It’s 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning at the corner of Rue de l’Étuve and Rue de Chêne where the legendary statue of the Manneken Pis stands.
While the rest of the city may still be reeling from a hangover after a Friday night of drinking, tourists are already milling around Brussels’ notorious peeing boy.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man approaches the iron railing enclosing the statue and enters through its small gate. He is one of only a handful of people allowed to come near the Manneken Pis.
The back of his black jacket displays an image of the Manneken Pis, and the words: Official Dresser. A few tourists react. “Official dresser?” “Seriously?”
Yes, seriously. The 55-centimeter statue has an official dresser. Did you think that anyone can just go and suit up the little guy? Oh no.
By virtue of an act passed in 1755, the City of Brussels officially appoints a person who alone has the authority to adorn the Manneken Pis. The title was first given to a man named Henri Wauters.
At present, the official dresser of the Manneken Pis is Nicolas Edelman. He is the 13th person to occupy the post since the 18th century.
While the official dresser is commonly appointed, Nicolas volunteered for the job in 2014 while working at Brussels City’s Department of Culture.
“I love this job. The Manneken Pis is a very important symbol of Brussels and Belgium. He also represents everyone, every association, all nationalities, “ says Edelman with pride.
The job requires getting up early or working until late, rain or shine, weekday or weekend to dress and undress the Manneken Pis according to a given schedule.
Every year, Brussels City’s cultural department draws up an official calendar marking about 130 occasions for dressing the statue. As the official dresser, it is Edelman’s duty to implement this calendar.
Costumes are donated by individuals, groups, associations, and even countries. But they must first be approved by city officials based on certain conditions. The material used must be of good quality and the statue must not be used for political, commercial, and religious purposes.
The official dresser has to make sure that costume donors comply with specific instructions for designing a costume. Days before the dressing ceremony, Edelman has to try each costume on a replica of the Manneken Pis in his office.
If the costume fits, Edelman puts it on the statue located on Rue de l’Étuve on the assigned day. Sounds easy enough, but the official dresser says it’s not all that simple.
You can’t dress the Manneken Pis the way you would dress any ordinary child since his arms are fixed to his waist, his feet are attached to a base, and his back has a tube through which the water flows. A bit of practice is necessary.
All costumes worn by the statue are automatically added to the wardrobe collection of the Manneken Pis at the end of the day. Most of them are kept in the Brussels City museum while some are displayed at the GardeRobe MannekenPis gallery located on Rue de Chêne.
To date, the Manneken Pis has more than one thousand costumes in record. He may very well be the only statue in the world to possess such an extensive supply of outfits, and a designated wardrobe assistant at his disposal.
Of the entire collection, Edelman cites two favorites. “First is Saint Nicholas because my name is Nicolas. It’s also funny to imagine Saint Nicholas, a big and important man, pissing on the street,” Edelman laughs. “The other one is the costume of the Diable Rouge because this is a symbol of unity in Belgium.”
What Edelman loves the most about his job is being able to interact regularly with tourists and fans of the Manneken Pis. He even puts on a little show for them when he performs his task. “Sometimes I splash some water on the public just for fun.”
One of Edelman’s unforgettable experiences as a dresser was when he met world-famous fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier who created a costume for the Manneken Pis for the 20th anniversary of the Brussels’ gay pride festival in 2015.
“He was afraid because he thought he had to dress the Manneken Pis himself. He said to me, how can I do that? He will piss on me. And I told him don’t worry, I am the official dresser, I will do that,” Edelman recounts.
There is no term limit for official dressers of the Manneken Pis. Some of them even held onto the job for decades.
Edelman himself has no plans of retiring any time soon. The 37-year old habilleur says he will probably resign only when he already has children. For now, the Manneken Pis is his only baby.
“I’m sure inside the Manneken Pis, there’s a little heart that beats. For me, he’s not just a statue or a thing. He is alive for me and I see him as a person. I know it’s a statue and I’m not crazy, but he is real to me,” says the only person who currently has the right and the privilege to dress the darling boy of Brussels.