One Moscow shop window got a serious dressing down recently before being dressed up in the new styles. And thanks to a rather unstylish window washer, passers-by were given a clear view of what's under all those clothes -- mannequins that seem to be years behind those used by American stores.
According to Robert Benzoi, vice president and director of visual merchandising for Saks Fifth Avenue, "for the last eight or nine years, mannequins have been very natural in every way." Rather than the prim, static gestures of the Russian mannequins, he says, "our mannequins have tremendous action. The arms are not movable, but different positions can be ordered, even hands that go easily into the pockets of a skirt or pants."
The postures, too, are very natural. "Designers like Geoffrey Beene are happiest when the mannequins look relaxed, almost in repose -- it gives a sense of whimsy, and a distinct attitude," Benzoi says. To show off the clothes in the most natural way, American mannequins are joined well below the hip line rather than at the waist, "so that a bikini or sarong can be worn well down on the hips, revealing a natural navel area."
For almost a decade, mannequins used by American stores have also featured a natural bust -- complete with nipples. "It's ridiculous not to relate to what a person will wear and how she will look," says Benzoi. Hands have always been the biggest challenge, and are now sculpted from life molds. "We do take out the wrinkles," he laughs.
An obvious difference between the mannequins used in Moscow and those used here is the current use of natural-looking, combable hair. "We are long past the period of stiff, horsehair wigs," Benzoi says.
American window decorators seem to be more priggish about undressed mannequins than their European counterparts. "We're not really prudish," says Benzoi; "mannequins undressed are not very pretty." When it is time to change a window, he explains, he simply closes the blinds. "Besides, it adds an element of surprise."