This is a reprint from Dance Retailer News written by Charlotte Barnard who interviewed several members of the Mannequin Madness team for the article.
Mannequins tell your brand story as well as your fashion story—they’re an essential selling tool for any dancewear retailer. Because they’re investment pieces, you won’t turn them over with the same frequency as your merchandise. Still, they deserve attention.
“Customers buy, based more on desires than needs,” says Judi Henderson Townsend, owner of Oakland, CA–based Mannequin Madness. “Displays with mannequins should be aspirational, so that customers look in that window and imagine themselves living that lifestyle or being that character.”
So how do you keep your mannequins uniquely current and compelling? Be consistent, have fun with your creativity and maintain quality, say seasoned experts who stay on brand by staying on trend.
Faded or Fashion Forward?
Even if you are content with how your current mannequins are serving your business, it’s important to know what other retailers are doing—even beyond the dance category.
Looking for information and inspiration further afield will help keep your look unique and fresh. Visit retailers outside your category to get ideas, and follow Instagram and Pinterest.
Mannequins are still most commonly available in two types—plastic and fiberglass. When you go for quality, both are good investments. Fiberglass represents the higher end, with more varied finishes. Plastic tends to be sturdier, so it doesn’t break.
Regularly examine whether your mannequins accurately reflect the style of your merchandise and your customer. If you’ve tweaked your store image and its product lines over time, it’s time to reassess if your current mannequins are a good fit. Mannequins should also be compatible with the look and feel of your store. If your decor is classic pink, white and black, consider a few black mannequins; they will really pop. If you emphasize athletic wear as well as dance merchandise, you might want to invest in some mannequins with more articulated physical features that show musculature or allow them to take more active poses.
Decorated mannequins can work as props for window displays.Metallic faces are trending now, according to Las Vegas Mannequins.
Follow What’s Trending
Mannequins, as fashion tools, reflect the trends of the times, so if you take a look at national retailers, you will see hot colors—turquoise, gray—and finishes—distressed, wood, linen. There’s also been a call for eclecticism, combining materials such as wood and fabric. Subtle contrasts in texture create a look that is vintage and contemporary at the same time, which is particularly popular among millennials.
You don’t have to drop everything to shell out for these new styles to keep your store up to date, but consider the investment if it’s time for a change.
While abstract and unisex looks—elongated arms and legs, heads with minimal or no facial features—remain strong at high-end retailers, mixed materials are staking a claim, too, reports Alison Wainwright, whose business, Las Vegas Mannequins, serves the entire United States. “A matte finish body with a metallic face is also hitting big now,” she says. Physically accurate mannequins are strong, too, she reports—except “they are less waify and more muscular.” Bendable limbs that can be positioned in action are also a big hit, she adds.
Do Right with Display
To keep your selling floor current, you don’t have to replace mannequins to radically refresh their look, says Henderson Townsend. “There has to be something in the window that attracts customers’ attention, makes shopping a fun experience and stimulates their senses on all levels.”
Incorporate props in creative and unexpected ways, she says. Use the mannequin as a prop: Turn it upside down, put on wigs that pick up the colors of the merchandise you are featuring. This past fall, the Chanel store in New York’s SoHo featured mannequins with alternating pink and turquoise hair that matched the clothing in the central display on the floor.
“When grouping mannequins together, make sure they are all ‘going to the same place,’” says Rose Balderian, a visual merchandising consultant whose website, vmworkssf.com, includes many creative ideas for propping mannequins. “Ask yourself, would these people hang out together?” she says.
Show odd numbers, Balderian advises, but if you have only two, make sure they overlap a little. “Place one slightly in front of the other so there’s no negative space; otherwise, the customer’s eye travels straight through and won’t see the clothes.” You can also make two figures seem like three by adding an outfit to a prop or T-stand, says Balderian.
Keep Up Appearances
If part of the mannequin is broken and beyond repair, consider salvaging what’s left to create an unusual effect. “Beads and spray paint will transform a damaged surface,” says Henderson Townsend, whose business, Mannequin Madness, sells used and new mannequins. “Take it to an auto body shop,” she adds. “They know how to apply a paint that will adhere.”
You can make many creative fixes yourself, too, she points out. Is there a crack in the head? Create a crown of flowers or put on a mask. Turn the mannequin upside down to show off shoes or tights, or put ballet totes atop a head.
At holiday time, turn a mannequin into a Christmas tree with garlands and ornaments to disguise the damage. You can also just use parts—legs in different poses—to make an interesting display. For more ideas, go to Henderson Townsend’s blog at blog.mannequinmadness.com/new.
“Just changing clothes on a mannequin isn’t enough anymore,” says Henderson Townsend. “They can be whimsical or provide social commentary, for instance, to say ‘this is what the store is about’—not just selling clothes but relating to people’s lives.”
Use mannequins creatively and thoughtfully to establish and then communicate your brand’s identity. “If you are all things to all people, you are like a souvenir store,” she says. “But if someone knows what to expect in your store, it makes you memorable.” The right mannequins will help you drive that branding message home.
Shine a Light on Them
You can have the most clever displays around, but if the mannequins are not lit properly, who will really see them? “Light mannequins from an angle, as opposed to directly above, to avoid shadows,” says Rose Balderian. For mannequins in your store window, she recommends placing a track light that runs along the top and on both the left and the right sides of the actual window. “Then you can focus each individual bulb as you wish,” she says, “which is good for casting light in front and on the side of the mannequins.”
Charlotte Barnard is a New York City–based writer specializing in design and retail.