One of the stories in “Dr Who” earlier this year ended with the scene of dozens of tailor’s dummies smashing their way through plate glass windows and shooting down the populace: the dummies had come to life.
It was a dramatic scene full of sinister possibilities and, in a curious way, prophetic of what is actually happening. For although (one hopes) it will be many, many years before dummies take the law into their own hands, they are becoming increasingly lifelike and, because of this, are exerting an influence on fashion as never before.
Until the beginning of the 1960s, most tailor’s dummies were imported from France and Denmark and they were exactly what they sound, mute, stupid-looking objects which struck poses – feet splayed out and arms stiffly held out at the sides – which no one in his right mind would ever adopt, let alone hold for any length of time.
They had neither life nor movement: they were abstract figures acting as glorified clothes pegs, and the clothes they displayed took on the stiffly formalised character of the dummies themselves. It was because the dummies were such perverse stuck-up creatures that Adel Rootstein, who had previously made animals for display purposes, decided to produce some dummies (only she calls them mannequins) herself. Hers were to be modelled on real people and, more than that, the poses they struck and the make-up they wore were to reflect, if not actually lead, the fashion world around them.
Because the mannequins were to be so closely related to fashion, it was natural that Adel Rootstein’s first models should be fashion models – Imogen Woodford and Jill Kennington – and this practice has continued ever since. The process of manufacture is simple. The models pose for John Taylor, who makes a clay sculpture of them around a wire frame, and a plaster cast is then made from which a mould is taken so that the mannequins – any number of them – can be cast in glass fibre.
At the plaster cast stage, the arms and legs may be cut off and given joints so that the mannequins have a limited amount of movement, but the real movement is in the pose itself, and each fashion model is sculpted in several different poses. The results are striking attitudes which stem from the model herself, and a series of mannequins all of which are closely related.
Adel Rootstein’s other innovation was her treatment of the face and hair. The dummies prior to her own creations had featureless and characterless faces, just like those in “Dr Who,” whereas John Taylor takes just as much care over the modelling of the head as he does over the rest of the body, and the mannequin’s face is a close though simplified version of the model herself. Even the makeup is often true to life.
Perhaps the greatest success after Woodford and Kennington was the mannequin based on Twiggy, which was modelled in 1966 and introduced to the American market at the same time as Twiggy herself – probably to the benefit of both. Adel Rootstein also introduced the first Negress mannequin, based on Donyale Luna, and although there was initially a great deal of opposition to the black mannequin, in America at least it has now become widely accepted.
Like Twiggy, Donyale established her own look – an outer space look – just as the latest collection of mannequins, called The Group, takes on the free and easy poses of swinging London and suggests an unconventional and carefree attitude to dress.
Adel Rootstein designs all the clothes used for the mannequins in her showroom in Soho Square, London – The Group, for example, wears chiffons and velvets hand painted by Hanna Meek – though the shops which buy the mannequins, of course, dress them as they please. Besides The Group, there are three other new mannequins based on Gloria Lewis and her two daughters, Suzanne and Vicky. For the first time, mannequins can easily be used to show how a whole family can dress alike.
The Group, in fact, has pushed reality still further, because the mannequins have been designed to display see-through clothes as well. As a note in the factory says, “All mannequins to have painted nipples from now on.” One wonders how long it will be before the pubic hair is shown, too. And, because the mannequins are intended to keep pace with fashion, more and more attention is being paid to men, already (like children) in the collection, but to be greatly extended next year. If Gloria Lewis has any sons, it seems certain that they, too, will be in the shop windows in 1971.