Working feathers with great panache

Feathers have always fascinated humans. Light, iridescent and versatile, whatever the culture, they accompany shamanic rituals and religious representations: for Amerindian, Sioux or Cheyenne peoples, the eagle feather is a symbol of peace, for the Incas, it represents the energy of elevation and for Catholics in the Middle Ages, the peacock feather promises resurrection.

From the Renaissance onwards, the goose nib served as a pen, while the ostrich nib offered its full panache to the headdresses of the nobility and the upper middle class until it became a fashion symbol at the end of the 18th century. With the democratization of the style, featherwork – particularly used for the creation of headdress ornaments – gradually developed until it reached its peak between 1890 and 1930. Its use then extended to the making of dresses and many music-hall costumes that accompanied the dance and extended body movements.

Paris, the international epicentre of haute couture, was the home of several hundred workshops at that time. It was the end of the use of hats in the 1960s that caused the industry to falter. Maison Lemarié, initially founded in 1880 and taken over in 1996 by the Chanel group, embodies the traditional heritage and golden age of Parisian feather-workers. The classic techniques of featherwork are very complex and require a lot of effort to prepare the feathers: degreasing, washing, dyeing, sulphurizing, steaming, and crimping. Today, Maison Lemarié mainly works with the feathers of unprotected species such as roosters, pheasants and ostriches.



Lemarie2011DA-053 - copieMaison Lemarié

Lemarie2011DA-050 - copieMaison Lemarié

Trained alongside André Lemarié, heir to the eponymous Maison – named one of the first 20 French Maîtres d’Art when the title was created by the Ministry of Culture in 1994 – Éric Charles-Donatien now extends his learning of traditional featherwork techniques through surface treatments and the hybridization of feather with other materials such as metal. Since the creation of his own workshop in 2010, he has mastered the craft to transform and sublimate this material. Gilded with fine gold, glazed in the same way as a terracotta, mixed with finely hammered metal…. As a real sculptor, he creates volume, forges shapes, to give life to real trompe-l’oeil which sometimes transmute the feather under the appearance of fur, or turns it into a true masterpiece of cabinet-making.

ECharlesDonatien-VW-©JYT-IMG_1806-HDEric Charles Donatien ©JYT

ECharles-Donatien-Crillon-©JYT-IMG_1975-HDEric  Charles Donatien Crillon ©JYT

As a feather architect, Janaïna Milheiro implements a constructivist approach to feathers following a textile training specialized in weaving. Since the foundation of her studio in 2011, she has been using colours and surfaces to create the most varied geometric compositions. Bevelled feathers, sharp cuts, delicate and graphic knitted patterns… her rigorous technique, which is similar to that of diamond or jewellery makers, is based on cutting and assembly.

Atelier_JanainaMilheiro05Atelier Janaina Milheiro

Atelier_JanainaMilheiro01Atelier Janaina Milheiro

Through the diversity of the work of these three workshops, the 8th edition of Maison d’Exceptions highlights the wide variety of contemporary techniques offered by featherwork, whether in the fields of haute couture and luxury ready-to-wear, watchmaking and jewellery or interior design.

Maison d’Exceptions is the area dedicated to rare and even unique know-how and technics. KNOW MORE

Find the complete list of workshops right here

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