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Plus Size Mannequins

GUEST BLOG: Time for plus-size mannequins on the High Street?

By Lyndsey Dennis, Editor, Retail Focus

Is the fashion industry and general public more open to plus-size mannequins on the high street? Retail Focus finds out…

Lingerie brand Bluebella recently unveiled stats comparing a woman from 1957 to one today. An average female in 1957 was size 12, 34B bust and size three feet. In 2017, the average is size 16, 36DD and size six feet.

Research from the University of Liverpool has looked at mannequin sizes used to advertise UK female fashion, stating they are too thin and may promote unrealistic body ideals. Led by Dr Eric Robinson from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, researchers surveyed national fashion retailers on two city high streets.

The study, published in The Journal of Eating Disorders, found that the average female mannequin body size was representative of a severely underweight woman. The average male mannequin body size was significantly larger than the average female and only a small proportion of male mannequins represented an underweight body size.

‘We of course are not saying that altering the size of high street fashion mannequins will on its own solve body image problems. What we are instead saying is that presentation of ultra-thin female bodies is likely to reinforce inappropriate and unobtainable body ideals, so as a society we should be taking measures to stop this type of reinforcement,’ says Dr Eric Robinson.

Selfridges was recently in the headlines for using a ‘thin’ model. The Advertising Standards Authority cleared the model and said she did not appear to be ‘significantly underweight’.

‘We’ve seen positive advances in the fashion industry over the last few years, including from Selfridges themselves, which shows that there is a shift towards more responsible advertising and portraying of diversity. However, the recent advert is another example where a slim body is still favoured over others, despite the fact that it doesn’t reflect the majority of customers,’ says Denise Hatton, chief executive of the National Council of YMCAs, and a founding partner of the Be Real campaign with Dove.

The founders of the campaign want retailers, as well as modelling agencies and other industries, to promote body types that reflect the population, with all its shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities, abilities and more.

Universal Display offers several plus-size mannequin ranges, its first launched some 25 years ago. ‘We have always been conscious of varied body shapes and sizes and it seems that some companies have just this moment woken up to this,’ says Jonathan Berlin, managing director of Universal Display.

Likewise, Adel Rootstein first launched a plus-size range in the 80s. ‘Plus size mannequins at Rootstein have always been part of the norm. Dressing our new showroom in West Kensington, where you can see Penelope, I had no trouble finding clothes to fit her on the high street,’ says Tony Crathern, creative consultant at Adel Rootstein.

The company doesn’t currently offer a plus-size male form. ‘We have never been asked for a plus size male line. I think men look at themselves in a different way fashion wise to women,’ says Crathern.

Window France doesn’t have any plans to launch a men’s range either. ‘It’s an interesting subject but I’m not sure that men are that concerned about how they are portrayed as much as women are,’ agrees Jean-Marc Mesguich, CEO of Window France.

For women’s fashion, some of the company’s clients were interested in testing plus-size mannequins. ‘We decided to invest a great deal of time and money to develop a modern style plus-size collection that would meet both the public’s and brand’s criteria. After some research we decided to work with a top international plus-size fashion model that had all the style, elegance and character to make a fabulous collection. One year later, the result was a very contemporary vision of the plus-size woman, a stylish, sexy, confident and modern woman. Our goal was to make every plus-size woman proud of her generous proportions and feminity and we believe we have achieved that in our VOLUPTUOUS collection,’ says Mesguich.

Bonaveri’s ambition is to represent human proportion without making specific references to any one sculptural ideal, ensuring that within its collections, forms are original, diverse and inclusive.  Bonaveri’s collections are designed to allow customers to make their own choices about size, enabling a broader diversity of scale according to individual preferences.

The company also moves with cultural, social and market trends. In the 60s, its female forms explored and celebrated a more voluptuous shape, accentuating curves and marking out distinctions in waist and shoulders. Through the 70s and 80s Bonaveri’s forms included reflections of cultural influences on body shape and by the 90s the brand’s aesthetic was informed by many more influences; fashion, fitness, diversity.

Proportion London launched its size 14 #IAM mannequin with a thought-provoking event where the conversation was anchored by diversity and a fashion-for-all approach. Industry campaigner Debra Bourne, model Samantha Bolger and proportion’s creative director Tanya Reynolds spoke about the importance of diversity within fashion and retail. The message was powerful and inspiring; we all have body hang-ups, none of us are the same shape or size, however, we should all receive the same fashion experience, regardless.

‘As a mannequin designer I draw a lot of my inspiration from real people and real personalities.  #IAM was developed to represent curvier women in a modern and positive way, with particular attention paid to sculpting a body that captures and compliments the contours of the shapelier figure,’ says Reynolds.

‘I believe that your environment plays a crucial role in your self worth and your idea of beauty, and no one should feel left out or under-represented in the media. Everyone should be able to have a positive fashion experience no matter what shape, size, race, gender, identity or age, and it’s great to see that retail will now have a conteporary and stylish size 14 mannequin option, with a diverse range of skin tones to add into the mix,’ says Bolger.

With plus size fashion options increasing and the likes of Simply Be opening a physical space on Oxford Street, it seems there is a greater need for plus size clothing, but some retailers are still hesistant to use realistically shaped mannequins, instead opting for aspirational sizes. As Bolger says, everyone deserves a positive fashion experience.