Live models are best for fashion photography if you can afford them and if you are willing to risk the models' pictures being used around the web in ways you cannot control, including alterations of the images. For those of us who value modesty, using ourselves, friends or family members as models is a risk. For that reason, I have selected a mannequin for the fashion photography of Fashion Belle modest sewing patterns, pictured here. It is the Poly Star Lady from Euro Display in Germany, sister company and sales outlet for the Poly Form manufacturer. This mannequin is flexible for a huge range of poses, and the foam is more durable than fiberglass that sustains damage easily. Most other high-end mannequins are inflexible and made of fiberglass, but brands like New John Nissen offer a better skin tone and shape than the Poly Form, and I will probably switch to New John Nissen mannequins when I have a budget for purchasing several poses and setting up a photography studio where the fiberglass mannequins will be protected rather than photographing in primarily outdoor locations as I plan to do with the Poly Form.
Rather than ordering the Poly Form mannequin with makeup painted on, I decided to create the face myself using false eyelashes, false eyebrows, and eyes and lips molded from polymer clay. Wigs and eyelashes are the most common accessories for all mannequins, whether foam or fiberglass, so those are addressed first in this tutorial on accessorizing mannequins.
Two qualities are a challenge to find in wigs: first, a truly long wig that is of better quality than a costume wig, and second, a photogenic hair color that avoids shades of red unless red is desired, since an unusually high percentage of wigs include red tones. The Louis Ferre Tribeca Spring synthetic fiber wig shown here in color 10/6/8 meets both criteria beautifully. Though a little darker than I had anticipated, it contains zero hint of red and photographs well. A medium brown might color skew in certain lighting, and since I am only investing in one wig at present, I preferred dark brown rather than blonde. With the importance of marketing to a multi-cultural audience in our blended Western populations, the dark hair lends a cross-cultural feel.
Louis Ferre wigs are expensive because of their quality, but Wigs.com has a 50% off sale on Louis Ferre yearly, and my purchase fell during the month of November in 2012 when that sale was offered, so the wig was a great value. The top is hand-tied monofilament, which means the wig can be parted and styled in any way preferred. The hair is neatly tucked into the edges all around, making upswept hairstyles possible. Wigs.com and many other suppliers offer color ring loan programs, which is recommended in order to determine your preferred color before ordering. Keep in mind that tints of red occur more often in wig colors than they do in real life. Totally red hair is gorgeous, but it is also rare, so I am not sure why most wig manufacturers favor red highlights. A red wig would be something to purchase for special effect in addition to a supply of other more basic colors.
To help style the wig with minimal pulling, I ordered a wig comb, also from Wigs.com, shown below. The prongs are spaced 3/8" apart, wider than they appear in this size-reduced photo.
The wig stand and cover is handmade from a foam head purchased at a craft store and from spare items around the house. The base is a metal tin weighted with powdered concrete mixed with water. The rod is a plastic PVC pipe that was set in the concrete and then glued with industrial-strength contact cement to hold it in place. The foam head is covered with stretch velvet and a white ribbon to cover the seaming around the sides. Silk dupioni covers the base and rod and is used for the lightweight dust cover for the mounted wig. The hairnet that came with the wig is used during storage to help preserve the curls.
At the time of this writing, no online tutorials in English exist on applying mannequin eyelashes. So, prepared for trial and error, I selected the Cirque Du Soleil "Mystical" style of eyelashes because of the solid band at the base that looked ideal for applying adhesive. In retrospect, I would have preferred a style that did not have glitter along the base, as these do, because that area must be covered with glue to fit properly into the eye opening of the mannequin. The glitter was tightly applied, and only a little shed in the process. These eyelashes were not quite wide enough to fit across the entire upper eye, so if possible, find a style in an extended width that can be cut to fit. False eyelashes made for humans are better for use with mannequins than the thick plastic eyelashes made for dolls.
My guess is that eyelashes are glued to fiberglass mannequins with permanent superglue, though tacky glue dots would be recommended and less damaging. Because my mannequin is foam, I wanted to avoid glue that would soak in and harden the area. Furthermore, many types of liquid glue dissolve foam, which would be disastrous. Adhesive dots are popular among paper artists, and I found the 3/16" mini ExtremeTac squares from the Adhesive Squares brand to offer the strongest hold. Other glue dot products I tried were not as strong as this brand which can be purchased online at Glue Arts. If glue dots are used on fiberglass, then try the more gentle brands first to avoid damaging the paint in case a re-application is needed. The fuzzy foam surface of the Poly Star Lady mannequin requires stronger adhesive, and even the ExtremeTac squares can be pulled away, though not easily. Use caution with other surfaces, since ExtremeTac squares permanently bond metal, wood and paper.
The eyelashes look most natural when pressed upward against the lip of the eyelid at the top of the eyeball opening, which means the opposite side of the eyelash base will be adhered to the mannequin compared to the side of the base a human would use.
Most fiberglass mannequins do well with eyebrows painted on using tiny, hair-like strokes. Stencils are available at beauty supply stores that are useful when painting eyebrows. My foam mannequin was different in that the surface absorbs paint easily, so I chose to apply Nubrow false eyebrows that stand out more dramatically. Nubrow offers four colors. The color I chose was light brown. The blonde is a nice color, too, for lighter hair. As you can see from the picture at the top of this article, the light brown is already quite dark. The dark brown would match hair verging on black, and the black would be only for true black hair. Use your own face or the face of a friend that closely matches the shape of your mannequin for reference as to the best placement. Pre-mark the area before applying. Straight pins inserted into the eyebrow area of my foam mannequin provided placement guidelines, since for the best hold the Adhesive Squares ExtremeTac should be applied once with no re-adjustments.
From this point forward, the treatments are intended for foam mannequins only.
Fiberglass mannequins do not need false fingernails, but foam mannequins look much better with them. The problem with this is that most pre-made acrylic nails are more curved than the mannequin nail bases, making attachment difficult. Custom Nail Solutions based in Dallas, Texas, has custom molds for nails that match the shape of mannequin hands they use for display, and you can request a set of nails to be made to those molds, saving the danger of damaging a foam mannequin during the molding process. From photos, it appears that their mannequin hands are very similar to those of the Poly Star Lady pictured here. Another option may be using some type of flexible fabric or foam with a shiny coating that simulates the appearance of real nails, cutting it to shape and then using glue squares to adhere it. Getting the shape of the nails right could take time.
A tutorial on making doll eyes by Aimee Jeffries sparked my ideas for molding clay eyes and lips for my foam mannequin.
Pictured are mannequin eyes draped over a medicine bottle wrapped in foil to create a curve. Tiny eye pupils are also shown, but it is recommended to paint these rather than molding them.
The final touch to my foam mannequin is digitally added in the form of blush after photographs are taken. While it would be possible to use fabric paint that remains flexible after drying, I prefer the smooth look of digital altering. Paint would be used for a display mannequin that is not primarily intended for photography. If using paint, test paint in advance on scrap foam. Use a nearly dry brush with only the slightest hint of paint to avoid over-saturation. Never use oil paint on foam, since solvents in the paint could dissolve the foam.
For digital alterations in Photoshop or another digital editor, use an eyedropper tool to sample the color on the lips. The blush shown here was created with a brush tool using about 5% saturation and two wide passes. Eyeshadow could be applied the same way. Adding makeup digitally allows the look to be changed to match each outfit.
Please share with us any ideas you have for improving the appearance of mannequins. Hearing from someone who has experience with applying eyelashes to fiberglass mannequins would be enlightening, since I suspect the method I used on foam is different than what is recommended for fiberglass. See the articles on Realistic Mannequins for Fashion Photography and Import Basics if you are in the market for a mannequin purchase.