The Figesta Story

 

 

It's wonderful to know that made-to-measure corsetry is still thriving in Germany. Herr Schröter (the Director of Hakupa the orthopaedic appliance company that now owns Figesta) invited us to visit the factory in May 2006. Frau Schäfer (Head Fitter) who has worked for Figesta for 15 years showed us the cutting and sewing rooms, measured me for two garments and was kind enough to answer all our questions. We recount below the history of the firm, the factory as we saw it on the tour, and the fitting and ordering process. We are extremely grateful to Herr Schröter and Frau Schäfer for their courteous explanations and help.

Figesta Catalogue 

 

History

The factory started out as the Hannoversche Korsettfabrik in 1951. A magnificent office and works were situated in Hanover itself, a city famous for fabrication and host to so many trade fairs, that a huge area south of the city is reserved for just this purpose. The business thrived until 1984, when the name was changed to Feise-Mieder, and then again to Figesta in 1996. A couple of years ago, Figesta was taken over by Hakupa, a manufacturer of orthopaedic appliances and the old establishment in the city was closed down and the remains moved to Pattensen.

The present factory is situated in a typical, modern industrial estate that can be found in a hundred European towns. Quite anonymous, but new, clean and airy, the entrance to the establishment is quite unexceptional, and, on entering the offices, one could be forgiven for asking what was manufactured here, transistors or trainers ? A potted history of the Hannoversche Korsettfabrik on one wall is the sole give-away.

 

 

Once through the doors of the factory, however, there is no mistaking the purpose of this enterprise. The first room stores huge rolls of materials, brocades, coutils, sateen drill and lace facings. The table top at the end of the room is covered in corset pieces and the floor in discarded trimmings, for this is the cutting room.

 

Patterns hang on the wall (above). These are so important to a corset maker. When Spencer (amazingly) lost their brassiere patterns a few years ago, they simply had to give up making brassieres! The cutters select the pattern appropriate to the customer's requirements and layers of fabric are cut with machine scissors. Multiple fabric layers are a feature of Figesta's products, providing strength and warmth in the right places with a degree of flexibility in others. Corselettes abound (for model 100 is their best seller) both under construction, and garments returned for modification or simply copying. Figesta offer a variety of bespoke services.

 

 

Corset making isn't all sewing machines. Heavy metal jigs and dies are used to fabricate the metal parts.   Figesta still have a few vintage corsets; Figesta ROYAL.

 

Manikins displaying Figesta's wares appear in odd locations, strangely juxtaposed with fuse boxes and complex metal jigs. Figesta historically made everything required for the corset from bones to eyelet holes, but these days, a number of parts are purchased and the old jigs and dies stand as a silent reminders of former days.      Thousands of bones (left); a fortune in dies hardly used (right)

 

The next room is the sewing room where the cut fabric in sown into the shape of the corset. Bone casings, eyelet strips, suspenders are added to each customers' specific requirement. The industrious lady in the picture is copying the corselette of an elderly devotee of the firm. The sewing machines are electric these days, but the layout of the floor is the same as it was 50 years before. Natural light in abundance is vital to protect the eyesight of the sewers in their meticulous and close-focus trade.

 

The factory contains a few examples of the old foot-powered sewing machines. Below is a dedicated machine purely to produce the lace-hole for corsets. Very specialised!

 

The factory also turns out plastic orthopaedic products, but even a casual observer would note that the space to person ratio in the factory is enormous, and that machines outnumber operators by a huge margin. I suppose the change of company name, the take-over, the re-location all spell pragmatism in a declining market. Should one doubt this, regard the images from the Figesta factory in the 1950's.

 

In the halcyon days of the 1950's - 70's, the shop floor boasted dozens of cutters and even more sewers frantically producing corsets both for fashion and function. Materials were available in all colours, and satins, brocades and sumptuous expensive cloths were available. But I've told this story before in the Spirella pages.

 

Let's be grateful that, although Figesta barely boasts a dozen staff with two cutters and two sewers, at least they still exist. Fitters like Frau Schäfer still possess the skill and patience to produce a corset designed uniquely for its wearer. The previous Chief Fitter, who worked for the firm for 40 years, still stands in occasionally when demand warrants her presence. The picture below takes the fancy of everybody who sees it. It speaks of a bygone age, a busier corsetry trade and gorgeous fabrics. Unfortunately, the photographer caught the gentleman with the chalk at an inappropriate moment! The gentleman is in evidence in all the other old photographs for he was the cutting and sewing supervisor, so frequently a male job until female liberation.

 

 

 

 

The Figesta Process and the Fitting

 

Such is the modern world of corsetry, that virtually all clients now order their supports via a doctor in order to claim the costs from their medical insurance. Sadly, this explains the high price of these, albeit high quality, products. Normally the client visits the doctor who passes over a prescription that can be taken to a medical supplies store. A fitter, qualified by Figesta, then measures the client and passes the measurements to Figesta. The article is then cut and constructed but with unfinished seams. The garment passes back to the fitter for final adjustment on the client before being finished, either by the fitter, or back at the Figesta factory. This iterative process is a bit laborious, but it does ensure a fine, tailored fit.

 

In our case, I had phoned in approximate measurements for a pantie-girdle (style 70), and so a half-finished product was waiting for me. This was no problem for Frau Schäfer, for whom the removal of a panel and the substitution of a re-cut one is part and parcel of the job. She made some excellent recommendations on which panels might be doubled up, and which might be left single for ease of movement. It what climate would  the garment be worn? Her questions revealed the depth of experience behind them.

Although I have mentioned that the entry to Figesta's premises is anonymous, even anodyne, the small fitting area is utterly charming, feminine and designed to put clients at their ease. Pastel shades of magnolia abound, some models of their wares are mounted on the wall, the whole comfortable scene set off by contrasting sunflowers. Somebody sensitive designed this area!

 

Figesta's main clientele reside in Germany, however, English translations of their brochures are available, as is an English translation of their website