Among the many honours bestowed upon French fanmaker Duvelleroy are its designation as an Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant by the French government (a prestigious mark distinguishing excellence in traditional skills and craftsmanship), and the Légion d’Honneur its founder Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy and his son received from Napoleon III. The latter was among the treasures Duvelleroy’s current owners, Eloïse Gilles and Raphaëlle de Panafieu, found during a recent visit to the home of Michel Maignan (who previously inherited the firm) just outside Paris ahead of the company’s 190th anniversary. Maignan’s collection also included a range of stunning custom-made fans never before seen by the public, and which – alongside Duvelleroy’s new collection – are now on show (1827 to 2017 – 190 Years of Lightness, until Thursday October 19, archives open by appointment only) at its seventh arrondissement store.
“Finding them made us fall in love with the brand all over again,” says de Panafieu, who, together with Gilles, bought Duvelleroy eight years ago. Their discoveries included a flamingo-feather fan from 1880 (the gold G monogram on its tortoiseshell handle the only hint as to the original owner’s identity) and others made with plumage from the swan, blue jay and Hungarian eagle. The pièce de résistance, however, was a 1920s piece made of peacock and pheasant neck feathers. “The blue, turquoise and indigo-coloured feathers are at their most intense on the neck of the peacock,” says de Panafieu. “It would have taken hundreds of hours to sift through the feathers of at least 50 birds to find enough of the same size and hue to create this model.”
Each tiny feather is sewn onto a backing of goose feathers to provide a strong and rigid “couteau” structure, a practice still used by Duvelleroy for its haute-couture fans today. As well as such heritage techniques, the company’s 2017 collection has been made using innovative approaches and some materials it has never worked with before. For example, it commissioned textile designer Frédérique Lamagnère to design a fan (€3,800) using recovered plastic hand-sewn with cassette-tape ribbon, while an ultramarine cotton fan (€75) has been laser-perforated with polka dots before being as intricately and meticulously hand-assembled as those archive fans from the belle époque.
A minimalist leather fan (€320) in forest green, marine, tan or black is proving incredibly popular, I am told, while highlights of the new haute-couture collection include the Ostrich Plume Tie and Dye fan (€2,000) in midnight blue on an ebony mount, and a lighter version (€3,800) in indigo and white with a white mother-of-pearl mount.
In another Duvelleroy first, Gilles and de Panafieu have gone beyond fans to commission a pair of limited edition fan-shaped wall appliqués in brushed brass (€500) – perfect for creating seductively low lighting, and in a way another nod to the past. After the second world war, when the fashion for fans was waning, Duvelleroy used its skills in plissage (pleating), embroidery, cutting and planning to also produce opera glasses, evening bags and leather handbags.