Yasmin Le Bon in Thierry Mugler’s Fall/Winter 1997/98 “La Chimère” collection, Palladium, London, Evening Standard Magazine, October 1997, photo by Alan Strutt.
Thanks to their beauty, fragility and value, feathers and plumes had various connotations and were used throughout history in fashionable dress, both as an accessory and as part of the entire silhouette. Synonymous with luxury, femininity, lightness, and also lost innocence and dark romance, traces of feathers appeared for the first time on Sumerian clothes, 4000 b.C.
Whereas in the past, feathers were generally appreciated for their value and refinement - a power statement - contemporary designers now see them as an expression of freedom and spirituality.
The art of feather-making reached its apex in the 1920s, with nearly 500 ateliers in Paris, and an entire industry organized around this "métier".
From the feather-ornamented dream-catcher, a symbol for the web of life in the ancient cultures of American Indians, to the revelers of the carnival of Venice, the feather, like the craft of the feather maker, has throughout the ages been an object of spirituality, stature, mystery and frivolity.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, feather makers were closely linked to headdress-purveyors of the aristocracy, catering initially to a male clientele.
It was Marie-Antoinette’s desire to be noticed by wearing plumes in her headdresses that revolutionized the use of the feather from an emblem of royal distinction into a fashion accessory for women.
By the end of the 19th century in Paris, which was the global center of the feather fashion activity, there were more than 800 feather makers employing more than 6,000 people.
Over the years, laws passed to protect endangered bird species combined with evolving fashion trends have made feather ornaments less widespread, and today feather makers are only allowed to use the plumes of farm-raised birds.
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