More than a year ago, Grunhilde entered into my professional life. She is not very talkative, actually, our “conversations” are quite one-sided. But she is good at executing instructions – obviously she is a good listener. She has a perfect body and is great at posing – two things I do not have to offer, even though I would prefer her to gain a few kilos. Whenever I need her, Grunhilde is there. We can spend hours together at the studio. Whatever is required to make the products stand out, she will do it. The catch – Grunhilde is a plastic photo mannequin.
Shooting product pictures is trickier than you might assume. Especially when it comes to fashion. Glossy magazines and Instagram have trained our eyes to very high standards. It is just not enough to have a great product – it needs to shine and form a connection with the viewer immediately. The best way to achieve this connection is with editorial photo shoots – the models pose in a beautiful location and the products are put in the spotlight. This makes it easy for potential customers to relate to the products and imagine them on themselves. How could I style it for a night out? Would it work for the office? How does it look from the back?
Additionally, products need to be shot in a “studio-style”, usually with a white or solid background in another colour. This is done from different angles and it needs to be, again, realistic and relatable. If the garments are just photographed on hangers, they not only look flat and boring, it also does not make them look realistic and something people aspire to buy. Needless to say, it depends which business you run and which segment you target, but I decided that for Pelagona, product presentation needs to be top-notch.
Hence, Grundhilde entered my life. She is a so-called “ghost-mannequin” which means that once the clothes are put on, the mannequin becomes almost invisible and the visible parts can be edited out quite easily. This helps to make the clothes look as if somebody actually wears them without the distraction of a real model. When you browse through online stores, the product view which is presented on the main page is usually shot using a ghost-mannequin.
Grunhilde was shipped from Germany – like most products, I am sure her body was made in China. As you may know, my label is size-inclusive and I searched for a mannequin with a more realistic body. Unfortunately, options were limited and I ended up ordering a mannequin in my size – a European 38 (a US size 8). Or at least I thought so. When I unpacked Grunhilde, I was shocked. This lady has a tiny waist and narrow hips. I doubt that she represents a size 38, it looks rather like a 34 (US size 4). This just reflects the industry: while there are commitments on websites and social media, Grunhilde and the limited range of adjustable mannequins or those in bigger sizes are proof of that. It seems that retailers and brands still prefer to present garments on tiny models. I have always wondered why, because I find unrealistic. Most women just do not look like the people in the glossy advertisements. I personally struggle to imagine clothes on myself if a really thin model wears them. Should the brands not ultimately take into account the end consumer? Would we not buy more if we were represented better?
For my second photo shoot for Pelagona, I wanted a model who looked more like a real woman. I have to say, it was not an easy undertaking. It is no surprise that most models were thin, some extremely thin and I wanted a broader spectrum of the female body on my website. When I had narrowed down three “front-runners”, quite a few people on my production team questioned my choice of models. “Are you sure you really want to do this? You know, the camera makes them even bigger.” The fun fact is that these three models had the same measurements as me. The industry considers them “big” – even though many would not say this out loud anymore, but fashion still works that way. This is the crazy fact – we are talking here about a European size 36-38, is this really “big”? By the way, if Marilyn Monroe’s clothes size was converted to today’s standards, this would be exactly what she would wear as well. And to put this into context, the average size in America and most European countries is 44-46 (a US size 14-16). Furthermore, French women are often considered the most alluring women in the world – Did you know that more than 40% of French women wear a size 44 (US size 14) or bigger?
When we started shooting, I knew I had been right. The model looked amazing in the clothes, she had great personality and let the garments stand out. And when I presented the first drafts to business partners, friends and clients, the feedback was very positive – “Finally a woman who looks more realistic”.
This was the first step; in the future, I would like to shoot the products on more body types – from petite to plus-size. Furthermore, I think it is very important to reflect diversity in terms of age and skin colour as well. As a small label, it is difficult to shoot with a big group of models that from the start due to budget-constraints, but it is definitely something I am striving for. Inclusivity and diversity may be seen as goodwill. But even from an economic perspective, I doubt that brands can ignore such a big chunk of the market.
Grunhilde has just been set up for another shoot, waiting to get dressed. Maybe I can find a way to “feed” her, but for now, I will work with her “perfect” figure. Maybe she just has a good metabolism? I do not want to be unfair to her, she has done a great job so far. And maybe, I find a “bigger” co-worker for her in the future.
 Fashion Network