The Reopening: How to Doll Up Dining During Social Distancing

Vilnius, Lithuania, Mannequins
A woman looks at a mannequin dressed in creations of a local designer in a restaurant in the Old Town of Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 21, 2020. Cafes and restaurants became a platform to showcase collections by local designers affected by the COVID-19 lockdown as the country has allowed bars, cafes, and restaurants to operate under strict safety rules. Photo credit: © Xinhua via ZUMA Wire
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Coronavirus meets fashion in the Lithuanian capital city, Vilnius, as the country begins easing lockdown restrictions. 

Restaurateurs and fashionistas in the tiny Baltic country of Lithuania don’t often draw international attention, but a creative approach to reopening is making headlines and inspiring imitators.

The reason is dolled-up restaurant tables (literally), with the empty chairs required for social distancing now being occupied by life-sized, elaborately styled mannequins.

The Baltic nation lifted its lockdown in May, and recently discontinued its mask requirement. As of June 26, only 1,808 of 2.8 million Lithuanians have contracted the virus, resulting in 78 deaths. Nevertheless, social distancing remains in place.

In late April, the Lithuanian government revived its restaurant industry by transforming public spaces in Vilnius into spots for outdoor dining. On May 21, Lithuania reintroduced indoor dining options with guidelines that respect social distancing requirements. To ensure patrons adhere to those requirements, restaurants have imposed restrictions that distance diners from each other. 

To fill in the awkward empty spaces between patrons, Vilnius restaurants and fashion boutiques have collaborated to introduce a line of fiercely styled mannequins to deck out the empty tables. Boasting elaborate garb, these mannequins are adorned in oversized sunglasses, silk dresses, and bold prints.

“Empty tables inside our restaurant look rather odd, and we don’t have any way to remove them,” explained Bernie Ter Braak, the owner of Cosy restaurant. 

“Therefore, we decided to reach out to our neighbors, fashion boutique stores, and invited them to use our empty tables to showcase their newest collections. The news spread, and well-known designers joined this project, which keeps gaining interest across the city.”

A few dozen restaurants and 19 boutiques have participated in the mannequin campaign. Each mannequin is accompanied by an information sheet featuring local fashion designers and brands, and where to purchase the modeled items. 

Julia Janus, a fashion designer and co-founder of the campaign, said she believes this initiative could help alleviate the downturn experienced by the fashion industry during the pandemic. 

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“The fashion industry is particularly affected by the lockdown,” said Janus. “Local boutiques used to sell the niche, original pieces created by local designers. [While they were] closed due to the quarantine, designers did not have many opportunities to showcase their latest collections, and in general, the consumption is still down. We hope that this campaign will move the waters and local designers will gain some visibility.”

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said this initiative underscores the sense of community present in the Lithuanian capital. 

Šimašius said that the tragic impact of the virus worldwide is daunting, but that it also opens up new ways to find beauty and connections in the quotidian. “This initiative is a perfect match of communal spirit and creativity working side by side,” he said.

 Inn at Little-Washington, Mannequins

Mannequins at the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, VA. Photo credit: Inn at Little Washington

https://dc.eater.com/2020/5/12/21252237/dc-restaurant-the-inn-at-little-washington-mannequins-fill-empty-seats-social-distancing

The mannequin campaign has caught the attention of American restaurants as well. The Inn at Little Washington, the DC area’s only restaurant with three Michelin stars, adopted the idea on May 29. As in Lithuanian restaurants, the Inn at Little Washington hopes the presence of mannequins will mitigate the awkward spacing caused by social distancing practices. 


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Sergei Gussev / Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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