Weiss Architecture Studio

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Photograph of Proportion London's factory

We see them so often in our daily life, that they almost blur into the background. But mannequins play a pivotal role in the advertising industry. We’ve spoken in depth about how mannequins can entice visitors into a store and can even boost revenue. However, what about before the mannequins get that far? 

In this article, we will delve into the hidden world of mannequin manufacturing and what work goes into making one of the world’s best marketing techniques. 

The process

Each mannequin begins with an idea. This idea then goes through several different processes, starting with design, through to sculpting, model-making, mould-making, lamination and then the finishing and spraying stage. The development process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the complexity of the style and product.

Cast mannequins

The birth of the mannequin begins with a human model. The model helps the sculpture decide which pose is right for the mannequin. Once the pose has been chosen, photographs of the model in the desired pose are taken, and measurements are recorded. 

Using these records, the sculpture is able to make an aluminium wire armature, which acts as the ‘skeleton’ for the mannequin. Wood is added to the wire armature to reduce the amount of clay needed to sculpt the features and to stop the clay from slipping out of its position. Clay is added to the sculpture in small pieces and sculpted to reach the required shape, before the head is added. Oftentimes, the only parts of the mannequin that are life cast are the hands and feet. However, sometimes a full body cast is used to create the perfect mannequin.

After the clay sculpture is finished, moulds are created from the sculpture, in order to cast the mannequin out of the chosen material (usually plastic or fibreglass). This is usually done in different parts, which are then reassembled together and sanded down to ensure the different body part joints sit flush against one another and the finish is smooth.

Any finishing touches are then added, such as painting detailed features, adding makeup or wigs. The mannequins are now ready to go into shops, showrooms or museums. 

Paper mache mannequins

At Proportion London, we also still make bust forms using traditional Victorian techniques, such as paper mache. 

We use recycled cardboard and water to make paper mache, which is applied to the inside of a mould and backed up with a layer of plaster before being hardened in a bakehouse for four days. 

The mannequins are then covered in whatever material the client wants, such as leather, silk or calico.


Delving into the intricate world of mannequin manufacturing has offered us a captivating glimpse into the meticulous craftsmanship involved in sculpting and moulding their forms to the innovative techniques employed in their production, it is evident that mannequins are not mere placeholders in the retail landscape; they are veritable works of art and instruments of commerce.

The secrets behind mannequin manufacturing, which were unveiled in this exploration, underscore the industry’s commitment to precision, sustainability, and adaptability. As we’ve seen, the use of advanced materials, 3D printing, and customizable features has revolutionised the production process, enabling mannequin makers to meet the ever-evolving demands of the retail world. Moreover, the growing emphasis on eco-friendly practices and recyclable materials reflects the industry’s responsiveness to environmental concerns.

Mannequins, far from being static figures, have the potential to mirror society’s diverse aspirations and ideals. They can reflect the beauty, diversity, and aspirations of the human form in all its variations. By understanding the secrets behind their creation, we gain a deeper appreciation for their role in shaping our perceptions of fashion and self-expression.

In essence, the secrets of mannequin manufacturing unveil a world where artistry meets innovation, tradition harmonises with technology, and commercial utility intersects with artistic expression. As we continue to witness the evolution of this industry, it is clear that mannequins will remain a vital component of the retail landscape, continually evolving to meet the ever-changing needs and desires of consumers. In the quest for fashion’s ever-elusive allure, mannequins continue to serve as silent sentinels, standing as a testament to the remarkable intersection of craftsmanship, creativity, and commerce in the world of retail.

How Proportion London can help

Proportion London has been at the forefront of designing and crafting premium mannequins and busts since our establishment in 1867. We proudly uphold the tradition of original artisan techniques and expert craftsmanship, drawing inspiration from our extensive library of original shape moulds and early archive materials. This dedication results in the creation of exquisite forms that have found global acclaim, adorning respected high street and luxury brands, as well as prestigious museums worldwide.

Our proficient teams of sculptors, model makers, and artists are committed to ensuring the impeccable precision of every product we offer. We meticulously handcraft our mannequins using the finest materials, such as fibreglass, to provide our customers with innovative display solutions of the highest quality.

Explore our diverse range of mannequins available to rent or buy, or reach out to us today to discuss your unique requirements.