I have flown into Milan on the 09:15 from Heathrow. The world famous fashion designer Vivienne Levandi has arranged for me to have a consultation with her friend Maria Fibonacci. Maria is known as the Queen of Silicon. This is going to be quite an experience – I don’t think I will ever have done anything like this before because… I am here to get fitted out with my very first pair of fake boobs!
Now let me say straightaway that, as a cross-dresser, I am not particularly obsessed with breasts and have been perfectly happy with my padded bras. Really, I’m here because it’s one of those awkward situations where someone has made really quite involved arrangements for you and, although you know you should have been more insistent when it was first suggested, you’ve left it too long and now it would be rude to back out.
I am touched, and not a little impressed, to see that it is Maria herself who meets me at the Arrivals Gate. She is not at all as I have expected. I imagined her to be a thirtysomething business executive type, running her own successful factory but she is much older, about 60, and every inch an Italian Mamma. As we drive to her factory she tells me how she came to set up her business. “When I wasa the fashion student, I wasa livin with a drag queen. Singin every night, she was, in the bars of Roma. Every night she aska me to stuff her bras with the little socks. ‘Enrico,’ I say, ‘You should geta yourself a proper pair, I’m tired of screwing upa the socks.’
‘Maria, you should maka me a pair!’ was his reply – and I did. Soon I wasa makin the boobs for all her friends, soon I was spendin the time makin more boobs than the dresses. And so, I starta the business. Small at first, like little boobs, then big, like big boobs.
Unbelievably, Maria still only makes for drag queens. Apparently, there is a worldwide network of them on LinkedIn and her product is in high demand, with a two-month waiting list.
When we arrive at the factory, I can see that she has taken this policy even further, for every one of her workforce appears to be a drag queen. She insists that everyone is in character when they are at work. She says It focuses their attention and boosts productivity. ‘Come!’ says Maria. ‘We taka the tour. Come and meet ma girls. First, is the design studio.’
The design studio is a beautifully lit and furnished glass box in the corner of the factory floor, with two middle-aged men working ‘Ciao, Signorina Maria!’ they say as we enter.
‘Ciao, girls’ Maria replies. She gives each designer a squeeze around the shoulders as she leans over their drawing boards to see what they are doing. ‘Very good, Paulo,’ she says to the first, ‘but I thinka the left is a little bigger thana the right.’ Paulo insists it’s not. Maria makes him get his ruler out to check and he shrugs and reaches for the rubber.
‘Benito, you always draw such graceful curves,’ she says to the second designer who sits back, smiles and gives me a nod of welcome. ‘Maybe a little more weight?’
‘Maybe,’ grins Benito. ‘Maybe not.’ The studio is very hot and Paulo and Benito are sitting in just a bra and panties. As we leave, I say I hope they fix the heating soon.
‘No,’ they reply, ‘Is ow Maria like it’. She want us to think “boobs” all tha time.’
Thankfully, it is much cooler on the factory floor. ‘Next it is the sculpting.’ says Maria, and we meet Alessandro. He is an impressive six foot six tall but then I notice he’s wearing six-inch stiletto heels. He is fully dressed in drag and looks fabulous. He’s wearing a tall blonde beehive wig and has the longest lashes I have ever seen. But the effect is slightly spoilt by the smears of clay across his cheek and I notice his hands are covered in the stuff.
He doesn’t speak English, it seems, but I point at his gorgeous sequinned dress and express my appreciation with what I think is the right Italian action, kissing the tips of my fingers. Alessandro grumbles something in Italian and takes us over to his workbench. He shows us a half-shaped mound of clay that is already taking on a recognisable form. He lowers his magnifying visor, picks something out of the clay and holds it up to the light. Maria and I peer closely. It is a sequin. He grumbles again, shrugs, and flicks the sequin away. Maria raises her voice and is clearly not happy. But Alessandro shouts back at her. Unfortunately, I have no idea what they are arguing about. ‘
Bah! Is infuriating man! Every morning we ave the argument. Ee is not the cross-dresser. I say to im if you want to work you ave to weara the clothing. Ee is lucky. I would make im wear just the bra and panties but the clay it get too dry.’
Next, we see how another of Maria’s employees, Stefano, is preparing two of Alessandro’s masterpieces for the mould-making process. Two beautifully sculpted boobs are lying on the bench and Stefano is smearing oil all over them. ‘Ere is special release agent to stopa the sculptures sticking toa the mould’ explains Maria. She calls over a young woman and introduces me to Marina. Marina is her shopfloor manageress and business partner and she is gorgeous. She has thick black wavy shoulder-length hair which she keeps flicking back from her shoulders with a shake of her head. She is smartly dressed in a business suit with a lovely, tightly fitting skirt and short jacket with a fitted waist. As we shake hands, she touches my elbow with her other hand and holds my gaze briefly with her dark eyes. She has that terribly sensual, tactile way that Italians have made their own. ‘Marina is very popular with tha workers,’ explains Maria. ‘They will doa anything she asks.’
‘I bet they do,’ I think, but smile politely.
‘Marina is very good on tha quality control.’ says Maria.
Marina smiles and excuses herself. She goes over to Stefano and lays a hand on his bare shoulder, deftly pulling up his bra strap which has slipped down while he’s been working. ‘Usa more oil’, she says. ‘You must maka them smooth and slippery. Now ruba it in well especially on the ends. You know how I like it done.’
A room has been built in the corner, fitted with pipes and ducts and a large vacuum motor. ‘This is where we maka the moulds’ says Maria as we enter. Inside is Mario, wearing a lovely little black cocktail dress and black strappy sandals. He is wearing a diamonte Alice band to keep his thick black curls out of his eyes as he works. He is concentrating hard and barely looks up as we come in. Maria is explaining the process. ‘We pour galvanising rubber over the prepared sculptures and then apply a vacuum to remove all the bubbles – we don’t want any of the little imperfections to spoil our masterpieces.’
She says something to Mario and he lowers a large suction hose from the ceiling and flicks a switch. There is a loud sucking and slurping noise for a minute and the soft moulds quiver under the suction.
We move on. ‘And ere is where we casta our pieces,’ explains Maria as we enter another room. It is gleaming white and spotlessly clean. Marina introduces me to Sergio. He is dressed from head to foot in a white protective suit. He is wearing a respirator mask and goggles. Although he is almost entirely covered, I can see he has beautifully plucked, painted eyebrows and lovely silvery blue eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara. I ask Maria how he does the cute little pointed flicks in the outside corners, something I struggle to get right myself. Maria shrugs her shoulders.
Sergio pulls down his respirator to explain. ‘It is Marina. She doa ma flicks every morning. She is, how you say, top notch makeup artist.’ He raises his goggles and the four of us spend several minutes talking about his look. Marina takes the opportunity to redo Sergio’s mascara, which has run a little in the heat. And then Sergio explains how a batch of silicon rubber is made up for each customer, tinted to just the right flesh tone before it is injected under pressure into the finished moulds. ‘And ere are some I mada earlier,’ he says, sliding a metal box over his bench. He turns it upside down, knocks it a few times with a rubber mallet, and slowly raises it off the bench. There is a loud slurping sound like a jelly being released from its mould and there, quivering, on the workbench are a perfectly formed pair of boobs.
‘And that, Lilly, is the end of the tour.’ says Maria. ‘There is of course the finishing process, when we painta the nipples and do any additional customer requests like the freckles. That’s done by Luigi but ee is off today, visiting is mother in Ravenna. And now, I think, is time for your fitting.’
Maria and Marina take me to a beautiful lounge area, with white leather sofas and a glass coffee table with a vase of beautiful white lilies. ‘Especially fora you!’ says Marina.
One of the girls from the office comes in with a tray of espresso coffees and a makeup bag. I perch on the edge the sofa and she sits on the coffee table while she does my makeup. While she is working I admire her gorgeously thick lashes which are heavy with mascara. She tuts and says something to me in Italian when I try and sip my coffee after she has done my lips.
‘You ave to look just right,’ says Maria. ‘We wanta you to look like the real woman, not just the man wearing the rubber boobies.’
And then Marina shows me a catalogue. Their product range is enormous and the choice is bewildering. There are definitely more big ones than small ones and I suppose they must be popular with drag queens looking for something to give them extra stage presence. We flick through page after page of boobs. I have never seen so many and the effect is quite mesmerising. I realise I have stopped listening to what Maria is saying about each pair, and I recognise that growing sense of panic where I am faced with an ever-increasing range of choices but my ability to make a decision is diminishing with every one.
‘What would you suggest?’ I stutter, putting myself entirely in their hands.
Maria and Marina stand back and eye me up and down, professionally. ‘Well,’ says Marina, you are the broad-shouldered. Not too tall, not too short. You don’t wanna to go too big.’
I agree, saying I don’t want to attract attention. They confer in Italian and there is much gesticulating, with cupped hands, waving around in front of my chest. I can’t understand what they’re saying but I can tell from the hands that Maria wants to go bigger and Marina smaller. The young woman who did my make-up, Anna, is sent to fetch a tape measure and with my sizing accurately taken, Maria concedes. ‘We think a Belinda would suita you bene! Anna, could you fetcha our guest a Belinda, size 38C, colour the English Rose, pale?’
While Anna is gone, Maria and Marina get me ready. They have selected a pink skirt for me, with white hold-ups and white shoes with a high heel. A brunette wig, cut in a bob, provides the finishing touch. I am feeling excited and can’t wait to see my new “accessories”. But it gets a little awkward, and I am embarrassed, when they start to talk about my chest hair. ‘It will all ave to come off of course.’ says Maria.
‘Waxa, the crema or the razor?’ asks Marina.
‘Absolutely, definitely, cream!’ I insist.
We sit and have another coffee while the cream does its work. Then Anna returns with several boxes. ‘I broughta the range of colours. I’m nota going to keepa going up and down the stairs.’
‘Now you must wear a blindfold for the next part,’ says Marina, ‘so as not to spoila the surprise. Don’t worry, we giva you the DVD with full instructions on ow to do this yourself.’
A handkerchief is lightly tied over my eyes, so as not to spoil my make-up and I sit there obediently, keenly listening to what is going on. There is a rustle of tissue as the box is opened and a selected pair lifted out. There is a sound like backing paper being pulled off adhesive pads. I gasp involuntarily as something cold is held against my chest and pressed into position. ‘We are sorry. The storeroom it is very cold. They will soon warm up.’
After that, I cannot really tell what they are doing. They are taking great care and rolling something across the top of my chest and smoothing it down. I hear Anna’s make-up bag click open and try to keep still as the three of them stipple foundation over my chest. Then a softer feeling as a powderpuff is used for the finishing touches.
‘There we are!’ they say in unison, you are finished. Three pairs of hands guide me across to a mirror on the wall and sit me down on a stool. They countdown ‘tre, due, uno…’ and off comes handkerchief.
I am lost for words. The effect is absolutely astounding and I just can’t recognise myself. ‘I don’t believe it! That’s amazing! They are beautiful.’ I splutter. Maria, Marina and Anna are grinning from ear to ear, enjoying my reaction. They swivel me from side to side on the stool. They look utterly convincing from all angles. ‘You just can’t see a join,’ I express in admiration.
‘That is our little trada secret!’ explains Maria, smiling. ‘Super-thin edges and the latex over-skin.’ She whispers. ‘Shhh! Don’t tella anyone! With a little practice you will becoma the expert and no one will be able to tell.’
I have enjoyed my visit tremendously but now, sadly it is time for me to leave and return to London. ‘You hava been the perfecto customer!’ say Maria and Marina, joining me in the mirror. ‘Justa look!’ They put their arms around me, resting their chins on my shoulders and giving me a little squeeze. ‘And so, now, Carissima, you have a gorgeous pair of boobs of your own.’ they say. ‘Now you are the real girl. Lilly Bellissima!’
I will remember this moment forever!