Coffee Klatsch, Oh Ja, Stearns

Living Dolls

Back in my journalism days I wrote about a multi-generation family of mannequin makers.

Theirs was a serious business, involving sculpting, kilns, fibreglass, metal, hand painting, wigs made from human hair, and detailed modelling to ensure each creation’s limbs and digits were perfect.

The family’s warehouse was filled with completed mannequins and their parts. What became of them all?

There’s certainly an art to making these eye-catching forms to display clothing, hosiery, hats, gloves, jewellery, shoes, and accessories.

Mannequin shapes and features change with the times, and those of past eras are collector's items. 

Scores are no doubt peacefully at rest in landfills across the world.

Others have made their way, like unwanted dolls, to vintage and antique stores.

I have become acquainted with a few over long periods, for they can take awhile to sell.

A male mannequin, once used to train medical students, springs to mind.

For a number of years he has modelled unlikely fashions at a vintage store, or is left nude to titillate while awaiting his next show stopping outfit.

There he is, an object of ridicule and pity, reduced from his once noble purpose to act as a rude drawcard with his Bundy-esque stare and startling crotch.

Mannequins can be life-sized or appear as hands, feet, heads, torsos, or other body parts to best display wares for sale, for medical or artistic purposes, or to draw shoppers into stores online and in the high street.

Macabre versions feature in films like the 1953 Vincent Price movie House of Wax, a remake by Warner Brothers of its 1933 movie Mystery of the Wax Museum.

Mannequins are the foundation of businesses like Madame Tussaud, with 25 global outlets featuring ultra realistic celebrities past and present.

There is much to know about these intriguing figures.

I recommend Leighann Morris’s Complete History of Mannequins.

You may enjoy, as I did, the tale of surrealist artist Salvador Dali’s commission by New York department store Bonwit Teller.

His window display featured a wax mannequin with a head of red roses and fingernails of ermine fur.

But even New York wasn’t ready for Dali’s fashion forwardness.

Is he happy about the arms drawing him into a rigid embrace? Or is he squashing her because she stole the popcorn? Other speculation I leave to you. This is a family show.

Photos, Museum of the City of New York, Europa Star

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