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Mannequin look-alikes mirror top fashion trend-setters

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As live models of different ethnic backgrounds began to project high fashion in the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Oestricher explains, their features and characteristic stances were soon captured by the mannequinmakers. That trend continues, including the reproduction of classic Nordic features and sleek blond hair of top Swedish models. Mannequins are known and sold by their names, so store displays are populated by Susans, Sophias, Barbaras, Beverlys, Beckys, and the like.

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Since many celebrities and people prominent in public life also influence the look of mannequins, he thinks the more petite proportions of Nancy Reagan, who is a size 6, could mean that mannequins with more petite proportions may be in greater demand. He says they are almost never asked to do mannequins of large-sized or older women, although they have done a few half-sized models for stores such as Lane Bryant. Most mannequins, he says, project a young look. Models in their early 30s are still acceptable.

"In June," Mr. Oestricher explains, "we began a very decided return to elegance, softness, and romanticism in our mannequins. Our models now hold themselves high and regal. They appear self-assured, natural, wholesome, and intelligent. The slouch is out. So is the hard aggressive female look, and so is the blouson-sportswear look. A graceful ladylikeness is definitely in."

The pretty, fresh-faced mannequin called "Miss Peggy" in the center of the Williams showroom was actually modeled after Fran, Ralph Oestricher's attractive wife. She assists him by following forecasts in hair, makeup, and fabric color trends in order to make each mannequin accurate in every fashion detail, from skin tone to lip color. Right now, Fran says, cosmetic colors being applied by their makeup artists include rusty orange, coral, soft clear red, and natural pink. Hair in the wigs, she says, is generally chin or shoulder length and full , and some coifs are, once more, being backcombed. Eye shadow is taupe or gray, and eye liners are still smudged.

Each company has, or hires, sculptors who make clay models of the subjects. From these, the molds are made for the fiberglass forms. Each new handmade mannequin is then usually copyrighted. Nellie Fink, vice-president of Adel Rootstein, says her company's sculptors do head-to-toe replicas and that some of their mannequins recline, perch on the edge of desks, or appear to run or jump. This English company makes $600 mannequins to resemble not just fashion models but popular singers, movie actresses, college professors, magazine editors, and members of the British aristocracy. The only criterion, says Mrs. Fink, is that they be people who influence fashion.

Most mannequins weigh about 25 or 30 pounds and come apart at the waist, arms , and wrists. They can be repaired, have parts replaced, be refinished and recycled. They may have dramatic impact and create wonderfully romantic auras, but they can't talk back, so display artists find them easy people to work with.