When Eloïse Gilles and Raphaelle de Panafieu graduated from their respective French business schools, they had a very precise idea of where they would apply their knowledge. “We wanted to revivify a French luxury marque on the verge of extinction,” says Gilles. Their quest ended when they discovered Duvelleroy, an haute couture fanmaker founded in 1827. The house prospered until the outbreak of the second world war, when the fashion for fans disappeared overnight, and the Duvelleroy family sold their business to Jules-Charles Maignan. It now rests in the hands of Maignan’s grandson Michel.
In 2010, Maignan gave Gilles and Panafieu carte blanche to transform Duvelleroy into “something more than a collection of curios”. They achieved this by hiring Coralie Marabelle – who has worked with Hermès, Maison Margiela and Alexander McQueen – as their artistic director, and in July 2014 Duvelleroy’s golden yellow and black doors reopened in Paris’s chic seventh arrondissement.
Duvelleroy fans are not just Made in France, they are 100 per cent Made in Paris – by the same haute couture ateliers the house has been using for almost two centuries. Handcrafting a fan takes up to 10 expert skills in a process as intricate as watchmaking: horn, ebony and mother-of-pearl are planed to a maximum thickness of 9/10 of a millimetre; sequins and lace must conform to the same fineness; and pleating requires absolute symmetrical precision – a single millimetre out of true and the fan cannot fold.
For her first creation, Marabelle drew inspiration from Duvelleroy’s art nouveau archives. Her Pop-Up fan (€2,500), in white or nude, has hand-painted petals in silk organza and ostrich feathers on an ebony frame. “The flounces are inspired by the skirts of haute couture ballgowns and create an extra dimension when the fan is folded,” she says. Polka (€950), combines ostrich and guinea-fowl features. In 2012, the same year Duvelleroy was awarded the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant by the French government for excellence in craftsmanship, the brand celebrated another coup – a commission from the mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Madame Hidalgo, herself of Spanish origin, ordered a fan as a gift for Queen Letizia of Spain to commemorate the royal couple’s first official visit to France. The Panache (€495) features peacock neck feathers, favoured for their vivid French-blue hue. Dita Von Teese has been a fan – pun intended – since she received one as a gift from a Parisian beau. As she recalls, it was a “sheer black fan with a jet crystal bow motif”.
Duvelleroy also offers a moderately priced Designer range that reflects a more playful aesthetic. These fans have become the must-have item at front rows – Cara Delevingne and Katy Perry were spotted fanning themselves with the Air Conditioning model [no longer available] – while the Oui! (€45) proves a popular gift for wedding guests and large orders can be customised to coordinate with the colour scheme.
Headdresses are another feather in Duvelleroy’s cap. Modelled on the coifs worn by Swan Lake ballerinas, these elaborate headpieces (from €290) are individually made for clients looking to add dramatic impact to a wedding outfit. “There are no limits,” says Marabelle. “Our response to an unusual request is, ‘Why not?’”