At the Mannequin Factory
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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