The modern Western history of the fan began with the Portuguese, who imported fans from Japan in the sixteenth century, but it was in Paris that the epic story of the fan ‘in the French style’ began. Catherine de' Medici, queen consort of King Henry II of France transformed the fan into a paradigm of the ideal court accessory, and it was in the time of Louis XIV that the passion for fans emerged in a culture that literally ‘breathed Versailles’.
The use of this accessory remained strictly regulated and corresponded to the development of the new codes of gallantry: there was no question, for example, of opening a fan in the presence of the queen.
With the French Revolution (1789-1799) the first golden age of the fan in France has ended. The fan was the symbol par excellance of the privileges of an aristocracy that had been forced into exile, and the only fans still tolerated were those referred to as ‘à la cocarde nationale’ - those considered properly patriotic.
But, not all was lost. In the XIX century France, the daughter-in-law of Charles X, the Duchess of Berry, launched the fashion for fans during a masked ball held at the Tuileries on a carnival Monday in 1829, two years after Jean-Piere Duvelleroy had established the company that bore his name. The Duvelleroy saga began. Jean-Piere became famous Parisian fan maker, popular with the aristocracy and the privileged, and Parisian creativity in terms of fan making reached its apogee. The nineteenth century Duvelleroy hand fans are the perfect example of Parisian luxury during the Second Empire and the Belle Époque, but their Art Nouveau fans speak more to us - twenty-first century audience.
In 2010 two friends, in their twenties at the time, Raphaëlle Le Baud and Eloïse Gilles, got together on a quest of reawakening the legitimacy of French centuries-old legacies and the rare know-how.
Raphaëlle Le Baud comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Eloïse Gilles had been looking for a while to buy a ‘company with the heritage’. So began their venture: the idea was ‘to wake up the Sleeping Beauty’; to relaunch the fashion for fans - objects which had graced all of Paris’ salons for more than four centuries; object present in every culture, but which Paris turned into a fashion icon.
It was Paris Haute Couture Week in January this year. I was running from one show to another, when I suddenly passed 17 Rue Amélie. Yellow windows of the Duvelleroy shop and glamorous ostrich feather fans got my attention, and, although almost being late for the next presentation, I could not help myself but enter. Fashion fans, luxury fans, feather headdresses! Being the person who always has a hand-fan in her bag, I felt like I discovered a treasure island! The girls showed me all their latest products, and safely kept magnificent designs from Duvelleroy archive. I was amazed and immediately wanted to know all about them, their venture, Duvelleroy and the spirit of lightness.
Eloïse Gilles shared my enthusiasm and answered my many questions.
Tanja Beljanski: Why did you want to buy and revitalize a company with a heritage and not start the one from scratch?
Eloïse Gilles: Raphaëlle Le Baud and I both came from the luxury field: Raphaëlle from the retail, and me from brand consulting. My former job was to advise CEOs and executives on how to revive and make relevant the history and know-how of the heritage luxury maisons.
I was looking for a brand to take over. Raphaëlle was wearing a fan when I met her. We believed in the come-back of fans, especially in a time where you need to disconnect. We decided to look for a house of fans with a history.
Before that, we had both studied literature. In a way, we already shared a taste for reading and writing stories. And together we grew a true respect for crafts, that neither of us mastered but which both of us thought essential.
We met Michel Maignan, the heir of the archives of the original Duvelleroy Maison. He took us to the attic of his house and unveiled the treasures he had safely kept there for years: hundreds of paper archives, original drawings, pieces of furniture from the boutique of the 19th Century, fans, feathers… It was literally like entering Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
That was the beginning of our story to humbly add a chapter to the book started nearly 200 years ago.
TB: What fascinated you about the hand-fans to make you choose for Duvelleroy?
EG: We fell in love with the Parisian style of the fans we found in the archives: made of organza, froufrous, feathered patterns, sequined tulle, and ever so light and thin! Besides the beauty and savoir-faire, there is the “ethos” behind the object.
Using a fan is not just a simple refreshing gesture; it is also a way to reconnect yourself to the real world – while holding your fan, you’re most likely not holding a phone! It becomes part of a body language.
Fans are part of an art de vivre, where the accessory is essential; playing and communicating are daily must-haves.
TB: Was it difficult to find the artisans in France when you started?
EG: Part of the treasure Michel Maignan held was immaterial. It was the knowledge and the craft. He introduced us to Frédérick Gay, the fan maker partner to this day. We immersed ourselves into the original writings of Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy to try and reinvent modern fan-making à la française. For our couture fan collections, we met craftsmen with specific know-hows, tabletiers for cutting the wood and mother of pearl frames, feather ateliers such as Maison Fevrier or Légeron, textile weavers, embroiderers or enhancers most of which are based in Paris. For our ready-to-wear fans, we partnered with a traditional atelier in Spain. Each fan is hand pleated and hand assembled.
TB: Tell us about the luxury à la française. Are there more young entrepreneurs who are working on reawakening the legitimacy of French centuries-old legacies and the rare know-how?
EG: French luxury is a heritage of Louis XIV and the political will of encouraging arts & crafts as a demonstration of prowess. There is a tradition of manual know-hows which was maintained over the centuries in France; ornamental furniture, gastronomy, classified vineyards, high-jewelry and haute couture are eloquent examples.
The legitimacy brought by history and differentiation brought by rare know-hows have long been identified as key to the luxury industry.
Repetto, Goyard, Ladurée, Moncler, Moynat, Roger Vivier, Vionnet, Schiaparelli are all Sleeping Beauty brands awakened by entrepreneurs or luxury groups. More recently, Faure Lepage, Lignereux or Bully are examples of brands launched or revived in the spirit of a legacy.
The know-hows of ateliers such as Mr Lognon or Mr Légeron are perpetuated by luxury groups, and sometimes, by courageous and passionate entrepreneurs such as Anne Anquetin at trimmings workshop Passementerie Verrier.
It is something in the air. It’s cliché to say but yet so true: in a time of constant connection and speed, the need for analogue anchorage and the valorization of handmade imperfection are signs of a quest to re-humanize our world.
TB: Who designs Duvelleroy fans today?
EG: Most of our designs are made in-house, rooted in the archives but with a contemporary twist. We collaborate with designers or illustrators from time to time to bring in a new look to our fans. For instance, Coralie Marabelle (Public Award at the 2014 Hyères Fashion Festival) created shapes inspired by the “frou frou” fans from the archives of the original house. Iris de Moüy, Parisian illustrator, played with the Maison’s mischievous codes to create prints for the fashion fans.
TB: How and where do you produce them?
EG: The Couture fans are made one by one in France by Frederick Gay (in Romans sur Isère) according to the tradition of French Fan making. We collaborate with several craftsmen or craftswomen for specific techniques such as straw marquetry or weaving. The Duvelleroy fashion fans are manufactured in small series by a family-run partner atelier based near Valencia, the Spanish birthplace of hand-fans. Each cotton leaf is stiffened, pleated and mounted by hand on wood frames.
TB: The finest material used for hand-fans…
EG: I believe all materials can be fine. It all depends on how it is worked; value very often comes from the time and skill of the artisan. For instance, straw. In itself it is not precious, but once tinted and cut and stuck as a marquetry, it plays with light as no other material does. Or mother-of-pearl: to make the first rib called “panache”, you need 6 to 8 chips of the shell, each chip being peeled of and assembled. The artisan who does these mother of pearl frames has 20 years of experience.
For me this time and experience are the preciousness.
TB: When paying homage to the original Duvelleroy’s spirit, what inspires you with the house code?
EG: The original Maison had a very specific tone. Humor and lightness were always part of its way of communicating and creating.
That lightness is far and foremost our guide for any signs, be it a product or an image the maison: light as air but also light as funny and mischievous.
Then of course there are iconic shapes, such as the balloon shape (again a reminder of lightness), identified savoir-faire such as the work of feathers and sequins, and strong inspirations, such as the Art Nouveau style which was very influential on the Maison.
TB: What is your favorite hand-fan in Duvelleroy history?
EG: Difficult to choose of course. I had to choose two for the covers of the book on Duvelleroy, published in 2020 (one in English, one in French).
The “Point de Hongrie” fan, with a balloon shape for the leaf, a serpentine frame made of tortoise shell. The tulle is almost entirely covered with glass beads following a pattern used for Parisian wooden floors, the “Point de Hongrie”.
The “Swan fan”, fluffy and light as a cloud. It is made of white feathers, structured en quinconce, and looks like whipped cream.
TB: What is today a must-have Duvelleroy piece?
EG: The “Mask fan” with eyes cut out in the leaf, to see without being seen: pure fun! The “Palmettes fan” in leather, graphic, useful both to create air with style, and to create visual impact as an object, open on a chimney mantle.
TB: Who is the biggest fan of your fans?
EG: Hard to say… Katy Perry and Cara Delevingne were amongst the first to wear our “Air Conditioning fan” designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. We will never forget that. Today, I’d say our biggest fan is Elle Fanning. The way she reinvented the language of the fan is a pure magic! Once she set the foot on rue Amélie, it was for our biggest joy!
* For further reading I recommend you the book: “Duvelleroy - Treasures of the Parisian Couture Handfan” by Marie-Clémence Barbé-Conti, Preface by Christian Lacroix, Published by Duvelleroy in 2020.
** This story by Tanja Beljanski first appeared in the April 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.