the only five star family owned hotel in Paris 

The Hotel Alfred Sommier, the only 5-star family affair in Paris

Richard de Warren wants you to feel at home in his Hotel Alfred Sommier. Indeed, the owner of the place puts a lot of effort into this very special establishment that has belonged to his family since 1860 — it’s the only five star hotel in Paris that can brag about that. A personal heritage nested in the heart of the city that his owner takes pride and genuine pleasure in sharing with his hosts. 

The Hotel Alfred Sommier is a place like no other. Located between Madeleine, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and some of the most popular department stores in Paris, it is almost invisible from the street. This gorgeous Hotel Particulier is indeed hidden behind a gigantic wooden door. To reach the reception, you’ll have to walk through a charming cobbled passage. Right from the start, the tone is set. A majestic stone staircase welcomes the guests. It’s almost like you’ve just stepped into a museum. On the main floor, small spaces have been rearranged: you can sit on the nice terrace, have lunch under the conservatory (which has air-conditioning during the summer) and drink coffee in one of the many little sitting rooms. 

Upstairs, you’ll find the very well decorated rooms, some of which are overlooking the beautiful garden. As Richard de Warren, the owner of the place and a descendent of the well-known Sommier family, likes to say: « It feels like a little castle, but in the middle of the city». Delicate touches of gilding here and there, old-inspired furniture, thick curtains and huge fireplaces are what makes the place so special. Indeed, it is quite inspiring how everything has been restored with so much taste, and refinement. 

It’s almost as if you could hear Alfred Sommier in the hallway. This gentleman was the first person to have ever lived here. And to get a better understanding of the place, it is crucial to tell his story. He comes from a family of bakers, which used to be settled in Burgundy, in the Center-East of France — usually, this region is known around the world for its divine wines, and not so much for its bread. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Sommier family decided to step into the sugar business. In fact, not so long before that, a renowned chemist had discovered the formulation of sugar, which made its industrialization way easier. It was settled: they were going to start a new company, in the hope for a better life. They moved to Paris, but quickly found out that being settled in the center of the city wasn’t the best option for them. They moved again, to La Villette this time. Back then, it wasn’t part of the 19th arrondissement, but a city of its own. It was the ideal location for their business, since it was near the Canal de l’Ourq, the Canal Saint-Martin, but also the slaughterhouses. Back then, pigs and cows’ blood were used by the refineries to whiten the sugar. « With black, you made white », said Richard de Warren, a smile on his face. 

The Sommier family was a very industrial one: they weren’t afraid to dream big and have ambitious plans for the future. One day, the youngest brother decided that he didn’t want to live right next to the refinery anymore. He looked for a place in the center of Paris: an easy way to have a social life. After browsing for a couple of months, he found the Petit Hotel de Soubise. When the Sommier buy the place, they realize that it is in very poor condition. They don’t think twice about it and demolish everything. Three years later, the brand-new Hotel Particulier was born. It was divided into two sections from the start: the family moved into one part, and Alfred Sommier took up residence in the other one (which is now the Hotel Alfred Sommier, called as such as an homage). Funny enough, he was also the one to buy the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, not far from Paris — he renovated it completely as well, to make it his own. Alfred Sommier’s son was born in the Hotel Particulier that now has his name on it, and he married the daughter of a French president. Talk about a social ascension! 

Richard de Warren’s great grand-mother inherited the place, but she got married to a Belgian man and left the place unoccupied. After the war, a company called Démos moved in. They stayed there for no less than 27 years. When they told Richard de Warren that they didn’t want to sign a new lease, he decided it was time to transform the beautiful building into a fine Hotel Particulier. He talked about it to his cousins, and they all agreed on the fact that it was an amazing idea. It took one year to get the building permit. The renovations took two years and three months. The Hotel Alfred Sommier finally opened its doors to the public at the end of summer 2018. A quite funny timing, since France was struck with the Gilets Jaunes movement a couple of months later, then by the national strikes. And finally, a global pandemic. Richard de Warren had to close his establishment on March 15th, 2020. He was allowed to reopen the restaurant three months later and the hotel on July 1st. But a second confinement was announced in France, and he had to close the restaurant for the second time in one year. « But as Elton John once said: “I’m still standing“ », he said. 

Those unpredictable events don’t make him any less proud of what he has done with the place. « Back in 1855, when the Hôtel Particulier was bought by my family, they decided to rebuild everything. They did it with the help of a very renowned architect: Joseph-Michel Le Soufaché », he explained. If his name rings a bell, it’s because he worked on the Château de Versailles, but also the Château de Sceaux, two very famous properties in France. 

When Richard de Warren decided to transform the place into a hotel, he kept the structure of the building and only made a few arrangements: he kept most of the floor plans, but had to pull down some walls to make the place more welcoming. « I really wanted to keep an historical touch, because the hotel is a family affair. My idea was to tell a story », he said. « I didn’t want our guests to feel like they were in a hotel, but in a private mansion “Hotel Particulier”. Which is very different ». Indeed, among the five star hotels in Paris, the Alfred Sommier Hotel is the only one that has been owned by the same family since the start. Which makes it very special, and quite personal. 

A personal touch that you can sense all around the Hotel. When it came to decorating, Richard de Warren got help from two friends: they worked together to design comfortable furniture and find a place for every souvenir the owner wanted to put in the different rooms — such as old floor maps, politics and artists caricatures from vintage Vanity Fair magazines and contemporary pieces of art. Richard de Warren kept the original mirrors and fireplaces, but also repurposed some of the wooden floors that had to be teared down. He even kept some of the original secret passages that connect the kitchens to the front yard, where horse-drawn carriages used to park. He also decided to keep all the small private rooms, so that guests and clients could organise small diners and business meetings. But because he didn’t want the place to feel like a business convention site, he hid the televisions behind some very well-picked contemporary art pieces. 

And what about the food? Richard de Warren wanted, once again, to bring a historical touch to the table. He gathered some old menus from the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte, where huge feasts used to take place. That’s where he got his inspiration from. « I didn’t want to open a gourmet restaurant. I felt like it didn’t have anything to do with a Hotel Particulier ». That’s the reason why you’ll rarely see more than three starters, three main courses and three deserts on the menu. And that is a good sign, because it simply means that everything is cooked and prepared in their basement kitchen — which used to be the old stables. At the Hotel Alfred Sommier, the ambiance is casual, and the cuisine inspired by old recipes — with, of course, a contemporary touch. « When you are invited to a friend’s house for dinner, you don’t really choose what you are going to eat. Yet, everyone is pleased », Richard de Warren explained. « I would have created a unique menu, but I know that some guests don’t eat fish for example. They needed to have some options. Add to that the fact that some of them come back often, and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to eat the same meal over and over again ». Moreover, times have changed. Nowadays, people don’t have time (nor the appetite) for a huge feast anymore. The restaurant, in that way, in the perfect reflection of the owner’s goal: make you feel at home, in a historical place that has been remodeled to fit with the contemporary way of life. 

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By Alexane Pelissou

A Paris Antoinette Poisson, decoration heritage

French decor-Paris

A Paris Antoinette Poisson, restorers of an 18th century decoration heritage

When two friends passionate about decorative arts discovered a long-lost artisanal technique while restoring a historic house in Auvergne (central France), they knew they were on to something. This encounter with centuries-old domino paper beneath layers of wallpaper led heritage restorers Vincent Farelly and Jean-Baptiste Martin to bring what is called dominoterie, back to life. In 2012 A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson was born, and the rest is history, 18th century history to be exact. 

Named for Marquise de Pompadour, born Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson pays tribute to a woman with an affinity for interior decoration, wallpaper included. The name also calls to mind a very regal era, one in which French savoir-faire was at its prime. With the invention of continuous paper in the 19th century, this decorative paper gradually fell out of fashion. That is, until dominoterie, also known as domino paper returned thanks to this designing duo.  

What exactly is dominoterie? This 18th century technique involves the domino paper being cut into the printing block from a metal block in which the pattern is engraved with floral or geometric patterns. Afterward, the paper is painted by hand or stenciled resulting in individually crafted 32 x 42 cm domino paper. Traditionally, this paper was used to cover books, boxes and caskets or to decorate the interior of cabinets. Small rooms or hallways could also be decorated with these colorful prints. Commonly, larger productions of domino paper were used to bind paperbacks. Domino paper by A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson can either be used as wallpaper or individually framed and hung up like artwork. 

Respecting the traditions of the time, Vincent and Jean-Baptiste create their original designs based on both historical documents and objects that inspire. Drawn and printed sheet by sheet and painted in their Parisian workshop, A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson designs include playing cards, ikat prints, a variety of floral compositions and geometric designs. The colors used in creating these papers are limitless.

Domino papers are not the only decorative products found at this charming Parisian boutique located within a courtyard in the right bank’s 11th arrondissement. Other signature items include wallpaper, printed linens, stationery and a variety of decorative handmade objects. From hand-crafted notebooks that can be used to document journeys in Paris and beyond, to linen fabrics to decorate the home, some that even pair with the domino papers. Cushions too are part of the selection, ranging in a number of unique prints. A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson has also collaborated with Gien, the famous French tableware manufacturer, to create five patterns inspired by the 18th century. 

Past collaborations also include a fabric collection for iconic fashion label Gucci, two exclusive designs composed of roses for fragrance brand Diptyque, a rose pattern for Ladurée’s macaron collection “La vie en rose”, and three designs for Parisian fashion brand Sezanne, including Petite Indienne, Ikat, and Treillages. Even the Chateau de Versailles called upon A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson to design their boutique Cour de Marbre, in the style of Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XV, of course. The most recent collaboration included a capsule collection of tableware, ready-to-wear, bed linen and decorative objects with French store Monoprix.  

Stepping away from home decoration and into the world of fragrance, A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson also presents a collection of three intoxicating perfumes wrapped in their own custom paper, each one whisking you away to another era. The perfume “Bien Aimée” with its floral notes, takes you on a stroll to the gardens of Versailles while “Joli Bois” sets the scene, and the plant-induced scent, of a meeting between a young woman and the King of France. The third perfume “Tison” is composed of smoky and woody notes and evokes the warm glow of a fireplace. The latter also represents the flame that long burned for the Marquise de Pompadour.

Another notable creation by the innovators behind A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson are fashionable silk scarves and twillys. While these perfect Parisian accessories are inspired by the historic prints of several of the domino papers, they prove a timeless accessory. And what better to complement your home décor than a matching scarf? 

What’s next for A Paris chez Antoinette Poisson? Keep an eye on this dynamic duo whose creations are certain to keep us inspired in the present day while reminiscing of 18th century French savoir-faire for many years to come.

Discover our experience of French decor  

By Kasia Dietz 

Top image: Boutique Antoinette Poisson, photo Anne-Charlotte Moulard
Side image: Atelier Antoinette Poisson, photo Anne-Charlotte Moulard

2021, new experiences to live…

2021, a year to discover, to go further, to look at things differently, to write new stories… with Passages Secrets

Discover what Passages Secrets offers you for 2021

Christofle, Immersion into French art of living

Maison Christofle, an immersion in French art of living

Christofle is a French luxury House that, in the tradition of the French art of living, embodies the art of sharing. Through sharing – with family, with a loved one, with friends and relations – Christofle speaks to contemporary aesthetes, hedonists and globetrotters who know that beauty, elegance and refinement enhance the shared moments, making them even more powerful and precious.

The company was founded in 1830 by Charles Christofle. In 1842, he acquired the patents for silver and gold metal electroplating. More durable and less harmful than traditional techniques, electroplating and gilding made it possible to manufacture pieces on a massive scale. Christofle was the only patent holder in France for 15 years. This made Christofle a major player in the 19th century silver industry and an integral player in art of living today.
One of his first clients was none other than the French King, Louis-Philippe I. The King actually ordered a full service for the Chateau d’Eu in Normandy, a vacation spot for the French royal family.

Maison Christofle uses entirely handmade manufacturing. The precious trades of spinning, embossing, carving, engraving, perpetuated by its craftsmen immortalize the qualities of elegance and excellence. The know-how of its highly qualified craftsmen is transmitted from teacher to student thus constituting the living heritage of Christofle. True “Living Treasures”, the Master Goldsmiths are the guardians of the sustainability and quality of Christofle know-how.

In addition to its studio’s creations, Christofle collaborates with renowned designers and artists to produce ambitious pieces illustrating its vision of the art of sharing. Produced by the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen in France), these pieces – works by artists and designers, historical reprints and reproductions, and custom-made and exceptional commissions – are all crafted in the Christofle workshops in Normandy (France).

Present in 70 countries, the art of sharing by Christofle has spread worldwide but its know-how can only be observed in France.

Discover our experiences of French art of entertaining  

Top image: Know-how, matrix creation for stamping the cutlery©Koox productions
Side image: Eden Garden collection designed by Marcel Wanders for Christofle. ©LuxProd

Dijon Gingerbread

Time for Christmas dinner!
Savour our locally inspired – from Burgundy- selected recipe.

Dijon Gingerbread

To end our Christmas dinner with a sweet note, you will also find the recipe of the genuine Burgundian dessert: the famous gingerbread. It appeared in the 14th century in the Burgundian capital city Dijon and was appreciated by Henry IV. Indeed, the French king wrote a note in 1595, about the savoir-faire of Dijon pastry chefs. So, try the recipe, and feel as a king!

The tasting

Garnished with candied fruits, it is a tasty dessert and you will be delighted with its spicy flavors.
Without candied fruit, it can be enjoyed simply buttered at breakfast or tea time. It is also very common in France to use gingerbread as an accompaniment to savory dishes, especially the famous foie gras.
It is recommended to be patient before eating as it actually improves over the first 2-3 days.

• Honey 250g
• Flour 200g
• Baking powder 10g
• Brown sugar 50g
• Water 2 tablespoons
• Egg 1
• Salt 1 pinch
• Mixture of spices (cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg) 10g
• To decorate: candied fruits of your choice, star anise, cinnamon stick…

The recipe

> Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180°, thermostat 6-7).  Butter and flour your pan.
> In a large bowl, dissolve the honey in hot water.
> add flour, and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps
> add baking powder, brown sugar, egg and salt – whisk again
> add the spices
> Pour the batter into the prepared pan
> Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
> Remove from oven and let cool slightly before removing from the mould.

This cake will keep for about 2 weeks. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge. Just keep it in an airtight tin or wrapped in plastic.

Passages Secrets wishes you Bon appétit

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© Alain DOIRE / Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Tourisme

Roast capon with foie gras stuffing

Time for Christmas dinner!
Savour our locally inspired – from Burgundy- selected recipe.

With Christmas approching here is a great opportunity to reveal a culinary specialty traditionally served on this festive occasion.
The most important occasion in France, Christmas brings the whole family together for a warm and tasty dinner.
As the main French region for the production of exceptional poultry, its famous capon brings a bit of Burgundy to many French Christmas tables. Remembering its generous aroma and tasty roasted flavor from last year’s Christmas – I couldn’t help sharing the recipe with you.

Roast capon with foie gras stuffing

Ingredients – Servings: 8  
For a capon of at least 3kg

Stale bread 150 grams
Milk 20 cl
Finely chopped onions 125 grams
“Bayonne” type ham 150 grams
Sausage meat 150 grams
“Mi-cuit” foie gras 150 grams
White pudding (sausage) 2
Eggs 2
Oil 1 tablespoon
Butter 150 grams (50 g per kg of capon)
Armagnac (or Cognac) 2 tablespoons
Chopped parsley 1 tablespoon
Sugar 1 tablespoon

Preparation: 45min  –  Cooking: 4h20

  1. The stuffing:

> Wet the bread with the milk.
> chop the onions, and Sauté the onions until translucent, about 2 minutes.
> Take the rind off the ham and chop it coarsely.
> Take the skins off the white sausages and cut them into cubes.
> Also cut the foie gras into cubes.
> Squeeze the milk out of the bread and crumble it coarsely,
> Chop the parsley.
> Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with the sausage meat, the eggs, the Armagnac and the sugar.
> Season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

  1. Roast capon

> Preheat the oven 400 F (220°C).
> Season the inside of the capon with salt and pepper.
> Fill the cavity of the capon with the stuffing. Sew it closed with cooking twine and then truss it.
> Put the capon in a large oven pan,
> Generously coat it in butter, add salt and pepper.
> Put into the oven at mid height and
> Cook 25 minutes per pound, turning the capon from time to time and basting it often with its juice.

  1. Prepare to serve

> Cut the capon by separating the limbs and cutting the breasts into 1 cm thick slices.Place them onto a hot serving dish as you cut them.
> Take out the stuffing and cut it into slices. Place them in the centre of the warm dish.
> Strain the cooking juice, degrease, correct the seasoning and pour into a hot sauce boat.

Ready for dinner. As the recipe contains foie gras, white wine from Burgundy such as  Meursault., Santenay or Montrachet would be a great pairing.

Enjoy your meal!

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French silverware and art of the table

“Eating with silverware gives more sophistication to the meal and therefore in principle the pleasure is tenfold.”

David is our expert today. He will guide us through the history of French silverware, in particular since the 19th century (he is the author of the 400 page book « French Silver Cutlery of the XIXth Century », Editions Faton). Silverware and France appear to be his two passions. He will also share with us his own history with France. He is a former antique dealer, and he happily describes himself as a compulsive silver collector. He will  explain the importance of the meal in French society, the idea of a “bon vivant” that is typically French.

David you are British, so what made you come to France in the first place? Was it a choice, or the result of life’s chances?
« I would say both! My father is Scottish and my mother Hungarian. The chance of my life was indeed that I was born in France, near Paris. I don’t have French nationality, but I was born here; but we left  when I was 2 years old. Throughout my childhood, I thought that one day I would move back to France. Before Paris, I lived in New York where I met my wife. We spent our honeymoon in Paris. And at that time, we told ourselves that Paris was where we should retire. Finally we came back to Paris much earlier, in 1991. This summer we moved to Burgundy Franche-Comté, in the Haute-Soane department. We have moved into a 19th century apartment in the small and charming ancient town of Gray, which first existed in the year 951. »

How did you become interested in silver ?
« I started buying silver before settling in France. As an antique dealer in New York, I mostly bought furniture. Actually it was then that I also started buying French and other silver pieces. »

So it became a passion for you?
« I would say, rather that it almost became an illness. Like for all collectors once your are « caught », it attracts you irresistibly. »

What do you admire most about silver?
«  It is a mixture of the quality of workmanship with human intelligence. It is a question of the design of the object and its purpose. The 19th century is a very interesting period where there is a lot of historicism in the design of objects in general. When you look at a well designed and well made object it becomes a thing of beauty. »

Then it is important that the object has a function?
« Yes, the object has a function, and that function is part of its beauty. For example, the better the quality of both workmanship and design of cutlery, the greater the pleasure experienced in using silver cutlery.
What is also interesting is that in the 19th century, there was solid silver cutlery and also less expensive silver-plated cutlery; which was the precursor of the use of stainless steel which is cheaper still.
The use of silverware became accessible to a large part of the French society, who bought silver-plated cutlery which were exactly the same patterns as those in solid silver. It became  easily possible to eat in style. »

And it is thus in the 19th century that the use of silver-plated wares became widespread?
« Yes it was a century of inventions. From the 1830’s silver-plated metal became  readily available.  The trigger was when the French company Christofle, which was at first the only important specialist in silver-plated wares, managed to sell them to the imperial family. For example, at the Chateau de Chantilly, you can see a whole cutlery service and also soup tureens, all in silver-plated metal. So it’s a combination of access to luxury with the possibility of having well-made, high quality and not necessarily very expensive pieces. »

When did the goldsmith’s trade first appear?
« Gold and silversmiths existed in ancient times, but Its apogee was the 18th century.  I was still expensive in the 18th century and restricted to the aristocracy which used only solid silver. As for all decorative arts, furniture, glassware, ceramics, porcelain, the 18th was the apogee of extreme luxury; the 19th was the century of access to luxury for the class just below the aristocracy, the bourgeois class. “

Of all the pieces you have, what are your favorites?
« There are many pieces that I like very much. There is not one single piece in particular. Each piece is different, just like people. There are pieces set with semi-precious stones, there are pieces in vermeil, engraved pieces. I recently bought a small mocha spoon, that has a figure of Napoleon on the handle, which is something you seldom see. It’s not worth a lot of money but it’s a spoon that was made for Napoleon’s admirers in the later 19th century and for a collector it’s quite rare today. »

When you buy a piece of silver, do you try to trace its history, to find its origin?
« Yes certainly. I look at the quality of the object but the first thing to do is to look at the maker’s marks and hallmarks. By observing the marks we can know where the piece was made, if it is French or not. We can see if it was made in Paris or in the provinces. We can find the name of the silversmith.  With the name of the silversmith and the type of mark we can often date the piece with more or less precision. In France in the 19th century, dating a silver objet is more difficult than previously because there is no date stamp for each year. The margin for dating is more vague, but still possible, using the guarantee mark and the silversmith’s mark, because many silversmiths had rather short periods of activity.”
Buying and collecting silver in general and cutlery in particular is interesting  because we eat 3 meals a day, so we use the cutlery every day. You can find antique silverware in antique shops, antique fairs, auction rooms, and even our own grandparents’ homes. It is possible to start with a small spoon that you found at grandma’s; then you can begin to understand how and why the spoon is interesting, by looking at the style, the quality of work and by studying the silver marks. This leads us to look for other similar pieces elsewhere, and once we start, we are lost, and can’t stop. It is easy to have hundreds of pieces of cutlery at home. Pieces which we use on Sundays, others which we use at Christmas or very rarely because they are so rare and beautiful that we don’t want them to get damaged… »

For you, using silverware during a meal changes the taste of food?
« It’s partly about the taste of the food but more important is that it changes the attitude of the person and consequently the experience. It’s comparable drinking Champagne in a plastic or crystal glass, it’s a totally different experience. If you’re at a friend’s house or in a restaurant and you drink from a crystal glass, it’s the same drink, but it changes everything. It’s like when you’re dressed in jeans and a t-shirt you’re more comfortable and then if you put on more sophisticated clothes, you’re already more sophisticated. Eating with silverware gives more sophistication to the meal and therefore in principle the pleasure is tenfold. »

Is there anything you would like to say that I haven’t asked you about, or that is important to you about the place of silver in a meal ?
« The most important thing when you think about a meal, is that the art of the table makes you feel better, it is the difference between eating and dining.
What is interesting in France is that this idea of the importance of the meal, is present in all social strata. There are different levels of wealth in different classes, but in all classes in France, there is an understanding of the importance of the meal. This is typically French. That it is always possible to eat well. This is the richness of French ‘art de vivre’, whether you live in Paris or in the countryside.

This is found elsewhere, but it is an idea that spread from France in the 18th century.  C’est l’art de vivre à la française! »

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Rungis is Europe’s biggest market. Dedicated to professionals, it is the bastion of the Parisian fresh food culture and defends, night after night, the art of food. As the sun goes down, the best products come into this impressive fortress from our many regions. As day breaks, the French je-ne-sais-quoi blossoms. A colorful kaleidoscope that serves the complete food chain, but fresh flowers as well. Rungis is a prestigious showcase of French know-how and culture.

Discover the unique experience of visiting Rungis

History of a French hand-fan maker

The Parisian and couture spirit of Duvelleroy

Once upon a time in 1827, Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy dreamt of creating couture hand-held fans for fashionable Parisian women. Following a lavish ball in which fans were a required accessory for a particular dance, Jean-Pierre’s dream came true. His elegant fans became the talk of the town and his company Duvelleroy was born. 

No details were spared in the French art de vivre of Duvelleroy fans. This became even more clear in 1851 at the Universal Exhibition when the young fan-maker won first prize at the Crystal Palace in London with a hand-made fan for Queen Victoria. From then on, the finesse and craftsmanship of the fans were recognized for their unique French savoir-faire. Duvelleroy won many gold medals, including the Légion d’Honneur, the Greatest Order of Merit in France. That began Duvelleroy’s prestigious position as the supplier of hand-made fans to various courts, beginning with Queen Victoria. It was also Duvelleroy who created Eugénie de Montijo’s fan for her wedding with Napoleon III as well as gifts for the spouses of statesmen during their visits to France. Among them was the Empress of Austria, the Queen of Sweden, the Queen of Denmark and the Queen of Bulgaria. The Parisian who’s who and style mavens would also be found gracing the streets holding a Duvelleroy fan in their hands.

The Belle Époque period that followed allowed Jean-Pierre’s heir Georges Duvelleroy to flourish creatively, with artists including Billotey, Abbéma and Maurice Leloir taking part in the creations. From this Art Nouveau style which took into consideration a more organic and curvy aesthetic, two house emblems were born. The “Balloon” fan was named after the aerial shape of its leaf and the daisy as a signature stamped on each rivet. By the end of the 19th century, Duvelleroy had further entered the art world with collaborations by famed illustrators Paul Iribe, Gendrot and Gicar. Their advertising work even led to hand-fans for luxury greats including the Ritz. In a word, the Duvelleroy Maison was thriving!

As for the fans themselves, what were these elegant accessories used for, exactly? More than to offer relief from the heat, handheld fans were used among a certain class of ladies as a form of discreet communication. In 1711, Joseph Addison wrote in The Spectator: “Women are armed with fans as Men with Swords and sometimes do more execution with them.” While illustrated instructions on how to use a fan already existed, the London branch of Duvelleroy published its own version of fan gestures used to send messages including “I love you” by drawing the fan across the cheek or “follow me” which involved carrying the fan in the right hand in front of the face. This fit right in with the maison’s playful spirit.

To complement the hand-fans, Duvelleroy also created select accessories required by their clientele for a life of refinement. These included an array of elegant evening purses and innovative binoculars, all led by Georges Duvelleroy’s forward-thinking direction. This all changed after World War I when this way of life ended and fabric hand-fans lost their luster. Meanwhile, ostrich fans increased in popularity during the roaring 20s and it was the Duvelleroy Maison that made the white ostrich feather fan worn by the Queen of Egypt Farida Zulfikar for her wedding with King Farouk in 1938. After fan maker and painter Madeleine Boisset and Georges Duvelleroy’s daughter took over the maison, adhering to the savoir-faire passed down from each generation, it was their evening bags that kept the business active. 

In 1940, Jules-Charles Maignan acquired the maison and along with skilled fan-maker Boisset by his side, the business continued to thrive after World War II. As one of the few fan-makers still in business, their main activity focused on selling and restoring antique fans. Archives from the Duvelleroy Maison were passed on to grand-son Michel Maignan in 1981 with the wish by Jules-Charles, “I give it to you so that you can make something out of it.” Consequently, the patrimony was presented in retrospective exhibits around the world, from the Galliera Museum in 1886 to England’s Duvelleroy Exhibition: King of Fans, Fan-maker to Kings, in 1995.

Was this the end of the Duvelleroy Maison? Not if Michel Maignan could help it. In 2010 he joined forces with Eloïse Gilles and Raphaëlle Le Baud, two young women passionate about brand heritage and artisanship. Their reawakened maison brought back to life the French fan-making savoir-faire while respecting the tastes of modern times. Each new creation encapsulates the Parisian and couture spirit of Duvelleroy. While more luxurious fans are often composed of silk, feathers, and ebony the prêt-à-porter series combines cotton, wood, and sometimes even leather. From bright color palettes to more muted hues, the selection of hand-held fans at Duvelleroy’s boutique in Paris’s left bank is endless. Customization of all the fans is also available by adding initials in gold letters.

The latest Duvelleroy collection named Menagerie, recalls the house’s tradition of painting their clients’ pets on the hand-held fans. This playful heritage is animated in a collaboration with multidisciplinary artist MV de Bascher who gives life to Dédé the dog, Fifi the hamster, and Léon the cat. These furry creatures are designed in a vintage etching style with a nod to Japanese pop. This historic house also released a book, Treasures of the Parisian Couture Hand-Fan as well as wall lamps in the shape of fans, and feather headdresses to complement the hand-fans.

By Kasia Dietz