Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Alison Wainwright says children who look like mannequins are creepy in a horror-movie way, like the two little girls from “The Shining.”
And likewise, she says, mannequins that look like children can make your flesh crawl like an electrified centipede.
She says it a little reluctantly. Wainwright is the founder and president of Las Vegas Mannequins, the valley’s only full-service source for the purchase, rental and repair of mannequins. Torsos, lower bodies, heads, glossies, poseables, plastic, fiberglass, faceless ciphers, full-featured dummies. Men, women, teens and, yes, children.
Which are creepy.
To be fair to real little children, the mannequins resemble children imperfectly. The mannequins’ faces that come out of Chinese factories have just a little bit too much bone structure, in a way that suggests that not all their chromosomes have aligned. That plus the perfect blond hair and wide-open blue eyes give the child mannequins a look that’s one part “Tintin” and two parts “Children of the Corn.”
But hey, whatever the client wants, Wainwright says.
There are also Wainwright’s “sexy mannequins,” which are, how to put this, “you know, bigger.”
A certain number of them went to adult retail establishments and Wainwright says one was purchased by a burlesque dancer who arranged her costumes on it. The most prolific renters of sexy mannequins, however, were the exhibitors at the World of Concrete convention. Cheaper than booth babes, it seems.
Metro officers occasionally buy mannequins for use in car crash demonstrations or, in the case of one husband and wife pair of officers, as a model for a new, female-friendly bulletproof vest. Used and damaged mannequin parts are popular with the makers of Halloween displays and haunted houses. Students like them for art projects and movies. Occasionally someone wants a more lifelike shooting target. But far and away, the bulk of Wainwright’s business comes from conventions, especially clothing expos.
It’s also where she started out.
In 2004 a friend called Wainwright, who at the time was selling trade show displays, and asked her if she could find some mannequins for a trade show. She discovered that buying and then renting mannequins would pay the rent.
Soon, her apartment was crowded with mannequins — in the hall, on the furniture, creeping toward her bed, including her first realistic-looking mannequin, Daniel, whose 5 o’clock shadow and narrow-set eyes made him look like a “Deliverance” cast member with an interest in body sculpting.
Wainwright rented a storage unit. In two years her mannequins had bought her a house. She moved the business into a warehouse unit just west of the Wynn. She sells full-sized mannequins for between $150 and $300. She rents them for only a little less. Not many people actually want to buy a mannequin.
And how has the mannequin business been in this recession, when surely the grim struggles of life leave people with little money for fashion and artifice?
Sales have been up 100 percent, Wainwright says, just as they have been every year since 2004. It’s easy to grow when you start small.