Mannequin Man

Mr. Burns got a model idea. Result—A model success story which is mostly about models

Herbert Nott,LAWRENCE CRAIG April 15 1941

Mannequin Man

Mr. Burns got a model idea. Result—A model success story which is mostly about models

Herbert Nott,LAWRENCE CRAIG April 15 1941

Mannequin Man

Mr. Burns got a model idea. Result—A model success story which is mostly about models

Herbert Nott


FIRST let us tell you about Alfie. Good looking chap, though a bit on the bay window side. You couldn’t call him fat, exactly, but he wasn’t any skeleton. Plumpish, that was Alfie.

Alfie worked in the men’s clothing section of a big Canadian department store. He was a soit of salesman and he sold more suits of clothes than any other salesman of his type in the place. The thing got to be talked about, because so many men kept on coming in and asking for a suit exactly like the one Alfie happened to be wearing at the time. “I want one like that fellow’s got on,” they’d say, and point to Alfie. Then the clothes would be taken off the rack and hung on the customer.

Alfie was a great pet of the window-display people. Every time there was a men’s clothing window to be dressed the display department men would pick up Alfie tenderly and place him carefully in a prominent position well down in front. So it was that for years Alfie sold more outsize men’s suits than any other dummy in the store.

The true story of Alfie is important to this piece about shopwindow display figures, and the way they are made, because his particular case marked a trend. It might almost be said that Alfie started a vogue. One does not have to be very old to remember the time when window models of both male and female figures were standardized and utterly artificial fabrications of shiny wax. They had glass eyes, expressionless and staring straight ahead, abnormally flushed cheeks indicating a high fever, scarlet lips unlike anything alive this side of a Hollywood movie studio. Their size was uniform. All the gals were a perfect thirty-six and all the lads a perfect thirty-seven.

Alfie and hundreds of others like him have changed all that. In the beginning Alfie was by way of being an experiment. He looked less superficially handsome, but a great deal more human than the old-fashioned wax dolls, and he was fatter than any clothing dummy ever before made.

The display department was more than a bit doubtful of Alfie’s success when they first tucked him away in a corner and draped a suit of stout man’s clothes about his rotund figure. He was new, and different, and maybe the public wouldn’t take to him. But after a month’s trial the display department and the men’s clothing section knew they had something. A great light burst upon them and they realized for the first time that more men grow up to be odd shapes and sizes than develop into perfect thirty-sevens. Also that men as well as women like to believe that their new clothes will look as well on them as they do on the figurines they buy them from. This assurance, as the display department discovered through Alfie, was much more frequently attained by the use of models looking something like average men and women than like ladies and gentlemen of fashion filched from Madame Tussaud’s.

The Modern Model

TN A ROUNDABOUT way all this leads to Edward P.

Burns, a manufacturer of display models in the modern manner, and president of the Merchandise Display Company, Limited, of Toronto. Mr. Burns, a Canadian, born in Woodstock, Ontario, worked for thirty-five years in the department store where Alfie made his debut. For a large part of that time he was manager of the store’s display department, and in that capacity he was responsible for Alfie and his phenomenally successful career. Alfie’s heyday was about five years ago, and his happy experience with models that looked at least a bit like real folks caused Edward P. Burns to think many long thoughts.

From his meditations Mr. Bums developed certain conclusions. His thinking went something like this: First, most of the modem-type display models came from Europe, especially from France. Others were made in the United States. Few, if any, of the new-style models were

being made in Canada. Second, transportation and duty added to the factory price of those foreign models upped the cost of them enormously, in some cases close to one hundred per cent. Third, if similar models could be made in Canada, they could be sold in Canada at prices much lower than the stores were then paying for the imported models. Fourth, there was much talk of war. Should war break out European manufacturers of display figures would be doing little export business to Canada, if any. Fifth, there didn’t seem to be anybody in this country skilled in the manufacture of the new stylized models. Sixth, and last, the way to find out how a thing is made is to go and learn to make it where it is made.

The net results were that Edward P. Burns packed trunks and bags, said “so long” to his family and his friends and lit out for Europe. This happened three years ago. Because he had travelled extensively in European countries buying new models for his department, Mr. Burns had the advantage of many close acquaintanceships among important people in the display figure business. He was able to work for months in a Paris factory making display models, learning the trade from the ground up, like an apprentice. He studied production methods in similarplants in other countries, including England. He got himself out of Europe a hop-step-and-jump ahead of the blitzkrieg in Poland and, returning to New York to work there in a large factory. Then he returned to Canada and organized the Merchandise Display Company, Limited.

Now Edward P. Burns is putting in all his time turning out Allies and their feminine counterparts—call them Amys—in a compact plant in the loft of a downtown Toronto building. Two portraits, of the Venus de Milo statue, that he brought back from France hang on the walls of Mr. Burns’ office, and the models he makes have the authentic old-world touch that he learned on the spot. His ladies are less buxom and more willowy than the famed armless masterpiece. They are sophisticated and suave. Some of them look a bit like Katharine Hepburn, others follow the lines of Marlene Dietrich with some exaggeration. The male trend at the moment is Clark Gable-ish, with individual models leaning toward Hollywood’s conception of a prosperous banker. Fashions in models

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change as do fashions in clothes, and Mickey Rooney may be along any minute; but Mr. Burns has not forgotten Alfie. He never will forget Alfie.

Unromantic Materials

'"THE RAW materials that go into the

-*■ making of a modern display figure tally into about as unromantic a list as you could think up before breakfast on the morning after a thick night. Most models are compounded of a mixture of plaster of Paris and composition, metal plates, burlap, wire, hemp, lacquer, horsehair, mohair, rayon and pastel water colors. Their manufacture involves the use of half a dozen different molds, each made up of several sections; corks, scrapers, sandpaper and paint spray guns. The figures are first cast in anatomical sections, heads, torsos, arms, hands and legs. Then the odd parts are assembled into the finished product.

There are a dozen or more different types of figures and each type is first sculptured from a living model, in the form of a delicate little statuette about eight inches high. Master models are built to scale from these lovely figurines, and molds are constructed around the master models. The ultimate display mannequins are cast in these molds.

The process begins with the pouring of liquid plaster of Paris combined with a special hardening material into the selected molds. When the plaster compound has set, the mold is removed from the figure in sections. The molded sections are, of course, hollow, and the interior walls are next lined with heavy burlap pressed into the plaster while it is still moist. The plaster-impregnated burlap dries out as a rock-hard composition as tough and durable as builders’ wall-board.

At this stage the surface plaster is pure white and will show ridges at the mold joints and other rough spots that must be scraped and rubbed with sandpaper into a satin smoothness. At shoulders, elbows and waistlines, wrists and necks, metal plates are imbedded in the plaster. The plates are fitted with locking connections so that arms and hands and legs and heads may be attached to bodies in a wide range of postures.

Hands call for extra special treatment. The long tapering fingers and slim narrow wrists require reinforcement, so wire skeletons wound with hemp are set into the mold when the soft plaster is poured, taking the place of the bony structure of a living hand. This is a tricky job, for unless the wires are placed exactly in position the hand may be weakened rather than reinforced, or protruding wires may spoil the design. Hand molds are intricate examples of jigsaw puzzle construction. As many as seven or eight different pieces of various sizes, and each one fitting snugly beside its neighbor in the completed mold, are often necessary for the casting of a single hand.

Legs are comparatively a simple matter, since the foot usually is molded only in outline, and toes are merely indicated, not cast as separate digits. In most cases the body below the waist and both legs are cast in one piece. Natural body curves of the torsos are somewhat accentuated, but the contours of the thigh and of the front of the legs above the knee are made with a flat surface unlike anything seen on a normal human body. That’s one of the tricks of the trade. Clothes, especially tightly-fitting silken-textured gowns, drape much more effectively over a plane surface than they do over a rounded one. But with this single exception the modern display model reproduces the outlines of the ideal living figure almost exactly.

Final stage in the manufacture of the assembled cast is lacquering. The figure is set up in front of a three-sided metal screen, and flesh-tinted lacquer is sprayed over it from a paint gun. A powerful

window fan draws the fumes of the lacquer out of the factory into the open air.

The Artist’s Touch

"DINISHING touches are all by way of adornment. Glass eyes are outmoded. So are real hair eyelashes and eyebrows. Instead, eyes, brows and lashes are cleverly painted on the face in pastel shades with water color brushes. Lips are no longer cherry red, but a modest coral pink, and sometimes their coloring is merely suggested by a few expert strokes of the brush. Finger nails are painted more definitely and in more positive shades, since that is the way the girls are painting their own nails these days.

All sorts of odd tricks are being done with hair effects. The old-time wig has been thrown out of the window. Modern display-model design strives rather to give the impression of a perfect coiffure than to imitate it exactly. Curled wigs of rayon, brilliantly dyed to simulate golden and platinum blonds, henna, copper or shining black, are frequently used. Other wigs are made of horsehair, and a very new stunt is a skullcap of mohair tightly rolled in a series of large sausage-shaped curls. One advantage of the mohair wig is its resiliency. No matter how tightly one of those fantastic contrivances that women are wearing for hats is clamped down over a mohair toupee, it will spring back to its original shape the moment it is released from bondage.

Hair is not always indicated by wigs. In some figures marcel and permanent waves are carefully molded into the cast of the head, then touched up with color, lacquered and brought to a high polish. And where wigs are used they are no longer glued on. Instead, small holes are left in the skull when the head is cast, and these

are afterward plugged with cork insets. A window dresser picks up the wig he needs for any particular effect and sticks pins through it. Then he pushes the pins into the corks and the wig is firmly fixed, instantly detachable, and can be changed at will.

While not all modern models are made of the plaster of Paris compound, most of them are. Some new-type display figures are molded in plastics, even in glass, but these are exceptions, and they are too expensive for general use. A big department store will buy from fifty to a hundred window display mannequins each year, the smaller specialty shops may need a dozen Al fies or Amys each season. The treated, reinforced and lacquered plaster of Paris casts turn out an extremely hard-surfaced and wear-resistant article at a reasonable price. They cost about a hundred dollars each. Keep it in mind that model manufacturing is almost entirely a hand process. The molds as well as the figures themselves have to be fashioned by hand, one at a time. Smoothing, lacquering and painting cannot be done by machinery. There is no such thing as an assembly line in a display-model factory.

An advantage of the plaster cast is that it lends itself to a wide range of different surface treatments and takes any color that may be desired. For displaying bracelets, handkerchiefs, handbags and similar dress accessories, rough-cast single hands can be tinted in bright colors, blue, green or red shades, to create an attentionarresting high spot in a small window. Single heads are often used for hats and these are fashioned in many different types. The high-cheek-boned, squarechinned young man for the Joe College effects. The filled out business man’s face for more conservative types. The starryeyed bridesmaid for a floppy, wide-

brimmed chapeau. The mature career woman for a smart toque. And so on. No other material, Mr. Burns says, can be so easily modelled in so large a variety of facial expressions as plaster of Paris and composition. One objection to plaster models used to be that the stuff was soft— even when it had dried out—and scratched easily. New methods of treatment and reinforcement have abolished this drawback.

A display-model factory is no place for a nervous man to find himself unexpectedly in a dim light. There’ll be a row of decapitated torsos lying on work benches, heads without bodies lying on shelves, racks of odd arms and hands and legs along the walls, all of them large as life and twice as natural. Sensitive souls might be seriously embarrassed by a visit to a model showroom in broad daylight. A dozen or so of nude reproductions of the human form divine sculptured with almost exact accuracy and standing around in startlingly lifelike attitudes are calculated to shock any modest individual into blushes. People like Edward P. Burns who have been working with display models all their lives, think nothing of it. Mr. Burns and his helpers toss plaster arms and legs around, roll bodies over, inspect loose heads and detached faces as casually as though they were shuffling a deck of cards. It’s all in the point of view.

The 1941 display model lias come a long way, and through several stages of evolution, some of them drastic, since windowdressing ceased to be merely a matter of getting as many assorted items of merchandise into a store window as the space would hold, regardless of any other consideration. Back in the 1880’s, when women’s clothes were first draped on forms for public inspection, the models were nothing more than dressmakers’ dummies, with a wäre base and a superstructure of saw'dust packed in a black cloth shape fashioned in rough imitation of feminine hips and bust. These had no heads, and they w'ere mounted on a four-footed metal pedestal like a hat tree. Some of the more elaborate types had handless wooden arms, jointed at the elbows; but they possessed no legs, since the fashions of the day insisted that so far as the outside world knew nice women didn’t have legs. This vaguely outlined shape of wire and saw'dust was supplanted in the nineties by the wax-doll type, but skirts still sw'ept the floors and lower limbs were invisible.

After the first great war. a wave of ultra-modernism swept the industry. Slinky garments w'ere draped over all sorts of Daliesque grotesqueries. A hook of shiny metal served for a head, arms were longer; more slender hooks, twists of silvered w'ire, represented legs. Sometimes heads were just crudely-carved blocks of solid wood. Anything approximating nature was taboo. This period Edw'ard P. Bums looks back upon with feelings akin to horror.

Today’s models must have character in their features and symmetry in their figures, even when those figures are of other than perfect proportions, like Alfie. It is a sound trend, Mr. Bums says, combining basic principles of good salesmanship with a very real artistry.

Nylon for Rackets

NYLON, which has found many uses in fields other than that of hosiery, now becomes racket strings. This has been made possible by the development of a new “giant” strand, nearly one sixteenth of an inch in diameter. Since this material is practically unaffected by atmospheric changes, it will wear better than silk or gut strings. Since, further, it is a solid piece all the way through, it will not fray and therefore will require no waxing or shellac treatment.—Scientific American.