We’ve been on the hunt for a mannequin for some time, living in the vain hope that we’d find just the right one (sturdy male, 40″ chest, articulated arms, right degree of age and use) languishing in some dusty corner of eBay. With that description we may have had more luck on Guardian Soulmates. Eventually reality hit and with numerous events on the horizon we decided that a versatile, cooperative presence on which to display and photograph our bags would be worth investing in.
We quickly learned that with mannequins, as most things, you get what you pay for. The mass market left us cold. Advice came from John Rogers at Lissom & Muster who suggested Proportion; a visit to their website then Clerkenwell showroom confirmed their reputation for high quality and innovation. Their client list is a roll call of fashion and costume’s great and good; McQueen, Westwood, the V & A to name but three. The fact that they manufacture everything to the customers specification just a few miles from us in their east London factory confirmed the decision.
Proportion’s collection of mannequins, bustforms and presentation devices is mind-boggling, literally thousands of available options backed up by an archive of many thousands more. Our selection for Mr Cherchbi would be a calico-covered vintage bust form, metal stand, head and articulated arms. We visited the factory to photograph the first stages of making; mould halves are joined and lined with a layer of recycled papier mache. Two further layers of recycled paper are added, these bound with plaster of Paris. Mr Cherchbi needs arms to carry bags so additional layers are added to the torso sides to support these. The form spends 24 hours in the drying room before the addition of a wadding layer and the hand-stitched calico outer, which is then stained (a special recipe, tea and coffee was mentioned), and sanded to finish. The head is produced using the same method. Finally the fully articulated wooden arms and hands are added. The whole process can take up to six weeks.
Leaving the drying room we toured other departments, observing fibreglass mannequins in all stages of production, and upstairs through the design room as master moulds were being prepared. The quality of work produced by Proportion is undeniably high, two professional sculptors are employed when entirely new form shapes are to be produced, and through every subsequent stage the quality of materials used and the skills with which they’re applied is clearly evident.
I leave the creative bustle of the factory and experience a sensory jolt on entering a different bustle on Blackhorse Lane. How typical of London and brilliantly British; an inconspicuous east end factory quietly turning out such fine quality product to grace the ateliers of the worlds best fashion houses. Welcome to the company, Mr Cherchbi.