Our lives are often paradoxical. But the life of a mannequin, a really good mannequin, is even more so, suspended, as it is, between the need to be invisible (it certainly can’t steal the scene from the clothing it is wearing) and the need to enhance the garments, giving them an irresistible physicality that makes them truly come to life.
The Bonaveri company, the world leader in the design and manufacture of high-end mannequins, has achieved great success as a result of having brilliantly resolved this paradox, by creating mannequins that we have all seen without seeing them, in the shop windows of the most important designers, at fashion exhibition in museums around the world, and at the studios of fashion trendsetters.
Romano Bonaveri was 22 years old in 1950 and was building the papier-mâché Carnival floats of Cento (Province of Ferrara) when a random statement made by his friend, who was a tailor, gave him a good idea: “even the busts in my tailor’s shops are made of papier- mâché”. This was the spark that led to the foundation of a company that now has a spot in all of the most important shop windows (Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Tom Ford, Brunello Cucinelli, Lanvin, Valentino, just to name a few). Bonaveri produces 18-20,000 mannequins a year and has liaison offices on every continent. In Renazzo di Cento, a little town shrouded in the fog of the Padana Plain, papier- mâché busts were created first, then plastic mannequins in the 1960’s. Starting in the 1990’s resins began to be used along with wood parts or fabric coverings (with a level of expertise that is truly unique throughout the world).
It is here that stylists come to choose the new line that they want to put a stamp on their collections and the image of their brands. It is here in the sculpting workshops, staffed by art academy graduates, where research is done using cutting-edge body scanners, that tests are carried out using clay models to find the best forms that will not only enhance the clothing but transfer to viewers a concept of beauty and modernity that many brand imitators have still not been able to duplicate.
It is a story that is part of the finest Italian handicraft tradition, one that not only represents our best products, but allows us to take a 60-year journey into the evolution of the concept of beauty and the fashion industry.
The forms and styles of the mannequin, starting with the super-realistic ones that had makeup, glass eyes and teased wigs, to stylised, streamlined and translucent forms, tell us how beauty is not univocal and immobile, but changes and evolves with social changes. But, with their diffusion and affirmation they also tell of the change in business, of the greater pervasiveness of fashion and purchasing behaviours in the lives of people. Of how stylists, starting in the 1990’s and afterward, became much more than clothing designers, creating a true world made up of lifestyles, environments and an idea of beauty that only a mannequin that is perfectly made – with the ability to resolve the paradox – is able to convey.