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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

DAVID BOWIE is … in the mannequin workshop.

I make no bones about it darlings - I adore David Bowie in all forms and incarnations. I expect you've been to the wonderful new Exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum by now - so I thought you would like to know the story behind the making of the mannequin on which the costumes were displayed. 

Enduringly iconic and highly influential, the style of David Bowie has always fascinated and enthralled his numerous fans worldwide. Now for the first time, an exhibition dedicated to his chameleon persona has debuted at London’s V&A museum and with a record breaking 67,000 tickets already sold, the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition is set to become a global phenomenon.

For my chums over at proportion>london it was more than an honour to have been involved in such a ground breaking showcase, working with the organisers on the creation of 54 display figures for the show. In spite of the fact that proportion have a long history of collaboration with the curators of this world respected Museum of art and design, the brief for this project was no less awesome a thought when the commission was revealed late in 2011. Doing justice to such a distinctive and well-loved collection of stage costumes when the eyes of Bowie's fastidious fans know the cut, fold and detail of each piece meant very particular reflection on fit and appropriate visual style. Working alongside the V&A’s Costume Display Specialist, Lara Flecker and taking as a start point proportion>london's already svelte Metropolitan mannequin collection, it soon became apparent from meticulous measurements taken from each garment that a leaner body was called for!

This fact established; renowned mannequin sculptor Rob Patterson was called upon to re-sculpt the figure, keeping the style but refining the shape and size. Toiles; canvas copies of keys outfits were produced to assist in the laborious process of fitting and honing the shape of the clay form, necessary to avoid putting stress on the delicate seams and fabric of some of Bowie's most spectacular outfits. Alongside the figure, the proportion team also worked from a life-cast of Bowie’s face, creating a mask to be mounted over the mannequin’s facial features, reinforcing the projection of Bowie's multi-imaged persona in each set.

From the initial ultra-lean sculpted figure, proportion’s skilled team of technicians cut and crafted each show-figure to the specific position briefed by the V&A’s team, overcoming many visual and technical problems along the way. Stances such as a crouching figure wearing the knitted asymmetric Ziggy Stardust bodysuit from 1972 were particularly challenging, causing proportion’s Head Technician Sam Hoye to concoct an ingenious way to construct and assemble the figure without damaging the costume. Her skills were further tested when presented with a re-sculpt of the feet to fit various higher heeled shoes; although working entirely from measurements and visual reference, the insteps were perfectly matched!

Sculptor Rob Patterson shown at his studio, face to face with the clay and breaking open a mannequin mould
The figures finally arrived at the museum during February, leaving just over a month for the exhibition team to layout the sets and
dress the mannequins into their final position. From a vast and inspiring collection of artefacts gathered by the Bowie Archive over many years, those items selected all came together perfectly to form a stunning and memorable showcase – a major credit to the V&A and indeed proportion>london.

 various stages of the mannequin production at the proportion>london workshops in north-east London

The DAVID BOWIE IS exhibition runs from March 23rd until August 11th 2013 for more information visit http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/david-bowie-is/ 

Final installation of a Kansai Yamamoto bodysuit - Image supplied by © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
More proportion>london projects can be seen at www.proportionlondon.com

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