These are no dummies. Mannequins might be the hardest working stiffs in retail. And if you’re looking for a mannequin in the Boston area, there’s only showroom left with these plastic or fiberglass forms. It’s the family-run Joslin Display in Wilmington, a century-old business that dates back to the hey-day of elaborate department store window displays. Walk in the door, and a crowd of mannequins awaits you: running mannequins, pregnant, ethnic, kids, headless or even yoga. The first thing that many customers want to do is take a selfie with them, said proprietor Nicholas Petrucci, 34, third-generation owner. The mannequins, at the cost of $100 to $1,000, are sold to small shops and national chains as well as fashion designers, movie productions, and museums. And even to scofflaws who want to avoid rush-hour traffic and drive in the HOV lane. One gentleman came in and asked for an anatomically correct mannequin; Petrucci kindly directed him to go to his local sex shop. But he’s more than willing to sell mannequin parts for Halloween and to homeowners, collectors and fashionistas. The Globe spoke with Petrucci about how mannequins are a store fixture that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“There’s a scene in the movie ‘Mall Cop,’ where the actor tackles a mannequin. I was in the theater, saw the mannequin on the screen, sat up and said, “That’s my mannequin. That’s Jack!” I had worked with the local production team to help set up behind the scenes. Many of mannequins have names, and this particular mannequin was not a generic flesh-tone one but a recognizable import. I knew his face. I don’t personally name the mannequins but it helps identify the different lines. Others include Daisy, who has three different poses and molded hair; Mike the mannequin has a goatee, bald head and looks intense. In the last five years, though, faceless glossy, eggheads or headless mannequins are the trend. Companies want to keep it simple; with mall sales down, companies don’t want to invest employee time to make a fancy window display. Mannequins have become more realistic-looking and also less expensive. While they’re traditionally made of fiberglass or fiberglass plastic resin, the newest ones are fully plastic and less likely to break. There’s demand lately for plus-size mannequins, and we also have curvy Brazilian mannequins with bigger bust and butt. The sexy female line has suggestive poses, often purchased by lingerie stores who want something a little more risqué. And we’ve gotten store requests for male mannequins with six-pack abs, for open-shirt Miami look products. People say, ‘Aren’t you uncomfortable around all hese fake people? They look so real.’ My first girlfriend freaked out over the whole mannequin thing. I took her for a tour of our warehouse, where one aisle was bodies of mannequins, lying in boxes like caskets. She never wanted to go back there again. But I grew up with mannequins around, so it never fazed me. We used to have not just mannequins but also many other decoratives for department store windows, usually for holiday displays. In my memories growing up, it was a fantasy land. I distinctly remember the animatronic elves, artificial trees, and Santa lounging on chair, his stomach going up and down when sleeping. Department stores used to go all-out to attract customers to their doors. It’s sad that in our current economy that they no longer put in that extra effort. Now our biggest products are wall racks and hardware to optimize display space. As far as mannequins, in the future they may be completely digitized holograms, which may completely kill the physical mannequin industry. But for now, mannequins are still alive and well.”