Mannequins have always been a part of retailers’ visual strategy, but they’ve been getting more emphasis lately, both in number and in prominence. As retailers reconnect with shoppers post-recession, they’re using more visual components to help draw shoppers in and appeal to their desires.
But perhaps more importantly, all the technological wizardry that has entranced consumers in recent years has allowed the direct visual experience of the mannequin to feel surprisingly fresh again.
VMSD talked with Desigual, Uniqlo and Saks Fifth Avenue and Desigual – winners of our 2011 Excellence in New York Visual Merchandising and Design award – to discuss how these retail leaders are using figures in their stores to show customers what they want to see, and what they can’t see any other way.
Desigual: A Little Theater
Known for its colorful clothing and dramatic store environments, Barcelona-based Desigual uses both realistic and abstract mannequins, typically with the former grabbing attention in window displays and the latter putting more emphasis on the garments themselves inside stores. Each store’s displays are determined by such factors as geographical location, traffic type and the time of year. But there’s a definite move toward the theatrical.
In window displays, for example, the retailer has evolved from natural makeup on the mannequins to more innovative designs. For its premium L line, Desigual used mannequins covered in vintage fabrics, with flower arrangements as hairdos and makeup created from vintage jewelry pieces.
And although Desigual tries to avoid trends, the retailer likes the use of mannequins as a “twist” in window displays. So think mannequins hanging from ceilings, using partial bodies and elements like arms and hands, and wigs made from material that doesn’t look like hair.
Desigual considers mannequins essential to helping a customer identify the highlights of its collection, says a spokesperson. The ultimate goal is to build an accumulation of visual impacts throughout the store that together create a brand impression that’s fun, aspirational and a little unpredictable. In a sense, just like the brand itself.
At Saks Fifth Avenue, both in the New York flagship and elsewhere, mannequin displays are varied, they’re plentiful, and they change quickly. “We love mannequins,” says Harry Cunningham, senior vp, store planning, design and visual merchandising, Saks Fifth Avenue. “If we could triple the number we have, we’d probably do it tomorrow.”
The luxury department store likes to display them in groups and clusters rather than individually, whether they’re full-figure abstracts or dressmaker forms. “We’ve pushed forward in using larger quantities of mannequins, and in larger groups, because we like that impact,” Cunningham says.
Additionally, Saks Fifth Avenue reintroduced realistics to its window displays last fall, which can be seen as part of an effort to intensify the visual impact of store displays (Shown here are mannequins from Adel Rootstein, New York). “I think a lot of people are realizing the importance of mannequins again, because even though in these times we talk a lot about technology, there’s a lot of value in the visual impact of a store display,” Cunningham says. “Visual is coming back, and that’s especially exciting because the new generation of shoppers hasn’t really experienced that yet.”
“Plus,” he adds, “the advancements in mannequins have allowed us to do things with them that we’ve never been able to do before – different finishes and treatment, and the makeup is easier to change – so that makes it even more interesting.”
Coming to Life
Uniqlo is all about the basics in your wardrobe, so its visual presentation puts an emphasis on color rather than trends to tell a story. The fast-fashion retailer relies heavily on mannequins – many of them custom designed for each store – as a bold counterpoint to the repetition in its product displays.
For example, some of the nearly 500 mannequins on display at its flagship on New York’s Fifth Avenue are done in a rainbow of custom colors, by CNL (Buena Park, Calif.; shown above).
But the boldness goes further: Alongside the three-story escalator are “flying” mannequins that rise with shoppers, some individually and some in groups. And in various spots across the sales floor, you’ll find the mannequins spinning. “We like a little bit of movement,” says Mihee Yi, visual director at Uniqlo-USA (New York). “But they’re not all moving in the same way. They can be changed around for a special campaign. It lets the mannequins do a little more than just show the look and the styling.”
The movement and the novelty are a good fit for the store’s inventory. “If we were showing a lot of trends we might not need as much emphasis,” Yi says, “but because our product is very basic we think the mannequins let customers see it in a very trendy or personal way.”