Thoroughly modern mannequins
‘We are using anti-shock plastic that is 100 per cent recyclable’
and hairbrush to the din of Italian pop music; elsewhere, hot liquid rubber is poured into steel moulds to form legs and arms. ‘A mannequin is a body, so over time it changes a little bit, and make-up, too. But what has really changed is how mannequins are being used,’ Gigi says. ‘Everything is much more neutral today. Architects are also more involved. Brands are opening in many countries and everything inevitably begins to look the same wherever you go.’ The power of the brand has created a culture of bland.
In 1996, Gigi’s son Mattia joined the firm as CEO and instigated a quiet revolution matching modern manufacturing with an artisanal finish – everything is still touched by human hand. Mattia is as methodical as his father is madcap. ‘You need to have a passion, but we are always working on how to show ourselves in different ways,’ he says. He has made the production cycle more sustainable, too. ‘Until 2000, we were making the moulds through foundry cast, the same way you would cast bronze, but this created so much pollution that we had to find a new way.’ Today, prototypes are first sculpted by hand in plasticine and then 3D-scanned. A bank of milling machines then uses this data to create the aluminium moulds into which molten plastic is tipped. A La Rosa mannequin can cost anything between €700 and €1,200. Handled with care, it will last for up to ten years.
At present, La Rosa has around 800 items in its catalogue, including a new patented system that allows for a figure to be fixed in five different positions at the push of a button. The archive includes bespoke creations for Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Nicolas Ghesquière and Alber Elbaz. Set upright in the corner of Gigi’s chaotic office is a 6ft form made up of linen-covered ovals and triangles reminiscent of a sculpture by Brâncuși. Tastes may be flat-lining, but creating display mannequins in a world full of digital avatars has given Gigi a new frontier to cross. ‘In the 1960s, we introduced blowmoulded plastic, which was much more modern. Today, we’re using anti-shock plastic that is 100 per cent recyclable. We had to adjust our systems, but now we can remould and recast everything we make – we can keep remaking and remaking,’ he says. ‘Innovation is expensive. But it cannot stop.’
a Robot mannequin designed by La Rosa for outerwear brand Moncler in 2016
Craftsmen hold a piece of very hot plastic that has just been extruded, ready to be deposited in a mould A true face-cast head made for the 2008 Euroshop retail trade fair