Drawing on a well-accepted fad, the celebrated belle époque fan maker Duvelleroy published a leaflet entitled “The Language of the Fan,” a promotional tactic for the Parisian maison. Whether there existed a widespread understanding of those twirls and flicks remains unknown, but nevertheless, the fan achieved a reputation as a tool of romance, coquetry and social politicking. As love scenes often decorated a fan’s leaves, it is no wonder that these objects became popular tokens of admiration. Such amorous imagery made the fan both a popular wedding present and a site for satire; adultery was, perhaps, a more scintillating theme than fidelity. In Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere's Fan, the destinies of the characters are determined in part by a pleated fan left accidentally on display. Believing her reputation ruined, Lady Windemere collapses upon a sofa cursing that “fatal fan” of hers. There is no argument that these were social objects, printed with maps, parlour games and puzzles, used as both carnets de bal and as props in dances. Emblazoned with historical and political programming, from scenes of the French Revolution and the Restoration to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, fans telegraphed their owner’s loyalties, virtues, pastimes, and dreams.
Yet by the 20th century, the fan had lost much of its prestige, and no longer were these de rigueur accessories. Curator Jacob Moss of The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London, ties this decline to shifting cultural standards. “Women were changing,” he says, “and the fan became an anachronistic symbol of a certain style of femininity.” For decades, fans were little more than an afterthought, used as advertisements, souvenirs, and children’s toys. But Moss sees the fashion changing: “There is definitely something in the air. About three years ago, fan making was added to a list of endangered craft forms here in the UK, and this sparked an interest in the dying art form.” Fans have returned to the catwalk; once fearing for its future, the Maison Duvelleroy has been reborn. Offering a vision of a sustainable and elegant world, a cooling system as ancient as the pyramids, the fan befits a modern life.
Quote from M. A. Flory, A Book About Fans: The History of Fans and Fan Painting (London: MacMillian and Co., 1895), 46-47.
Words by Grace Linden. You can shop our selection of handmade fans here.