Tue, Nov 16, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Fat is the new thin?

The full-bottom look on mannequins is a sign of progress, some say

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Anja Kroencke and Ralph Pucci among her curvier mannequins. Block after block of storefronts that sell clothes at wholesale prices display mannequins and pant forms with ever more curves. Leading mannequin makers say pop culture, the jeans craze and the steady expansion of US body shapes are prompting them to take slow steps in the direction of more realistic proportions, particularly around the hips.

In his Manhattan workroom, Ralph Pucci is putting the finishing touches on his latest mannequin collection for department stores, "Goddess." As the name suggests, Goddess is no waif. Pucci said he wanted hot and sexy, so she is 5cm to 6cm more curvaceous than his standard form and takes her cues not from runway models but from Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez.

"People with these types of body are flaunting it," he said. "They're comfortable with it."

Across the country, in the fashion district in downtown Los Angeles, Goddess already faces competition. Block after block of storefronts that sell clothes at wholesale prices not far from the Harbor Freeway display mannequins and pant forms with even more treacherous curves. Store owners point at the tight-as-a-glove fit of jeans and stretch pants around 97cm hips, ultra-voluptuous by classic mannequin standards. Sales, they say, are up as a result.

"Anything we put on the mannequin, people buy it," said Fredy Shabani, who displays no fewer than three dozen of the curvier pant forms at his Via Metro clothing store. "The women love them. They see the pants look good." He added, "Men like it. Some guys come in and buy the mannequins."

The high and low ends of the fiberglass fashion world seem to be converging on one focal point: a bigger, sexy derriere.

Leading mannequin makers like Pucci say pop culture, the jeans craze and the steady expansion of American body shapes are prompting them to take slow steps in the direction of more realistic proportions, particularly around the hips. Even plus-size customers are asking for buttocks with "attitude," said David Naranjo, creative director for Greneker, a mannequin maker in Los Angeles.

He said his company had filled orders from retailers like Torrid and Lane Bryant that were trying to get away from the "boxy" full figure model.

"Everybody is looking for more," he said. "The pants just look better when they're filled out."

Mannequin manufacturers have traditionally stuck to low single-digit sizes for their beauty ideals, reflecting the supermodels tottering on the runways. Executives with Adel Rootstein, the London-based maker that conceived the Twiggy mannequin, said their product was in line with what appears on the runway in Paris: a tall Size 2 to 4. "Not too skinny, not too voluptuous," said Michael Steward, executive vice president of Adel Rootstein USA, like the Russian teenage model Anne Vyalitsyna.

"There's a difference between what people look like and what they want to look like," he said. "They want to see what they're trying to look like."

But others say the trend in the mannequin industry is toward more ethnic variety and recognition of different body types and standards of beauty. The trend, they say, responds to pop culture influences like hip-hop (backsides have figured prominently in rap lyrics and videos) and the growth of the Latino market.

"If you have your eyes open, you see this type of body becoming more relevant," said Pucci, who is launching the Size 8 Goddess in a variety of faces, poses and skin tones next month. "You can't flip through a magazine without seeing sexiness. You can't get away from it. Mannequins should reflect the times we live in."

Even at Size 4, the buttocks are now getting special attention. Goldsmith Inc, another New York manufacturer, last year introduced a mannequin designed for pants with a rounder and lower derriere than its usual Size 4 models. It is called the Sex line. It has been such a hit with small designer shops and big stores, like Saks, Macy's and Filene's, that the company is adding two more mannequins to the line this year, said Ronald Knoth, an associate with the company.

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