Display windows are our portal to what remains of the analogue consumer world. Fashion, in particular, cries out to be staged, whether to convey the character of specific garments, to evoke a certain lifestyle or to communicate the image of the label being sold, and persuade people to buy it. Although not always consciously noticed by passers-by, mannequins play a key role in this process. These days they are to be had in countless different poses, materials, proportions, and abstractions of the human body.
Having been creating stylised mannequins of timeless elegance for over sixty years, the Italian company Bonaveri has a long tradition to draw on. Some 20,000 figures roll off the line at its factory in Renazzo di Cento every year. We talked to managing director Andrea Bonaveri, son of Bonaveri’s founder, about its latest collection “Aloof”, the production processes and the company’s design philosophy.
Who is responsible for designing a new collection?
“Aloof” was the first collection we chose to develop in collaboration with an external designer, Emma Davidge. Otherwise, I am the one who as art director with a team of assistants and sculptors – most of them come from the Brera Academy in Milan – creates the new collections.
What other professions work in the Bonaveri factory in Renazzo di Cento?
In the factory there is the sculpting atelier as well as the industrial production. Four sculptors work full time on the development of new figures both for bespoke requests and for our own collections. At the moment there are nearly 60 people working on the production lines. Each person has been trained to become self-sufficient on her or his task. Of course some of the tasks require artistic skills, but the rest is involved in managing the technical aspects of the production. Even though mannequins are produced on industrial lines they need to be carefully looked after by workers to test and refine them.
What are the production stages that the mannequins have to go through before leaving the factory?
Once the concept for a collection has been found, we photograph real models in the poses that the mannequins will take later. Then it is the turn of the sculptors to create miniature models out of clay to allow us to check the design. Next comes a life-size model of the mannequin and the long process of modifying it to arrive at the definitive version. Only when we are content with the proportions and feel can we proceed to mass production. After rolling off the line, every mannequin undergoes a rigorous quality inspection fully assembled before shipment.
What are the reasons for you to create a new collection?
It could be a market analysis that reveals a gap in the market, but more often it is a sort of artistic urge for creating something new and fresh. Then an inspiration causes us to design better lines and more expressing features. Sometimes a client’s request can end up in a proper collection, too.
Who are your clients?
Bonaveri dedicates its products to the highest range of fashion businesses. But we also partner with fashion institutes and museums, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
How long does the development of a collection take?
For a brand new collection it takes nearly a year.
Is there a Bonaveri style?
Bonaveri produces two lines of mannequins: first, Schläppi, which are stylized, hyper iconic figures with stylish long limbs and postures. And then there is the Artistic Mannequins line with anatomic figures and busts. We do not produce realistic mannequins with wigs or eyes.
What are the mannequins made of? Do you search for new materials and finishings?
The mannequins are made of PVC or fibreglass. But we also offer some parts in other materials like wood. We do have a research lab dedicated to improve all aspects of production and foster innovations in technique as well as materials – but in the end the quality of craftsmanship is rather crucial.
Do you have an ideal of beauty for the mannequins? Do you follow trends?
Mannequins should be able to have their own personality, we say “soul”. To get there it takes a lot of experience and sensitivity on where beauty lies. If you go through all Bonaveri products, there is a common factor of timeless elegance that also makes the mannequins to be long lasting. They are not only fashionable for a season, we rather try to make our visions become trends.
Do you see mannequins as having an aesthetic value in their own right, or are they merely the clothes rack for fashion?
Mannequins are meant to present clothes at their very best and to deliver the message of the shop or brand. To be able to do so, they have to offer a perfect fitting, as well as adding something special to the overall window composition. People should not be aware of what that certain something is; but it is that certain something that makes a mannequin a good one.