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At the Mannequin Factory

October 22, 2013
by the gentle author

In the Museum Department

You are never alone at the mannequin factory. Wherever you turn at Proportion>London’s manufacturing operation in Walthamstow, there is always someone else in the room with you – and, even if these naked figures are inanimate, you cannot ignore their presence.

Eighty people work in the factory yet they are outnumbered by mannequins and, when Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I walked into the building, the first thing we saw were hordes of them lined up as far as the eye could see.

It might easily turn ugly if the mannequins decided to rebel but – fortunately – they are placid, waiting patiently for their time to go out into the world. Perhaps their good nature is explained by the love and care lavished upon them by their creators, producing well-balanced shop dummies with perfect bodies. Those created in this particular Eden are shameless in their nudity, even if their destiny lies in clothing. These are pedigree mannequins manufactured by Britain’s leading supplier for many of the most famous High St brands and fashion houses. More than eighty per cent migrate, constituting a global retail display diaspora originating from Walthamstow.

Built in 1911 for manufacturing buses to transport recruits to the First World War, the handsome factory in Blackhorse Lane has seen many incarnations – used for manufacturing chocolates and then footwear before it became the birthplace for a new race of mannequins in 2000. “Thirteen years ago, I was in shoe manufacturing,” explained Peter Ferstendik, the owner, “but the industry was destroyed by the Far East and we had no option but to cease production, so then I decided to buy this company and improve it.”

Seigel & Stockman was founded in Paris in 1867 and began trading in London in the nineteen-twenties, manufacturing paper maché dummies for couture houses and dressmakers’ showrooms, and benefitting from the rise of department stores. When Peter acquired the company, it was independent of the parent and operating with fifteen employees from a factory Old St, still making mannequins in the traditional manner as it had done for one hundred and thirty years.

Today, with five times the staff, Proportion>London produces fibreglass models alongside the original paper maché and has diversified into a wide range of display mannequins for retail and museum use that are continually redesigned and updated. “Our competitors copy our mannequins,” admitted Peter, with more than a hint of swagger,“but we are always a year ahead. The only time we should worry is if they stop copying us!”

Peter Ferstendik, Chairman of the company  - “We live and breathe retail display”

Leon Silva, Supervisor for Paper Maché - “I am the only original employee from Old St – when I started here in 1993, we just had paper maché but now fibreglass is the thing.”

Mayur Bhadalia, Mould Maker - “Since 1987, I worked in this factory as a shoemaker, but in 2000 I became a mould maker.”

Mark Deans, Mould Maker - “I’ve always made models, since I was a boy”

Arjan Shbani & Basil Simoni, Laminators

Des Riviere & Dilhan Mustafa, wood finishers. Des - “When I started I did whole figures but now I just do arms.”

Ghazala Asghar, Anna Ostrowko & Amina Burosee

Andrew Thomas, Cleaner & Odd Jobs Man - “I used to pack chocolates here twenty years ago.”

Old museum dummies

George Bush & The Queen

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. Beach-combing Magpie permalink
    October 22, 2013

    I watched Dr Who as a child, when the ‘shop dummies’ came alive… I was terrfiied of window displays for some time after that.

  2. Terry Basson permalink
    October 22, 2013

    My problem with wax dummies is that i always want to breath life into them. Just cannot watch rows of look like’s without wanting to bring them to life. I could therefore never ever work in this factory.

  3. Greg Tingey permalink
    October 22, 2013

    That corner of Walthamstow has had some very interesting manufacturing over the years.
    Cameras (Houghton-Butcher, I think) buses, cinema etc …..

  4. David Farenden permalink
    October 22, 2013

    Absolutely fantastic, you do such a variety of subjects, I look forward to each day and your articles. Thank you

  5. gioconda permalink
    October 22, 2013

    Fibreglass or no, I wouldn’t want to be locked in here at night.
    You might call this post “Spitalfields Life for Dummies” ;-)

    Best regards to Mr. P.

  6. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    October 22, 2013

    Totally bizarre and yes, freaky – but some of the photographs are simply wonderful and constitute works of art in themselves…

  7. October 22, 2013

    Fascinating…

  8. Ros permalink
    October 22, 2013

    Loved this account the photos taken on site are superb. So many lives, so many ethnicities working there, so many incarnations of both the factory and the mannequins currently emerging from it to their various destinations. Brilliant piece altogether!

  9. Kate permalink
    October 23, 2013

    What a brilliant piece. Love all those Londoners working together across mixed ethnicities. Reminds me of A-ha’s “The sun always shines on Tv” video!!

  10. isa permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Yes these photos are amazing but slightly disturbing! I would not like to be locked in there because you never know what might happen.

  11. Susan Goldman permalink
    October 23, 2013

    Such an interesting subject and the photos are amazing, although some are quite disturbing, especially the mannequins with plastic bags over their heads!

  12. October 24, 2013

    Interesting… ‘real’ people building ‘ideal’ people

  13. Natalie Ferstendik permalink
    October 24, 2013

    As a child I used to visit the factory and watch the sheepskin moccasins being trimmed and packed. It was fascinating back then to see a working factory in motion but now even more interesting to find out more of its story and to discover some of the people who have been there since I was little. The photographs are really inspiring. Dad you should be proud of all you have achieved.

  14. October 26, 2013

    I loved these photographs and I’m really proud of my hubby and his amazing team for what they produce. They work tirelessly together and their launches for new ranges are incredible!

  15. November 3, 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed AND appreciated the article about the Mannequin Factory, probably because I am a vintage mannequin artist.

    I read and followed the links that were included in The Mannequin Factory article and they were also very interesting. I like the mannequin factory and the shoe factory the best of the links.

    ALL the photos were wonderful to view….the black photos were my favorites. Thank you sincerely.

  16. Stephen Perkin permalink
    March 3, 2014

    Hi all at Proportion. Good to see these pictures of a few old work mates. Respect to all.
    Steve

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