Curator's Choice: A feathered brisé fan carried by ladies of the 1920s

| 28 April 2014

Curator's Choice: Emma Davison delves into the costume stores to find a feathered brisé fan from the 1920s at the Discovery Museum

A photo of a woman looking at an ancient fan while wearing white gloves
Emma Davison in the Discovery Museum costume store© Courtesy Discovery Museum
“This is a beautiful example of a feathered brisé fan from the 1920s. The term brisé, which means ‘broken’ in French, is used to describe a fan that has no fan leaf and is instead made up of decorated sticks.

Brisé fans first became popular in the early 19th century when they were typically made of ivory or bone. At this time these elegant fans were the epitome of contemporary style.

This fan immediately stood out to me amongst the whole fan collection, as it is so quirky and unique. It is easily recognisable as being from the twenties due to the materials used and its glamorous styling.

Feathered fans were often seen during the 1920s but were usually extravagant and made of large ostrich feathers that made a big impact, especially when worn with a slim line evening dress.

This example is unusual due to its smaller size and compact fastening. It is most likely that it was designed as a pocket fan.

The outer fan guards are imitation tortoiseshell, which have been made from celluloid, a type of plastic. Celluloid was commonly used in the making of fans at this time.

The guards are formed in a decorative teardrop shape, which allows the feather tips to show through when the fan is closed. They fasten at one end with a subtle clip fastening which is fashioned onto the guard.

When opened, the fan guard’s turn into a retractable handle, which has a gold satin loop and tassel attached. This intricate design is practical yet delicate and adds to the fan’s unique charm.

Metal or ribbon loops were a practical addition attached to fans from the beginning of the 19th Century, as the number of accessories women carried was increasing.

Along with a fan, they would also carry a parasol and a purse so the loop or ribbon would enable a woman to carry the fan at ease by slipping the loop over her finger or wrist.

The inner fan sticks are also made from celluloid and have a green marbled effect. This colour compliments the imitation tortoiseshell and mirrors the shades of green within the feathers.

The feathers, which are made up of three layers include guinea fowl and pheasant, the bottom layer has been dyed.

Ladies who accompanied gentlemen on shooting parties would sometimes be given a box of feathers to take home at the end of the day. These were often used to make fans just like this one.”

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More from Culture24's Curator's Choice section:

Vivienne Westwood shoes at the Bowes Museum

Colourful court shoes at the Discovery Museum

Pauline Chase's 1913 Peter Pan costume
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