Peter and Joaquín got me this wonderful Poupée (a milliners working head, also known as a marotte) for my birthday. A Poupée is a stylized representation of a head . It’s made out of papier-maché and covered in canvas. A head like this is wonderful to do hand modeled hats, draped turbans and generally to get a feel of how a hat is going to look on a person. The canvas (calico) covering allows you to pin as you work along.
These heads get treasured for generations and never get thrown away. Milliners use them even if they’re all worn and weathered, that only adds to their personality, and they still do their job wonderfully.
In an interview in 2007, extraordinary milliner Stephen Jones said, when asked what he thought to be an essential gadget: “The thing I use every day is a poupée, a fabric head. I build shapes on it, using any material at all; it can be a piece of velvet or a tissue – anything can look great as a hat”. He has also designed a poupée inspired hat with beautiful black felt eyes and red mouth as part of the collection of hats to be sold at the V&A shop inspired by the exhibition.
You can still find one of these heads, if you’re lucky, second hand. Nina has a gorgeous vintage one (pictures left).
If you cannot (like I couldn’t) find an old one, there are fortunately still a couple of manufacturers that make them new, following the old methods and using old molds, so they look exactly the same as the old ones (ok, almost the same… new ones are cleaner). Mine is made by Siegel Stockman (same as Nina’s), a french manufacturer of forms and mannequins that started business in the 19th century.
The difference between these heads and the wig canvas blocks that are easy to find on the internet is the fact that the poupée has a chin (and nose!) while the wig blocks do not have them.
When you buy a new head it it comes “blank”, cream canvas, no eyes, no mouth. Traditionally these poupées got their eyes and mouth hand painted (like the one Nina bought), and sometimes even glued in felt, although there are people who prefer to keep them “plain”.
I would like my poupée to have features, and the day I got her I took a pair of scissors, some black cardboard and I cut out for her a couple of 50’s eyes and a little mouth, just to see how it would look. Here cardboard features are temporarily pinned in place which gives her a kind of voodoo look I’m afraid, but it must be said that she looks gorgeous with features on!!! … Painting permanent features would be great, but one false move with the brush and… I don’t even want to think about it!
Let me know what you think about my new friend, and also let me know if you have any suggestions concerning the features and how to paint them.
Have you got your own poupée? If so it would be great if you could share a picture, I would love to meet her!
Update 28 May: I have created a Flickr group called Millinery Heads so everyone can join and share the pictures of their poupées, mannequin heads or even hat stands! Join in: http://www.flickr.com/groups/millinery_heads/