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ChadMichael Morrisette and Mito Aviles are surrounded by humanlike mannequins — 20 of them or so, in fact — in the living room of their little green house in West Hollywood, which serves as headquarters and mannequin storage facility for their window display business, CM Squared Designs. Few people in the fashion world in Los Angeles do what they do.
"It's a dying art," says Morrisette of creating his dramatic window installations for hip L.A. retail stores. "Like opera."
Window displays for the fashion giants on Robertson Boulevard or Rodeo Drive usually are done by in-house staff who put little emphasis on coming up with unique visual ideas. By contrast, small independent company CM Squared Designs wants to stop shoppers in their tracks, with bold displays that feature the cold stares of lifelike mannequins.
Aviles, who is Morrisette's boyfriend and business partner, says, "We wanted to create something completely niche and one-of-a-kind in Los Angeles."
Morrisette, the creative force behind their work, started his career when he was a junior in high school, working at Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue in San Diego. Aviles handles the business side and helps Morrisette install his sometimes dreamy, sometimes edgy, always visually provocative creations at high-quality boutiques across the Los Angeles area, including Madison, Alpha and FUK-U.
They now own 207 mannequins — many of them vintage, which they restore — and work with only the "realistic" kind, not mannequins with no heads, which, for Morrisette and Aviles, has become something of an unfortunate trend in fashion circles. Headless mannequins are easier to use and cheaper, but they give off no theatrical spark.
"It's the human form we like so much because of the emotionality of the pose," Morrisette explains. "It's what we can all relate to. It's human sculpture."
When CM Squared Designs does a window, it's something of an event, which the style blog L.A. Racked often raves about: "We're big fans of the nutty, fantastical display work done by ChadMichael Morrisette and Mito Aviles. ... We love the totally insouciant 'la la la la la' carefree look of the dude on the right, and the somehow pensive, self-aware expression on the guy in the green shirt with the crossbow."
Morrisette is obsessed with bringing more of that fantasy to L.A.'s stylish boutiques, convinced his way not only sells more clothes but also makes window installations an art form.
"We're part of taking it to a new level," Morrisette says. "If you want to make a statement, you want to use a mannequin."