When his beloved Alma Mahler jilted him, Oscar Schlemmer, the famous German painter and sculptor, made a mannequin who sat beside him as he drove into Vienna. He was said to be quite possessive about his material woman. Delhi's mannequin artists seem equally smitten with the their creations—those plastic clotheshorses who welcome you at garment stores with direct gazes and jaunty poses.
Ever wondered what goes into the making of these mannequins? Talk to the doll-makers in the city-- the men behind these women--- and you realise they see the making of a mannequin as an art, a quest for creating a super-sophisticate women that represent contemporary fashion.
“Mannequins have a commercial objective, but creating one is a fine art. We apply a lot of skill, passion and imagination," says Ravi Verma, creative director and CEO, Clone Mannequins, a Delhi-based mannequin manufacturer.
Inspiration for mannequins, says Verma, mostly comes from pictures of Western models in magazines and on the Internet. But why create mannequins with western faces? Are not Indian women beautiful enough to inspire them?
"Well, it's a question of who represents contemporary trends in fashion. In the eighties, mannequins used to have Indian faces, but today 90 per cent of mannequins have more western-looking faces. It's all part of growing westernisation. There is a perception that western women have perfect figures," says Verma. Today, it's only a few sari brands that prefer mannequins with 'Indian' faces. "They want us to create mannequins with heavier figures," says Raj Kumar, a mannequin artist with Abstract Mannequins, another Delhi-based manufacturer.
The bias runs across the sector. Manoj Sarkar, an artist with Abstract Mannequins, says he loves creating mannequins with western faces. "I believe that western women are more stylish, have better figures than Indian women. In fact, I always wanted to marry a western woman, but could not find one," says Sarkar. But he has no regrets. His Indian wife, he says, is his biggest critic, and gives him a lot of suggestions on the make-up of mannequins.
There is a fading breed of artists who prefer to sculpt Indian faces. Says Shayam Sunder, 30, who once used to make Durga idols and now crafts mannequins. "I like making mannequins with Indian faces; they have the most beautiful eyes ". But why did he switch to making mannequins? “I was happier making Durga idols, but there is a lot more money in crafting mannequins," he says.
However, being a mannequin artist could be an emotionally-wrecking experience, causing young men to aspire for a false ideal of female beauty. " Most artists are young and unmarried when they join me and they all compete with each other in trying to create the ultimate female figure. I had this young boy who used to create amazing mannequins, but soon after marriage he lost it. One day he told me that the reason for his declining inspiration was that his wife was not the kind of beauty he used to create," says Verma.
And then there are the faceless mannequins we see so often. "Many retailers want headless or featureless mannequins because they believe it helps keep the focus of the prospective buyers on the garments," says Ajay Verma, CEO, Abstract Mannequins." But thankfully most retailers want realistic mannequins these days, something we love to create," he says.
He now wishes to give Indian women in mannequinland their due place, " I am working on a series of mannequins with Indian faces. It will be ready by 2010," says Verma.
But most artists regret the fact that unlike in the West, where most big retailers change mannequins every year, Indian mannequins have to work long. “In India most retailers do not retire mannequins easily. They simply want us to put a new polish," says Verma. Adds Ashok, "Sometimes the retailers do not even dust and comb them. This kind of rough treatment to our women is painful to us."