From a sacred art to an art craft
“Plumasserie” is as old as human societies. Feather art is a sacred art practiced by social groups through the use of feathers of different species of birds at large events, ritual practices and ceremonies (in Latin America, among Native American peoples and in Brazil for example).
In the time of Charlemagne, the elegants adorned themselves with peacock feathers and flamingos. In the 13th century, Prelates and great Lords wore hats with peacock feathers. The consumption of these feathers was large enough to sustain a corporation: peacock hats. Their status was approved in the 13th century and they took the name of “”plumassiers”” in the 15th century.
The feathers craftsmen used mainly ostrich, heron, rooster, goose, vulture, peacock and jay. Under Louis XIV and until the Revolution, feathers appeared in the adornment of women and even men. They became, especially at the end of the 18th century, the object of a real passion. The number of master feather art makers in Paris was 25 at the end of the 18th century.
This activity gradually developed and acquired, in the 19th century, a commercial and industrial status. The feather industry enjoyed its greatest success around 1890. In Paris, there were nearly eight hundred houses employing six to seven thousand people. The amount of work was such that the “plumassiers” were only dealing with one category of feather at a time ; one was dealing with the white ostrich feather, the other with the black, and the other with dyeing it in bright colours…
The feather was the fashionable accessory for women’s clothing until the 1960s. The second half of the 20th century saw the end of the use of feathers in fashion. The wearing of the hat falls into disuse, resulting in the disappearance of the houses of the plumassiers. The number of French feather houses fell from more than 300 in the 1900s to about 50 in 1960.
The profession continues through a few rare professionals in Haute couture, entertainment and creation. The 3 companies that remain in Paris are the Maison Lemarié specialised in Haute couture, the Maison Février and the Marcy company for high-end clothing and music hall.
Several independent craftsmen, spread throughout the French territory, have also specialised in this craft and perpetuate the know-how. They all work with respect for the animal by using moulting feathers, feathers recovered from farm animals, or ostrich feathers that are cut off every 9 months like sheep.
“The feather is a means of expression and a true source of creativity. Because each feather expresses itself in its own language, holds its own truth, each creation awakens the imagination and gives rise to emotion and surprise.
French craftsmen reinterpret and divert material according to their desires and their clients’. The feather shines on the Haute Couture catwalks and also appears today in art galleries and interior design.
To know more about this rare savoir-faire and the possible custom creations