FOREARMS PIVOTING BRISKLY as if mechanical, fan leafs flapping vigorously in steady tempo, then the occasional full-spread pause to conceal whispers, or a masterful clapping-shut that usually precedes getting up to go. Beyond the functional motions performed with the hand-held folding fan, it is said that secret codes were maintained by women back in the day, to express certain sentiments with fan-propped gestures. One-eyed peering behind a fully-opened fan says "I am engaged." Hiding the bottom half of the face with both eyes revealed says "Follow me." This same gesture with the fan half-closed expresses "I love you." And a completely shut fan, held on opposite ends by each hand says "I wish to speak to you."
Many versions of the fan code exists online, and I wonder whether my grandmother too, had used these gestures to subtly communicate with another. She didn't have fancy fans, as we lived humbly, and I remember her having an ivory-colored plastic one with a fabric leaf, as well as a Chinese sandalwood one, whose distinct scent was intoxicating. With these fans did I practice my motions: the rapid fanning while swiveling only the forearm, the one-handed whip open and alternately, the one-handed whip shut. Masterful handling of the folding fan may be a lost skill today, but it is a skill, no doubt!
Surpassing their primary function of inducing air flow for cooling oneself, the hand-held folding fan has, through history, risen into and fallen out of popularity, at its peaks serving as a symbol for status and artistry. Today, fans are generally considered a novelty item, reserved mainly for cultural performances, and excluded from the usual roster of women's accessories.
Eloise Gilles and Raphaelle de Panafieu think otherwise. Partnering with the only remaining Parisian fan-making house, the duo gives a second wind to Duvelleroy, whose origins in 1827 were also brought about by a desire to revive the hand-held fan.
With exotic-feather leafs and mother-of-pearl guards, the couture fans take up to 200 hours to hand-craft by up to ten different craftsmen. Looking like large, delicate jewels and averaging at the same cost as your it bag, perhaps Duvelleroy's creations won't bring folding fans back to the average woman's daily wardrobe. But maybe they'll gain fans where dress code is the main event.
Midnight Birds fans by Duvelleroy, www.duvelleroy.fr