(Photo Credit: Shapely Shadow, 2010) The Shapely Shadow dressform company was started in the mid-1990s by Canadian businesswoman and multi-time entrepreneur Ilona Foyer (first name pronounced il-OWN-a). Shapely Shadow quickly grew to become the leader in shape and quality for higher level garment manufacturers. Foyer's clients included some of the best patternmakers in the world, and though she kept mostly silent about her clientele, industry insiders knew that pattern teams from Ralph Lauren, Club Monaco, Victoria's Secret, Macy's and many others from mass to designer levels built fit programs around custom forms from Shapely Shadow. Before the closing of Shapely Shadow in January 2011, I was privileged to be one of the last customers to receive a Shapely Shadow dressform shipment. My order was an interchangeable set of two full body forms that divided at the waist to create a combination of shapes that conform to the variations in the standard misses' size 8 drawn from TC2 Size USA data. These beautifully shaped, realistic forms will continue to be the foundation of the Fashion Belle collection of sewing patterns for years to come. We are thankful to Ilona Foyer for the research she did to make our Size USA interchangeable set an integral part of the success of our business.
Prior to entering the dressform manufacturing field, Foyer successfully started, built and sold several other profitable businesses. As a result, she brought investment capital, marketing experience and tech savvy to Shapely Shadow with a force that set new standards among dressform competitors including Alvanon and Tukatech. When soft body forms were first being pioneered by Tukatech and Shapely Shadow in the late 1990s, Foyer experimented with casting materials and was the first to release forms made from material soft enough to react like real flesh. Her expertise in that area landed her an exclusive contract with Victoria's Secret to provide all the forms used for that company's foundation garment fittings, revolutionizing their fit process through reduction in cost by cutting down the number of required live fittings.
Foyer also had a wealth of technology to offer companies that utilized the traditional linen-covered hard forms. First, she worked with researchers from the Size USA study who had categorized data from body scans of thousands of people from different ethnicities in the United States. She hired a programmer to develop software to extract shapes from the data and found six basic shapes among four ethnicities. These findings assisted her as she consulted with companies seeking to cater fit to target groups of customers. The findings also enriched smaller companies like our own through Foyer's production of forms with interchangeable tops and bottoms that can be combined and padded to create different shapes for the standard misses' 8 base size, ensuring that any designed garment will work for multiple body types. Second, Foyer used body scanning technology to create custom forms for dozens of top fashion models from Ford Models, allowing New York couture houses to create draped patterns that fit accurately for runway shows, reducing time-consuming fit sessions with the high-dollar models. Third, Foyer conducted body scans for specific groups including the Chinese market, dramatically increasing sales for the companies with whom she worked in establishing targeted fit profiles.
Shapely Shadow dressforms were manufactured in Los Angeles, California, using the highest quality of materials and specifications. Foyer met guarantees to her clientele to deliver forms that measured within 1/8" of requested specifications. The stand design for the forms was unparalleled on the market, with a lightweight metal and compact base that allowed patternmakers to work around the forms without interference. Product research, quality materials and U.S.-based manufacturing was ultimately reflected in the price, with a form and stand in the range of $2,500 to $3,000, well worth the cost to companies that depended on Shapely Shadow quality. The market for dressforms, however, is limited. Over time, Foyer found that she could not sustain a desirable level of growth, especially as lower-priced competitors that manufactured in Asia began to copy her techniques. It was with great sadness that we discovered Foyer had closed the Shapely Shadow portion of her business in January 2011 to concentrate on sales of her FastFit360 software. Foyer's daughter, Roxy Starr, who was an expert customer service manager for Shapely Shadow, continues to work with her mother in marketing FastFit360 software, maintaining an impressive client list including billion-dollar global apparel manufacturers.
Another dressform manufacturer salesperson with whom we spoke communicated that Shapely Shadow's former customers have been coming to them with requests for duplicates of old Shapely Shadow forms, and they are unable to satisfy them with Asian-based manufacturing efforts. This is our sentiment as well, that the technology Foyer pioneered, with her U.S.-based manufacturing methods and realistic shapes, is still unmatched in the industry. Foyer emailed us in November 2011, ". . . I still miss the manufacturing, but don’t miss trying to explain why mine cost more. Our software is now used by Li & Fung, Polo Ralph Lauren, Macy’s and many more." She also commented that if a market emerges again for high quality dressforms, ". . . We can start it all up again. . . . As Americans we should always be proud of our quality and methods. Looking forward to working with you in the future."
The information for this article was gleaned from visits in person, via phone and email with Ilona Foyer and Roxy Starr from 2006 to 2011. In closing, we would like to express our thanks to both of these brilliant ladies for their contribution to the apparel industry by way of its most important tool, the dressform. We hope that Foyer and Starr will keep their vision alive of one day bringing their experience back into some aspect of the apparel dressform market. A revival of Shapely Shadow manufacturing would be celebrated by many.