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Strike a Pose

A trying financial year has made for more thoughtful – but never boring – mannequin choices



Mannequins are a reflection of all of us, in either a realistic light or an aspirational one. These tried-and-true silent salespeople have the ability to tap into our subconscious by way of graceful poses, high-fashion attitudes or unexpected humor, appealing to our uniquely human sensibilities in ways that fixtures and hangers inherently cannot. While the array of mannequin styles, poses and materials are vast, with a bit of cultural decoding, and careful consideration of budget and reusability, the ideal options are available in the market to suit almost any retailer’s target audience.


Retail trends come and go, and perhaps one of the most unfortunate in the industry is the recent trend toward downsizing visual teams and budgets. While that doesn’t mean window or in-store displays are going away any time soon, it does dictate that retailers be wiser about where their money is spent. Mannequins, more than ever, have to be versatile enough for extended use.

“Because of the economy, many brands have gotten rid of the whole visual department, so that’s why – if they want to do something [with their visual merchandising] – they have to find a mannequin that’s easy to maintain, meaning not realistic ones with full hair and makeup,” says New York-based Polar Buranasatit, visual presentations specialist and retail consultant. Abstract mannequins can get the most use without as much upkeep, he says, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a custom look. Trendy accents, such as stick-on eyes, lips and makeup (including lipstick and lashes), or dramatic wigs can easily be added at the store level to create a variety of looks on a shoestring budget.

“Let’s face it: Mannequins are a capital [expenditure], this is not an expense that retailers can just idly buy here and there – they’re an investment,” says Ana Fernandes, creative national director, Hudson’s Bay Co. (Toronto). To have a versatile collection without sacrificing bold new designs, she recommends having a bulk of “basic” abstract mannequins on hand for maximum versatility, while still watching out for opportunities to introduce the unexpected. “You also need that wow factor, and that’s where perhaps I’m going to spend a little more to get something really interesting or current.”



Vibrant hues (in opaque, transparent and color-blocked-limbed options), mixed bodies (e.g., realistic style with articulated limbs), androids and active/expressive poses are this year’s most coveted trends, in addition to collections that blur the lines between realistic and abstract and include artful renditions of facial features and a variety of body styles and ethnicities, yet are too exaggerated or fantasy-driven to be labeled “realistic.”

“If you’re going to splurge, make [them] your own and unique,” says Tracey Peters, director, visual merchandising, Canada Goose Inc. (Toronto). “Work with vendors to customize and tweak already great mannequins so they speak to your business. Slight changes in a stylized face or a custom color can make a big difference.”

Imaginative and innovative, these new creations – as well as meticulously crafted realistic mannequins – pack a punch in terms of drawing attention, and they may just be the key to making a new campaign pop. To introduce a new collection without breaking the bank, Fernandes recommends adding timely designs a couple of times a year, which she debuts in windows for specific campaigns, then rotates to in-store displays for reuse.


Many retailers have become mindful of their environmental footprint. The mannequin industry has followed suit to cater to these needs, and new collections featuring biodegradable resins or proprietary natural material bases have debuted.

The general consensus among retailers is that cost can be prohibitive in replacing entire fleets of mannequins with these “green” options. In reality, the prices can vary, depending on from where they’re purchased as well as which poses, styles, details and finishes are selected – and especially with the quantity ordered (generally a lower cost per unit when bought in bulk).



With the fierce popularity of stripped-down, abstract, egghead designs during the past several years, it’s no surprise that the variety of poses in this style has grown exponentially. Expressive or active poses – such as leaning or interacting as a group – tend to get the most attention from shoppers, says Buranasatit, as compared to those standing straight, though they have less flexibility in their range of use and can require more store or window space to accommodate.

And while high-fashion poses, with arms down or hands on hips, are still widely sought after, Fernandes hopes the tide may soon turn. “Now, successful models all need to have their own look and their own poses,” she says, explaining that what is considered “high fashion” in the near future will likely reflect today’s up-and-coming models with wider ranges of both casual and glamorous poses.

No matter what, Peters says, “Do your research and explore all your options. Make sure you are picking the right mannequin for your brand and your product. If possible, get a sample mannequin, dress it, try it in your retail environment, and see if it works for who you and your consumer are.”


Despite the frequent shifts in retail, Buranasatit says mannequins will always be the most practical way for shoppers to view apparel on a 3-D form. And consumers tend to relate most to mannequins, envisioning themselves styled in the same wares, explains Fernandes: “I know customers will always talk about them. They’re not talking about an outfit on the rack, they’re referring to an outfit they saw on a mannequin. It’s when it’s on a mannequin that it inspires them, so I don’t see a world without that being possible … I hope not.” 




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