Online shopping is suffocating the retail store business model. Both main street and big box retailers are gasping for breath today, especially during the holidays that used to be their biggest sales periods. Merchandisers struggle to bring shoppers back into their bricks and mortar stores with Groupons and go-local type neighbourhood events and contests. But what is the answer? Some experts will tell you the solution is to make the retail store more of a unique destination with attractions that go beyond simply offering high quality merchandise for sale at good prices.
Mannequins Matter to Fashion Retailers
GotStyle Distillery puts their mannequins at the center of the in-store and window display areas. The gorgeous Gotsyle fashion outlet in the Distillery depends on these mannequins to set alight their attractive windows and provide a focus for seasonal apparel.
The overhead spotlights and dynamic architecture of the flagship Gotstyle store reflects in the smooth plastic finish of their shiny black mannequins. These perfect, unblemished human forms wear the latest clothing and the combination epitomizes urban style, and viewing this spectacle celebrates the very act of shopping.
“Most people don’t think the mannequins in the store communicate with shoppers, but they’re wrong”, says Jack Lin who sells plastic mannequins and glass display cases at Ablelin Store Fixtures Corp. in Toronto. “The mannequins in the window, and what they’re wearing practically shouts to people, especially ladies on the street,’ Jack rants, “and the mannequins in the shop can make or break the sale at the store counter.” And when I asked how, he said simply, “people either trust your mannequins or they don’t buy”, and then he related to me a story whereby the mannequins in a sophisticated retail store were simply not nice enough for the merchandise being sold at the prices being charged; the upscale boutique’s sales suffered from consumer skepticism. The other side of the equation is when retailers naively employ exquisite mannequins in low-end shopping malls; this can also send the wrong signal to bargain hunters who shop for value and may not enter what they perceive as being too luxurious.
Thus, the human forms modeling clothing in commercial shops can both attract or repel consumers, and can make or break retail concepts.
Brief History of Mannequins
Shop mannequins are derived from dress forms used by fashion houses for dressmaking. During the reign of Louis XIV, it was common in Parisian dress shops to leave garments on the form for a day or two after being completed, but full-scale wickerwork mannequins didn’t come into use until the mid-18th century, and extruded steel wirework mannequins were not manufactured in Paris until 1835.
The first fashion mannequins, made of papier-mâché, were also made in France in the mid-19th century. Mannequins were later made of wax to produce a more lifelike appearance. In the 1920s, wax was supplanted by a more durable composite made with plaster.
More interesting is to trace the evolution of mannequin fashion. The different shaped dummies mirror our cultural trends and echo our ‘body’ values and reveal society’s attitudes about sex roles, beauty and propriety.
Lingerie mannequins used to look away, or look down , but now – lingerie mannequins are quite direct. They look right at you. They’re not shy. Their eyes are even inviting sometimes.
This author remembers when the Eaton Center in Toronto had extremely lifelike mannequins with eyes that would follow you in the store. But they’ve all been replaced now with burnished wooden bodies which are actually not wood at all but plastic with a terrific faux wooden finish.
Desigual and Espirit Dstyle fashion clothing retailer in Toronto sells mostly women’s clothing, but has a male mannequin in the shop.
Toby from DStyle puts their store’s single mannequin, a man, right in the front door of the shop. He stands there in the doorway as though he’s the proprietor calling people into the venue. “It makes the place look busier’ was all Toby would say about the placement and the style is “whatever’s best for men in season.’ And although Toby makes light of the arrangement, there’s an art and science to picking and presenting this dummy’s clothes. He wears the nicest merchandise in the colours that best contrast the rest of the shop as seen from the sidewalk beyond the front doors. The colour combination and curious juxtaposition becomes an irresistible attraction to would be consumers.
The Future of Mannequins
Smart mannequins are already becoming available to retailers. Certain models are intelligent enough today to tell staff which clothes most need merchandising (based on store volume), and through interactive smart phone apps can have more personalized interactions with consumers.
Having the right mannequins really matters to bricks and mortar fashion retailers struggling to rescue plunging profits.
Photos by Rob Campbell – All Rights Reserved