History of fashion: The fan, a screen for modesty

The fan, as defined in the French Dictionary in 1680 is a "small skin, perfumed and embellished, which is supported by small flat sticks which serve to extend it, and to close it, and which the ladies carry in their hands in summer. to refresh your face ”. One hundred years later, in the Methodical Encyclopedia, he is an "instrument which serves to excite the wind, and to refresh the air by agitating it", producing a sensation of freshness in the face. But the range is not limited to that.

His origin

Imported from Asia during the Renaissance, it is little used, although it is sometimes found in the inventory of goods after death. Catherine de Médicis was one of the first to use them regularly and from 1594 the “gilders, trimmers and fans of Paris” were authorized to produce them. More and more used by ladies in society, King Louis XIV will set the rules of manufacture and marketing by founding in 1678 the community of “master fan-makers, makers and composers of fans” made up of 60 members.

Paris becomes the capital of this aristocratic and artistic object, artisans dominate the market and participate in the dissemination of French art in Europe with 253 masters in 1782: it is the golden century of the fan.

The master fan makers

This artisanal know-how as well as its creativity and a constant renewal allow the creation of the Royal School in 1766. After 6 years, having followed a free education in geometry and architecture, figure and animals, flowers and ornaments, the apprentice comes out "master". The job of fan maker is only a coordinator and not a creator on its own, the painters and tablet makers are there to work all the materials constituting the frame and the gluers, plissers and editors intervene for the preparation of the sheet. This is how fans in the 18th century remained anonymous: no signature, no hallmark, no mark, which Diderot criticizes. However, names like Tiquet are retained, who provided Marie Leszczynska's wedding basket in 1725, made up of 25 fans; Gaillard supplier to Marie Antoinette in 1770; Louis-René Boquet and Josse l'Aîné who sells fans of "all kinds of tastes and prices, wholesale and retail for France and foreign countries".

The French will however have to share the fan trade with the English, the Italians who produce fans with fragrant skins and those from the North who decorate them with biblical subjects. Master fan makers are not alone in the market and competition is fierce with merchant-haberdashery, glove makers, perfumers, ribbon makers, jewelers and goldsmiths. The price of the fan varies according to their qualification of "common" or "enriched" ranging in 1750 from one pound and four sols to 144 pounds for a fan with telescope and 200 pounds for that representing birds with natural feathers. .

Making a fan

The range combines know-how and artistic creation to constantly renew itself, subject to the whims of fashion. Classified into two kinds, we discover the "folded" whose frame is formed of strands on which a sheet is pleated and glued or the "broken" made up of strands, but without leaf, the blades are held by a ribbon at the top and a nail at the end; the leaf is in skin and for the best craftsmen in silk and lace. The workers come into action, each with a function of “gluer, lifter, spreader, cutter and rounder”. The leaves are then stretched on frames, suspended from the ceiling to dry. Once cut, they pass to painting and decoration, to gouache, according to a model under glass called "glass". Although painters are often women, the majority are made up of men.

After painting, the folding or pleating phase is the most delicate moment, because of this action, the fan will open correctly or not. You need dexterity but above all respect a regular interval and this work was made easier from 1760 with the invention of a folding mold. At the same time, the tabletiers execute the frames, in wood or in bone for objects of little value; in rare materials such as brown or blond tortoiseshell, ivory, mother-of-pearl, with gold and silver inlay or precious stones for luxury items reserved for an elite. The assembly is done "English" with a single sheet and the visible ends or "double" if the ends disappear between two sheets bordered at the top to consolidate the bonding. For a "perfect" fan, the border should be painted.

The main decoration on the face presented in full view is the richest, while the reverse is less ornate. The master fan-maker delicately sculpts the strands and uses noble materials such as gold leaf and silver leaf. He delicately decorates the heads of figures in ivory and dresses them in silk clothes. The flowers, foliage or shrubs on which birds with natural feather bodies come to rest are made with blond or colored straw.

The sets and themes

The painters use models found in booklets and it is easy to recognize the works of Charles Le Brun, Watteau, Coypel and Boucher, without these artists ever actually painting the leaves. The image is chosen according to the artistic value but above all for its symbolism. The decorations are borrowed from everyday life such as the flower market, the Seine or the carnival; the Pont-Neuf, the Louvre or the fountain of the Samaritaine allow you to recognize Paris; sciences and inventions such as the first aerostat to take off from the Tuileries garden in December 1783 cover almost all the fans offered to New Years gifts that year; the news of the kingdom such as the birth of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph in 1781 or the princely marriage of Louis Ferdinand as well as major military events such as the Treaty of Nijmegen arouse the enthusiasm of the people; some fans are "exceptional" retracing a moment of intimacy with the royal family; the shepherds and shepherdesses are the new actors of the gallant scenes which know an unfailing success in the XVIIIth century.

Competing in the details, we discover sliding or folding fans in pocket format; glasses and magnifying glasses, thermometers; miniature perfume tubes to leave a delicate trail behind; animations where we see the faces change like Actaeon metamorphosing into a stag in front of Diane or an elderly person rediscovering the freshness of youth near the fountain of youth.

Use of the fan

Whether it is a fashion item or a luxury item, the fan is fragile and discreet while being sumptuous. Mythical and yet familiar, it is the privileged accessory of the ladies of high society and emblematic of the graces of the Ancien Régime, yet always closed in the presence of the queen. Becoming a tool of social communication and companion of confidences, the woman no longer walks without her fan. Being able to be used to hide a smile or mask an embarrassment, Sébastien Mercier makes it a "screen for a spoiled or sparse smile".

The fan went out of fashion at the end of the 18th century; During the Restoration, collectors particularly sought out those from the royal collections, because, let us remember, the others had neither origin nor brand.

In the 19th century, the fan was produced in large numbers until it “flooded the market” while at the same time “the artist's fan” appeared: Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec painted and signed the sheets. fan, sometimes adding dedications and verses. The leaf is refined but the frame becomes very simple, we can bet that this fan will not be used much to fan!

For further

The Golden Century of the Fan, by Georgina Letourmy Bordier and José de Los Llanos. Editons Faton, November 2013.

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