It’s the mannequin, dummy!

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It’s the mannequin, dummy!

Stop and chat with shopfront figurines. They listen to you like no human will

By Indrajit Hazra

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Published: Fri 28 Mar 2014, 11:22 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:52 PM

I love mannequins. And I don’t mean ‘love’ in the way obese kids love Santa Claus. I mean ‘love’ in the way Mrs Santa secretly loves the Grinch or the way Mr Hyde loved Mrs Jekyll.

Every time I encounter a mannequin in a shop front — or, as is more frequent in Delhi, placed outside the stores — I come to the conclusion that these dummies come closer to human perfection than any human I know or know about.

By perfection, I don’t mean, of course, being flawless the way Charlize Theron is. Most mannequins I’ve come across and stopped in front of to have an inaudible conversation with are faceless, bald and have that monotonous skin colour that you associate with dermatologist-demanding dummies.

Some of these models are so downright ridiculous — made as they are of a pinkish plastic mould with a corrugated area around their head region to resemble wavy hair built into their ‘skin’ — that all the red daub to suggest a pair of lips and pinched surface to suggest a nose can’t wash away the idea that a coat hanger would have done more justice to the clothes that hang on the mannequin, than the mannequin itself. And yet, even those oversized dolls with a slapdash rug rat of a wig on their heads seem friendly. There’s something reassuring and comforting about a shopfront dummy. You can talk to them without feeling inhibited.

There was a time, till not too long ago, that I still had the courage to buy women’s clothes. (For someone else, stupid!) I would look at the mannequin in front wearing some fine sweater or dress or top and ask for the required size of the same apparel. The truth of the matter is that I never really looked at the clothes, never mind imagine them on the person I had planned to gift the clothes to.

It was the mannequin. It was always the mannequin.

Gazing at that female form, with fingers impossibly slender, head impossibly oval and a figure that’s a mix of athletic and curvy, almost all clothes, including saris and lingerie, on the immobile mannequin, with only a few bendable parts at best, look quite stunning. Taken off its smooth topography, the clothes become some shapeless fabric to be worn by flesh and blood figures paradoxically less human. So quite understandably, I’ve given up buying clothes for humans — female humans, in particular.

Mannequins aren’t only about flashing clothes the way certain people on the other side of glass windows in Amsterdam don’t. They are used for car accident simulations and they were even used to gauge the effects on humans during nuclear blasts. But the mannequin has always remained closely associated with advertising clothes on sale. The Middle Dutch word manneken meaning ‘little man, figurine’ was a familiar figure in 15th century Europe, where vaguely anthropomo-rphic blocks of wood were trotted out with fabric on them. It was not until the mid-18th century that proper wickerwork figures were made for the same purpose.

Apart from its very utilitarian purpose, the mannequin has a certain aesthetic value. I would have said ‘erotic value’ but society judges and I’ve stopped being avant-garde since I turned 18. The 1987 rom-com Mannequin gave a modern twist to the old Pygmalion story that has a sculptor fall in love with a statue he has created, and his love making the statue come to life. The movie had a shop assistant fall in love with the shopfront dummy, which comes alive from time to time only for him.

I don’t believe in mannequins coming to life. Perhaps that’s just as well since I’d rather conduct conversations with them the way I do now: me talking, it listening. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t want the mannequin of my dreams to come alive. My dream is to turn into a mannequin. Strong and silent. Stareless and hairless.

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