For many, the shop mannequin is the first point of real contact that they have with a design, which they may previously have seen on the runway or in the media, and this experience informs how they may wear the garment.

Window displays have been a integral part of the shopping experience ever since the late 1950′s; from enticing the customer into the store, to helping some garments take shape and show the consumer what the garment is to look like on the human form, encouraging the customer to try it on.

Proportion London, who specialize in mannequins and bust forms, have supported All Walks Beyond the Catwalk in our most recent project ‘SNAPPED,’ which was held at the National Portrait Gallery, by kindly loaning a collection of vintage inspired mannequins.¬†Click here to see the mannequins in ‘action.’

All Walks recently took a trip to Proportion London in order to see some of their latest mannequins and bust forms. What has got us excited is the range of different skin tones of the mannequins and the company’s positive approach to ethnic diversity. Tanya Reynolds, creative director of Proportion London, says she believes that there is:

“[a restricted] range of skin colours on the catwalks, and when customers come into us they want to emulate the human being using wigs and make up, but they also look for skin tones that then tie in with their shows. So far, too often we don’t see a diversity of skin tones, especially in the darker colours or the more oriental skin tones”

Because of this, Tanya decided to make a change and hired a colour specialist who was researching how different tones appear under different lights. After testing hundreds of different colours they developed about 30 paint shades from very pale to very dark skin tones in order to make their mannequins available in a selection of more realistic and diverse skin tones. Even better, if a customer requests a tone that they do not yet cater for, Proportion London will create one especially, so there are no limits on the skin tones available.

During our collaboration with Proportion London for ‘SNAPPED’, our event at the National Portrait Gallery,
Tanya kindly allowed me to interview her for a recording which was played in the gallery’s Brown Room for the one night only spectacular. I was particularly impressed by Tanya’s description of how make up is applied to the mannequins in order to create different features:

“if we have been successful in sculpting an ambiguous face my make up artist will be able to change the appearance of the face to emulate the number of different cultural differences, when the Make-up artist comes in to paint he paints in oils, however, it wouldn’t be like a oil painting”

Elaborating further about how the mannequin’s initially ambiguous face takes shape, developing a truly individual look, Tanya explained that:

“sometimes the mannequins do not have eye sockets so he [the make-up artist] determines where the eyes are, how large they are, and also what shape and size the lips are… – all of this will be selected against the reference of what the skin shade is”

From my interview with Tanya, I now have an understanding of what Proportion London is doing in order to create diversity in the fashion industry, not through the live models on the catwalk, but through the mannequins that sell clothes to us in the stores. I hope now you too will be able to look at these mannequins and appreciate the true artistry that has gone into creating an ethnically diverse range of looks, through hair and make up, from mannequins that were originally plain and identical.

Here at All Walks we are very excited by what Proportion London are doing in order to create diversity, not just through the models who wear the clothes, but the mannequins that sell the clothes in shop windows. We are now able to appreciate the true art that goes into making mannequins appeal to diverse forms of female beauty, though the hair and make up used. Organisations like Proportion London are shaping the future of diverse beauty in fashion and are certainly breaking the mold in their artistic and creative vision.

Post and all images by Michael Williamson
Michael is a designer, stylist, blogger and an integral member of the All Walks team, having been with us from the very beginning. Check out his blog, Safety-Pin Charm, to keep your finger on the pulse of all things fashion – especially london based. Follow Michael on Twitter @mwfrost

Editor Charlotte Gush, on Twitter @CavaCharlotte