Since it was founded in Paris in 1831, Deyrolle has been an extraordinary cabinet of curiosities packed to the rafters with rare and charismatic taxidermy. To walk up the stairs to the first floor is to enter a world of fantasy: polar bears, lions, giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs and birds (from €600) from every corner of the globe intermingle on the floor, crouch on the furniture and perch on the shelves that rise to the ceiling. There are cupboards stacked with boxes of spiders, beetles, butterflies and other creatures that creep and crawl.
“Deyrolle is a Noah’s Ark where animals like to be next to each other. They have no animosity, no antagonism,” says its owner, Prince Louis Albert de Broglie, a former banker who bought the shop in 2001. Also known as “Le Prince Jardinier” because of the national conservatory of tomatoes he has created at his Loire château, de Broglie may extol the romance of his higgledy-piggledy menagerie, but is at heart a man of science. “Deyrolle for me is a temple of observation,” he says. “You cannot observe plants, animals, ecosystems without trying to understand how they relate to each other and cooperate with each other.” A man who exudes optimism, he is also acutely aware of the crisis the planet faces. “By destroying the ecosystem we are destroying ourselves at the end of the day,” he says.
In the 19th century, Deyrolle created educational wall charts – botanical, zoological, entomological – and now provides material relating to sustainable development and climate change. It also sells de Broglie’s own range of garden equipment and clothing, including a practical stainless-steel and hardwood potato shovel (€50) and a rather more flippant tennis umpire’s chair (€2,000).
But it’s the – once – flesh-and-blood creatures that are the stars. The shop lost more than 90 per cent of its stock in a fire in 2008, but has risen from the ashes and replaced its collections. (It observes the Washington Convention’s rules on international trade in endangered species, and most animals have died of natural causes in zoos and parks.) Among the current highlights are a red panda (€14,300), a tamarin monkey (€5,550), a golden tiger (€38,000) and a polar bear (€37,000) standing full height on its hind legs. Collectors come from around the world: Salvador Dalí was a fan; today’s patrons include Paul Smith, Hubert de Givenchy, Danielle Steel and Damien Hirst. But de Broglie wants it to be as much a place for “a five-year‑old starting a collection of butterflies” as for a grown-up paying €30,000-plus for a tiger.
In addition to selling its own stock, Deyrolle stuffs to commission (from about €250), though not family pets – and not, de Broglie laughs, stepmothers. “We’ve had strange requests. One man said, ‘I really want to bring in my stepmother to stuff because she was impossible.’ Apparently, he was very serious. Of course,” says de Broglie, deadpan, “we had to decline.”