The Daily Heller: Body Doubles

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I had long ago fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with mannequins. Don't you dare say it is odd. I think many men and women have fantasized about them. OK, maybe not many. I for one love the simulacra of mannequins, not real but representing a real ideal. I even did a book on the phenomenon of mini-mannequins (Counter Culture). Nicole Parrot's Mannequins, published by Academy Editions and St. Martin's Press in 1982, examines the incredible history of their use as sculptures of commerce.

Mannequin comes from the French word mannequin, which had acquired the meaning of "an artist's jointed model," which in turn came from the Flemish word manneken, meaning "little man, figurine," referring to the late–Middle Age practice in Flanders whereby public display of women's clothing was performed by male pageboys.

Most engaging are what poses and expressions are given to mannequins and why. Who they are modeled after. What they are attempting to evoke in the viewer. And what makes a successful mannequin? For me, the romance is in the details.

Mannequins are fragile but not resolutely ephemeral. Stylized but timeless, too. Also called a manikin, the form is usually articulated by artists, tailors, dressmakers, window-dressers and others as a provocative means of display. In English, mannequin originally (and surprisingly) referred only to human models. The meaning changed to signify "a dummy" around the 1940s.

In the 1980s I wrote brief blurbs for the Times Boo Review. Mannequins was one of my first to be signed S.H.