Mad for Mannequins

Animated forms that smile and wink add tech twist

A must-see fashion exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum in New York City is doing double duty, offering a retrospective of the 30-year-plus career of avant-garde designer Jean Paul Gaultier, while also providing a showcase for a collection of show-stealing, crowd-pleasing mannequins. But what do mannequins in a museum exhibit have to do with retail?

“The mannequins [in the exhibit] give retailers insight into how to turn ordinary window or in-store displays into a museum-caliber tableau that can make shoppers literally stop in their tracks,” said Lucie Jolicoeur, president and CEO, Jolicoeur International, Quebec, Canada, which designed and manufactured the mannequins.

Approximately 140 mannequins are included in the exhibit, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.” All the mannequins were created specifically for the exhibition, which originated at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Of the 140 mannequins, some 30 are animated. High-tech and amazingly realistic, the animated mannequins actually seem alive at first glance. Some laugh, some wink; others smile or whistle; and still others speak. Gaultier is honored with his own look-alike form, which warmly welcomes visitors in both French and English.

The animation effects are accomplished by a high-definition audiovisual system that includes projecting facial images onto the mannequins. The animated mannequins are the result of a collaboration between Jolicoeur, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and UBU Creations, Montreal, which made the animated heads.

“The challenge for Jolicoeur was to ensure that the neck of each animated mannequin be constructed in such a manner that it securely holds the cumbersome equipment to project the animation onto the face,” Jolicoeur explained. “We achieved this by sculpting a lifelike neck and camouflaging any anomalies with coatings of fiber glass.”

The remaining 110 mannequins, while not animated, also break new ground, from their unique poses to the use of multiple color finishes. “The mannequins in the exhibit illustrate a strong trend toward more lifelike colors, textures and finishes,” Jolicoeur explained. “The days of one-color-fits-all are fast disappearing.”

The mannequins also stand out for their various skin tones, which closely match different ethnicities and nationalities. (Gaultier is known for his runway models, who come from different continents and different regions within those continents.)

“This is key for retail chains operating in fashion capitals around the world where shoppers come in a variety of skin tones,” Jolicoeur said.

LOOKING AHEAD

As to whether animated mannequins have a future in retail, Jolicoeur believes they do, but they will remain custom items. 

“On the other hand, we will see more and more high-tech mannequins that incorporate the hardware and software to fulfill such functions as camera surveillance, traffic-flow monitoring and the dispensation of customer information,” he said. “Mannequin manufacturers, including Jolicoeur International, are right now gearing up to create molds that can accommodate the equipment needed to meet customer demands for this new ‘smart’ technology, and at prices that make such equipment affordable add-ons to a regular container order.”

The exhibition, “The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk,” will be at The Brooklyn Museum until Feb. 23, 2014.

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