Eco Doesn’t Mean Ugly – The Making of Mannequins

Written by Jade Wheeler, Marketing Manager at Proportion London.  

Proportion London specialises in the design and manufacture of mannequins and bust forms. We were tasked with the exciting challenge of producing environmentally-friendly display figures to complement the focus on sustainability in Fashioned from Nature. Our long-standing relationship with the V&A enabled Proportion to work collaboratively to create sustainable solutions for display using the finest craftsmanship.

Innovative fabrics that have a less harmful impact on the environment were used to create the figures. A biodegradable papier-mâché was formulated to make the mannequins’ heads and bodies which were then covered in conservation grade paper, supplied by the V&A. The result is proof that the industry can become more environmentally aware without losing its provocative edge.

Our design team and Lara Flecker, the museum’s textile display specialist, combined their expertise to produce environmentally-friendly figures suitable for 17th, 18th and 19th-century garments. The process began with a model provided by the V&A as a guide, followed by numerous factory visits from Lara, who made subtle design alterations and tweaks to the figure to ensure a flawless, tailored fit.

 The figure’s versatile pin-up hairstyle was carefully chosen by Lara to suit the mix of period clothing. Instead of crafting the style from synthetic fibres, our mould makers created the hairdos from papier-mâché which were hand sculpted onto the heads. This was the first time this intricate method has been used and the result was both practical and beautiful. Not only did the procedure eliminate the need for man-made materials, the finish adds character and complements the ornate garments on display.

Muslin day dress decorated with beetle wing cases, 1868-9, Britain. Museum no. T.1698:1 to 5-2017. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London