You do not discuss with fashion.
MORE Mannequins was invited for an interview by one of the biggest Polish weekly journals, Polityka. Here is the translation of the full interview (original available here).
Juliusz Ćwieluch, Polityka weekly journal:
Mannequins must lead a happy life, they’re always so peaceful.
Małgorzata Milewska Malinowska, Sales Director in MORE Mannequins, psychology enthusiast: There’s no reason to be jealous, they have a hard job. Mannequins not only bear clothes, but also huge duties. They have to encourage us to buy another skirt, another sweater. They are our advisers, creators of tastes and trends.
And this can be so tiring?
Agnieszka Pliszka, Export and Logistics Manager at MORE Mannequins, sociologist: Most clients have more than one sweater and many skirts. And yet they still buy new ones – with big help of mannequins. So you can say that their work is not easy.
MMM: The best evidence is that the average mannequin’s life has drastically decreased in recent years.
What do you mean?
AP: Previously mannequins were bought for years. Today, despite being made of better materials, they age much faster. Even minor damage is a reason to throw them out. The customer’s brain may not record it consciously, but subconsciously it gets the signal that something is wrong with this store.
MMM: It doesn’t mean that mannequins get old quickly – it’s customers, who get bored quickly. In the clothing industry time flows much faster than in any other.
French philosopher Paul Virilio claimed that accelerating world would be the greatest challenge of our time.
MMM: It seems that he was right. I came to the industry 11 years ago. Even then it was dynamic, but what is happening now is difficult to compare with anything.
AP: I sell mannequins one year less, but I also see this. A long time ago there were two seasons in the industry. Then four collections for one year. Today, top brands introduce the new collection every two weeks. So mannequins in stores are dressed with such frequency. Sometimes even more often, depending on the status of the store. If it’s located in a fashionable and prestigious place, it may be even more often.
And in the past?
AP: Changing mannequins’ clothes used to happen much less frequently. There was no need to do it because there ware no subcollections within one collection.
Why are there so many of them?
MMM: To make us buy more and more. After all, a dress bought two months ago is now out of fashion. Things are not repaired anymore. Things are being thrown away and new ones are bought.
Disposable items seem to be the perfect product. I have already seen clothes with a “do not wash” sign.
MMM: It is a sign of the modern times, where everything happens quickly, everything is fleeting and disposable. We live in a world where we are unable to consume all of the messages that reach us. New collections that keep coming all the time give us a feeling that we are following a trend.
AP: I call it the “social media effect”, where news live just a few minutes. One post is instantly covered by another one. Important things are mixed up with completely irrelevant. That’s how we live. The fashion world follows this trend.
Follows or creates it?
MMM: It’s like asking what was first – egg or chicken.
If one of the companies, in order to speed up production, invests in employing seamstresses on ships transporting materials from China, it is difficult to say that the industry is influenced, rather creates it.
MMM: Observation of Polish companies shows, that they are participating in this race, because that’s the law of the market. And either you will adapt or you will die.
AP: And that’s one of the reasons why mannequins live three times shorter than they used to.
Or maybe they live shorter because they are getting thinner?
MMM: This is a touchy subject for the industry.
AP: Most mannequin models on the market have idealized silhouettes and proportions. People with such figures don’t exist, or there are very few of them. And yet we undergo strong environmental pressure to look like them.
After all, you create the market.
AP: We create, but we also observe what is happening in fashion capitals like Paris or Milan.
MMM: It doesn’t mean that we are passively following these trends. We have created “Shaped” collection for our clients, in which we offer several different feminine silhouettes. Not drastically slimmer, but more feminine, fuller.
Did you make fat mannequins?
MMM: Not fat – just silhouettes of normal, healthy women. We based them on different types of female silhouettes: apple, pear, hourglass, cone.
AP: We wanted to show that there is no “perfect” type of figure and that each person is different.
And how did the market react?
AP: It didn’t. It seems that we were ahead of trends. The market is not ready yet for such solutions.
MMM: Paradoxically, for the last few years the clients were saying that the mannequins are too thin. But after expanding the offer to include more feminine mannequins, only few people decided to buy them. People responsible for display windows visit VM shows around the worlds, where slim figures are still the majority.
Feminists have been fighting for years with anorexic models and too thin mannequins – all this for nothing?
MMM: There are some successes. A few years ago a European fashion chain introduced zero-size mannequins…
What does it mean?
MMM: Very high, over 2 meter-long silhouettes, but with proportions of children. Practically without hips. Silhouettes slimmed-up to the point of exaggeration. One of the Polish chains bought these mannequins, but there were such protests that they were withdrawn from stores.
I didn’t notice the mannequins getting any thicker.
AP: Let’s say that women rights movements have managed to eliminate the extremes. But the demands for the mannequins to reflect silhouettes of a regular person, and not an ideal, did not gain popularity.
Ideal? Poles are one of the fastest-fattening societies in the European Union.
MMM: Mannequins sell dreams.
AP: Shops offer a certain vision of the world. It does not necessarily coincide with the reality we live in. These are the rules of marketing. We don’t really sell clothing, rather an idea.
So mannequins are not trying to imitate us, but rather we are trying to imitate the mannequins?
AP: Most of my friends were on a diet, is right now, or will be soon. There is a huge social pressure on the way we look. If you want to be perceived as successful, you have to look good. Which is not bad in itself. But brought to an extreme it becomes exhausting.
MMM: The clothing industry simply follows this trend. When I started working in the industry, the silhouettes of mannequins were more feminine. And the size was definitely bigger. The typical mannequin was size 36.
AP: Sometimes there were orders for size 38 mannequins. But even then they were described as fat.
Today size 36 is worn by teenagers.
MMM: Almost no one orders this size. Currently most of the mannequins are sold in size 34. And those of larger sizes are slimmed down about 10 kilos, because they are more elongated.
Are there any mannequins at all, that get thicker?
MMM: Maybe not thicker, but some of them they gain muscles. We have a special line of sports mannequins that show a beautifully sculptured, strong body.
AP: These are special task mannequins. Each fashion chain already has a fitness zone. This is a huge market to take over.
But goys don’t look like that.
AP: This is an inspiration. You must strive for it.
MMM: Of course it is also a kind of…
MMM: Let’s say – artistic vision.
I’m not falling for it.
AP: Cultural pressure on men’s appearance is smaller.
MMM: And they buy differently. Shops are made for women. This is clearly visible in our orders. 75 % mannequins we sell are female mannequins. And their sales grow every year.
But what do they really do?
MMM: It depends on what stage. First of all, they attract attention. Research shows that the display window has 3 seconds to attract customers and encourage them to enter.
MMM: That’s why the profession Visual Merchandiser was created, whose task is to create the visual attractiveness of stores. They build complex systems that encourage us – first to enter, and later to buy.
AP: Over the years the industry has been convinced that if we manage to make the customer enter the store, we already have them. But it doesn’t work anymore. The competition is so strong that the customer is quickly bored and has a tendency to surf through the stores. Therefore you have to provide further attractions inside the store. Hence the instore mannequins – something rarely practiced before.
MMM: Psychology of selling is a topic for numerous doctorates. Shops are designed very carefully. Divided into special zones, each of which has a role to play.
And all this to makes us buy more clothes?
AP: Let’s not simplify. Shopping has lost its function of buying new clothes to replace the old clothes long time ago. Buying things fulfills many social functions. Apart from fueling the economy, it also has a therapeutic function. Have you ever gone shopping after a hard day, although it’s hard to say that you went to buy something specific?
Let us assume that it happened to me at least once.
AP: Many clients operate under the influence of such impulses. They go shopping. They are looking for something. And that’s where the role of mannequins begins – they have actually revolutionized sales. Not only by incredibly accelerating it, but also by introducing bundle selling. The mannequin gives customers a finished vision of “themselves”. A proposition of stylization from dress, to shoes and accessories.
MMM: Not everyone has so much imagination to style their own look. As the product was put on hangers, it was also difficult to visualize how it would look together. Today, many customers use these hints. They buy the ready sets. That’s why a few years ago mannequins entered inside the store. Previously they were rather on display windows. And single exaples inside. Now, entire islands with mannequins are created.
And what this acceleration is all about?
MMM: Customers buy more often without trying things on. They look at the mannequin, they like what the see. They know more or less what size they have in a given chain. In most stores you can return things without problems, so they buy without losing time in the changing room. Faster, more convenient.
AP: Sales are more and more influenced by emotions. The purchasing power of Poles is growing. Prices of clothes are falling.
The differences between clothing chains are getting more and more blurry. Sometimes I have the impression that I am all the time in one shop. Only with many entrances.
MMM: That’s why every element is important. Before you create a perfect display window, there are at least a few test displays. Great window displays can cost a lot of money. The process of mannequin styling is a complicated procedure.
Does the store employee dress the mannequin?
AP: Formally yes, but they get very accurate guidelines on how to do it. Some networks send videos to stores with instructions on how to compose a consistent store arrangement. There is no place for coincidence here.
MMM: Clothing chains are constantly experimenting with mannequins. Some of them even took them completely out of display windows. But only the strongest brands, that attract with their name, can afford it. At the same time, they can have stores with and without mannequins on display.
And what are the trends of today?
MMM: In London we’ve noticed that there are display windows which tell a whole story through mannequins, where individual characters, like actors caught in the frame, play their roles.
AP: The silhouettes of mannequins themselves can express emotions, it is a kind of “body language” of mannequins. Someone is angry with someone, someone is watching someone else. These are no longer plastic dolls. Anyway, they have not been made of plastic for a long time. At least not the branded ones. It also happens that mannequins are ordered with crossed arms, or legs.
And how to dress someone who has legs crossed and crossed arms?
AP: Fortunately, a mannequin can be dismembered into parts.
MMM: In our field such difficult items are called “smaczki” [Polish phrase meaning special accents]. But more often our clients choose classic items. Most of the mannequins are stylized, meaning that the clothes on them are neatly pinned so that everything looks great. The hair must be perfectly arranged. The mannequin cannot afford to look bad.
The biggest trends now are simple, easy to dress silhouettes.
Wigs look like real hair.
MMM: Wig is an element that is able to completely change the mannequin’s appearance. Then again, we have to follow the latest hairdressing trends.
AP: And watch out for associations. It’s not recommended to use mannequins with makeup, but without wigs, because it is associated with disease. Shopping should be a pleasure, an escape from difficult subjects. Everything is supposed to be like a mannequin – perfect and fashionable. Next season we bet on redheads.
Read heads it is not a dominant population in Poland.
MMM: It doesn’t matter. Red will rule in stores. Probably in effect the sales of red hair paint will also increase. That’s how the market works. You do not discuss with fashion.
AP: Once mannequins had different faces and make-up in one store. Today in opposite we focus on standardization: every mannequin should look the same.
Is someone trying to tell us that we are a gray purchasing mass?
AP: No. Unifying the appearance of mannequins makes it easier to build a consistent message and brand image.
MMM: The idea is to introduce some kind of order and something solid in this excess of stimuli.
And what about make-up?
MMM: Many years ago, strong and expressive makeup was used, even evening make-up. Then came the fashion for matt finishing of the mannequins and the make-up appeared sporadically. Dark mannequins were in trend. After black mat there was black gloss. The trend is now reversed. Lighter colors and an abstract face are fashionable. Now the makeup comes back, but in a toned down, delicate version.
AP: Gender plays a strong role in the industry. Mannequins are becoming more unisex. The differences between the sexes are blurred. Just as we don’t emphasize racial differences. That’s why the faces of mannequins lose their features. It’s hard to say whether it’s someone with European or Asian features.
Politically correct mannequins – even Mrożek [famous writer of Polish satires] wouldn’t invent that.
AP: Few years ago we wouldn’t have thought that someone can be accused of racism because they have only bright mannequins in the store. It has changed. We offer a whole palette of skin tones.
MMM: Producers are under strong pressure of political correctness. The biggest ones cannot afford to show mannequins in one skin color. When buying a mannequin with a light complexion it is proper to put a slightly darker one next to it. It also has a practical value, because our clients have stores all over the world. The “cosmopolitan” mannequin is simply a safer and more convenient solution.
Can a mannequin be sexy?
MMM: It should not show off sexuality. This is unacceptable now. Customers are afraid of accusations of objectifying women. To the extent that nipples began to disappear a few years ago.
AP: We are afraid of sexuality and we avoid it. We play with emotions, but not with sexual associations. Clothing chains are very cautious and sometimes even conservative.
And what about the intimate anatomy of a man?
AP: We avoid it.
MMM: German companies used to make mannequins with “well-endowed” men and women. But now even they are leaving it. The mannequin cannot be associated with a sex doll.
Are you able to say what will happen in five years?
MMM: I don’t know if anyone knows what will happen next year. In our industry today is the past.