rather than sheer quantity of goods, for visual impact. The window display was now conveying goods giving them precise domestic or cultural settings and giving them qualities other than practicality and price. In these displays the fixtures, stands, and mannequins, came into their own.
Historically, artists have often used articulated mannequins, sometimes known as lay figures, as an aid in drawing draped figures. The advantage of this is that clothing or drapery arranged on a mannequin may be kept immobile for far longer than would be possible by using a living model.
It was Paris that defined fashion from the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century, and the French mannequin manufacturers were able to exploit this reputation. Not only were French mannequins technologically advanced fueled by the investment in shops and display in France but notions of what was fashionable at any one point were centered on France, so French mannequins were considered the apex of fashion. Their new designs were also regularly exhibited at the international expositions, with French models usually winning prizes, thus enhancing their fame and desirability.
The arrival of electricity was important to the appearance of the mannequin as the faces of wax models would suffer in the heat of the window. It was imperative that new materials be found.
In the 1920s, the French firm of Pierre Iman’s perfected a lighter and heat-resistant material, “Carnasine,” a plaster composite which would take the mannequin into a new, faster phase of change and mass production. By 1927 the French firm of Siégel and Stockman had some 67 factories in New York City, Sydney, Stockholm, and Amsterdam and had acquired agents in other parts of the world. They also employed the architect-designer René Herbst as an artistic adviser and under his leadership the mannequin became an icon of the modern style.
In cities where competition was strongest stores had larger windows and more frequently changing displays. A visitor to London in 1786 wrote of “A cunning device for showing women’s materials whether they are silks, chintzes, or muslins, they hang down in folds behind the fine high windows so that the effect of this and that material, as it would be in the ordinary folds of a woman’s dress, can be studied” (Adburgham, p. 6).
This comment suggests that there was an awareness of sophisticated marketing techniques and a developing vocabulary for display in the late eighteenth century which would be developed but not improved upon by later generations.
1920' and 1930's
In the 1920s and 1930s, the American film industry was providing an international visual language that would influence both the design of window displays and the appearance of mannequins.
By the 1930s, American mannequin designer Lester Gaba had produced mannequins of the film star Marlene Dietrich. A Shirley Temple mannequin produced by Pierre Iman’s was sold on both sides of the Atlantic.
Film stars imparted glamour to the window display which was itself looking more like a film set than ever.
While World War II halted mannequin production in Europe, in America production increased, and mannequins continued to reflect the American mass aesthetic. In their expansion, American firms like D.G. Williams and Lillian Greneker were aided by a material new to mannequin production, plastic.
In the 1950s, mannequins represented a sophisticated and grown-up glamour.
It wasn’t until 1966, when mannequin designer Adel Rootstein produced models of Twiggy that the emergent youth culture was reflected in shop windows.
Modern day mannequins are made from a variety of materials, the primary ones being fiberglass and plastic. The fiberglass mannequins are usually more expensive than the plastic ones, tend to be not as durable, but are significantly more impressive and realistic. Plastic mannequins, on the other hand, are a relatively new innovation in the mannequin field and are built to withstand the hustle of customer foot traffic usually witnessed in the store they are placed in.
Something else quite interesting about the mannequin has been the pose progression since the early times. Here are a few:
Please read about the more modern mannequin that can be transformed to any specification electronically called the “IDummy.”
To wrap this up there is so much information on the evolution of mannequins as well as marketing techniques of the display window that I could not possibly write all about it here.
Just another something you see everyday and don’t really notice.
Jo Ann Harris is an author, parent, book devotee, writer, copywriter, and film fanatic. She is an autodidact who learns about everything and rows her own boat. She grew up and worked in Atlanta, Georgia, and lived there sixty years. She writes articles about love, hope, personal life stories, advice, and poems. She is a published author with an article published in Woman’s World magazine in October 2017.