Nineteen-year-old Tran Thu Huong carefully applies a thin layer of foundation and powder to her face, adds some pink on her cheeks and brushes her eyelashes. She finishes the make-up process with a touch of coral-red lipstick, then selects a twinkling evening dress and puts it on.

Huong is now ready, not for a crowded evening party, but to stand in a downtown Hanoi clothing store as a living mannequin.

The Hanoi Tourism College student started her job in April. She arrives at the Catwalk for Ladies shop on Hang Bong Street at 7pm every day and stands in the window until 9pm. According to Huong, it was the shop owner who suggested that she be the mannequin.

"I had heard about girls who acted as the human mannequins at the shop, but I was a bit surprised when I was offered the job. I intended to apply for a position as a salesgirl."

To prepare for being a living mannequin, which has been considered a "strange" job in Hanoi, Huong studied poses from fashion magazines and TV programmes. She found posing came naturally to her.

"Unlike professional models, we don't have to pose in any fixed position. We can stand, sit on a platform, chat to each other, even can answer the cellphone. Anyway, whatever we do, we still remember why we are there: to show off the dresses."

Huong can also leave her place to take care the shop's clients. She helps them to choose dresses suitable for their bodies as well as for the events they plan to attend.

Quach Minh Hang, a 12th-grader at the Phan Huy Chu High School, said the reason she decided to become one of the shop's living mannequins was to earn a salary of her own.

"Instead of hanging out with my friends every night, I lock myself behind glass at the shop. However, it is quite nice that I have some pocket money during the summer holiday," Hang said.

Both young women consider the most memorable moments of their job the occasions when they amaze pedestrians, including many foreigners. "It's like a scene of the TV series Just for Laughs. Some people were petrified when they saw the mannequins suddenly moving, but when they realised we were real people they kept smiling," Hang said.

Huong reminisced fondly about one day when some foreign tourists jumped into the shop to stand next to the beautiful mannequins for some photos.

According to the shop's owner, designer Tran Huong Ly, the idea was inspired by the models she worked with when she studied fashion at a university in Hanoi.

When she opened the shop in 2009, Ly decided to have such special mannequins, aiming to create something different and attractive for her shop. So far, the Catwalk for Ladies is the only fashion shop in Hanoi that has human mannequins.

"I don't have enough money to promote my label through media, so I chose a different way and hoped it would become effective through word-of-mouth."

She seems to have been right.

The human mannequins attract dozens of passers-by every night, some of whom patronise the store.

Over the past two years, many women have worked at Catwalk for Ladies, since the shop changes its mannequins every three months. "New faces bring freshness to the shop as well as for the people who pass by," the 28-year-old owner said.

Ly doesn't have many requirements for her mannequins. Any young woman with "fresh facial features" who is taller than 1.65m can apply to be a mannequin at Catwalk for Ladies./.