The Miniquin Story

       It was Monday, January 2, 1943, in Any town, USA when Diamonds Department Store opened its engraved glass gilt-edged doors to the first wave of eager customers. Almost everyone had been talking about Diamonds and its dramatic window displays for weeks. It wasn't only that the displays were more extravagant and creative than anything ever seen in an upscale department store window before - it was the curious effect the displays had on the people who took the time to study them. They evoked memories of Great Loves, strong stirrings of emotion and absolute faith that what the window- shopper was searching for was somewhere inside Diamonds Department Store.

       In 1943, American fashion was coming into its own. With Paris occupied, attention focused on New York. Despite restrictions such as L-85 which limited the amount of material that could be used (hemline only 72 inches; suit jackets limited to 25 inches in length), American ingenuity was up to the challenge. Clothes were narrower, dresses were cut and draped to only need two buttons, and cap sleeves were used to conserve fabric. Adrian had just opened his boutique in Beverly Hills. Fira Benenson had started designing shortly after Paris became inaccessible. Charles James was still in partnership with Elizabeth Arden, sharing her Fifth Avenue building. Diamonds was to be carrying couture fashions from the exclusive designs of its in-house team.

       Inside the store, Vivian was almost as anxious for the doors to open as the customers waiting outside.Vivian had been with the gentleman who owned Diamonds ever since he started his business with a small clothing store more than a decade earlier; she was wise in the ways of the world, but young and enthusiastic enough to thrill to this new beginning. Vivian resided on the first floor of Diamonds, facing the foyer; she was the centerpiece of the fine clothing display, and as such was the first face to greet the crowd. Although she had met the public before, she knew this marked the start of a new era. Everything was about to be different.

       Although the miniquins did not speak in the traditional sense, they had their own telepathic speech and - from their point of view - the human customers who were mute. Ironically, not being able to hear human voices somehow made it easier for a miniquin to see directly into the human heart. When a customer touched a gown or a piece of jewelry, she left an imprint of herself on the miniquin wearing it - the shadow of her heartbreak, her victories, her dreams and her illusions. Since all of Diamonds miniquins except Vivian were brand new, none of them had a history yet. They hungered for experiences, feelings, and passion.

       They shared what they learned, and they learned about each other, every night after darkness fell and the doors to Diamonds were locked to the public. It was then that the miniquins came to life in the store - with full use of its nightclub, fountain, and tea room, hair and nail salon, and home department. Each of the miniquins will develop a different personality, a result of the merchandise area she rules and the people she comes into contact with. Since the miniquins are never allowed to leave Diamonds, all they know of the "real" world is what they intuit from the customers who touch them. Their resulting misconceptions are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, sometimes heartwarming.

       Vivian knew all about love. Her first experience came when she was modeling a midnight blue taffeta prom dress and a sixteen year old high school let her hand linger on the fabric. As the co-ed fantasized about what it would feel like if the boy of her dreams took her into his arms to dance, the delightful pleasure of anticipation washed through Vivian. So this is love, she thought.

       A few months later, when Vivian modeled a sedate black silk skirt and jacket, a thirty year old woman touched the dress and fought back tears. Her young husband had been killed in combat and she needed a black suit for his funeral. So this is love, Vivian thought, as grief colored her world, leaving her with a dull ache and a loss of purpose.

       When summer came, she modeled a sexy red cocktail dress. A lovesick secretary touched the dress and thought to herself, if I wear this, my boss won't be able to look at anyone else. When he sees me in this, work will be the last thing on his mind. So this is love, Vivian thought, feeling a surge of desire.

       Vivian's perception of love was as accurate as someone perusing a gourmet cookbook but never entering a kitchen. She recognized the ingredients, imagined how they might combine, and assumed it would taste wonderful. But mentally going through the motions of concocting an exotic dish cannot create the first taste of something new. Vivian didn't taste love until Monty arrived at Diamonds Department store.

       Monty originated in San Diego, California, where he was used to tailor uniforms for the Navy. When an Admiral tried on a jacket, then put it back on Monty for the finishing touches, Monty acquired the personal history of a Naval hero. He could smell the sea from the open dressmaker's window. Even after the move to Diamonds Department store, the scent of the ocean lingered in his memory bank and sometimes he could see waves break on the beach of his imagination.

       Every miniquin in the store knew about Monty's arrival and talked about little else. Unfortunately, if predictably, Monty was assigned to menswear, on a different floor than Vivian, so she heard about him for months before she saw him. Rumor had it he was a miniquin of action, a hero who survived combat, a man who had seen the world.

       They met when Diamonds paired them to promote their furniture department. Monty was dressed like a suburban father and Vivian was mortified to find herself wearing a calico housedress with a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves. She wanted to drop through a hole in the floor. Against all reason, she prayed that he wouldn't notice her, even though they were inches apart. How could management have put her into this hideous monstrosity?

       "Nothing could make you look less than beautiful," Monty said.

       Oh, no, had she spoken out loud? How much more humiliating was this going to get?

       "I'm Monty," he said.

       Could he read her mind? Did he know she thought he was the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life? She blushed just thinking of what he might know. "I'm Vivian," she said, to cover her embarrassment.

       And that was how it started.

       TO BE CONTINUED.....