A year ... with Coco and Esmeralada

Coco and Esmeralda take turns modeling each month in a downtown window.

What started as Christmas home décor idea has evolved into a downtown tradition at Lucy's Informal Flowers, 311 Oak St.

The mannequins with the whimsical names stand in the window next to the front door, wearing new and different clothing and accessories each month.

"I just love doing it. I think it's great," said owner Lucy Gorman, who bought the store in April 2005 and started the rotating mannequin adornments the next month. Lucy's shares space with Bella Bliss, owned by Mari Beth Guenther.

Coco is a one-piece "fit mannequin" from Gorman's college days in Ottawa, Canada, where she earned a degree in design - in mannequin draping, that is, a la the famed couturiere Coco Chanel. Hence the name.

Someone had given her a homemaker's mannequin, the style with moveable shoulders and torso pieces, and for several years she covered it in evergreen boughs and holiday lights, and set it outside her house.

The year she bought the store from Suzanne Workman - "She had such a great reputation I decided to keep the name (Informal Flowers) and just added 'Lucy,'" Gorman said - she saw another homemaker's mannequin at Pine Grove Fire Department auction. It was rusted but a steal at $1.

This one her mother, Anne Clayton, called Esmeralda.

"It just fit," said Clayton, who was born in London. "It just had that Victorian quality that went well with it." (The original Esmeralda and the auction find share the name; one of them stands more or less permanently atop one of the flower coolers inside the store, and the other rotates with Coco.)

Coco and Esmeralda feel like real people to Gorman, though she doesn't mind sticking a few pins or even staples into them.

It's all part of the fun of Coco and Esmeralda's monthly change of attire.

This year it was a "Miss January" sash, April and tulips, polka dots in June and sequined leaves in October. Floral-inspired themes of the season are about all that drives Gorman's mannequin design choices.

The changing mannequin styles are "whatever inspires me," said Gorman. There are few constants other than blue in November and white in January (look for birds next month).

The mannequins don't model anything for sale, other than the occasional bundle of roses or tulips.

"They stand guard there in the corner," Gorman said.

"People sometimes think it's a dress shop. They say, 'I like that dress!' Or, 'I like that belt.' I say, 'Don't like it too much. It's just a piece of batting or some sticks.'"

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