Fan Flair: Yesteryear’s handheld fashion accessories are being handmade by modern artisans

Hand fans have a long-standing history in Chinese culture, dating back more than 2,000 years. Originally used purely as a functional tool to provide respite from the scorching summer heat, they soon evolved into works of art. Embraced by the literati and nobility, fans became symbols of sophistication, elegance and social status.

Today, beautifully made folding fans have become treasured collectibles, popular souvenirs and cherished gifts. They are meticulously handcrafted by skilled artisans, who pay attention to every detail. After selecting the finest materials such as silk, paper and bamboo, they carefully paint or embroider intricate designs on the surface that often depict scenes from mythology, nature and folklore, or represent cultural symbols such as dragons, peonies and lotus flowers. Traditional hand fans are now an art celebrated around the world, from cultures as diverse as Japan, China, Spain and France.

Rockcoco Fine Fans

Billed as the first bespoke fan makers in London for a century, Rockcoco Fine Fans is the brainchild of sisters Denise Frankel and Janis Sher whose passion for antique and vintage hand fans evolved into a business. After receiving regular compliments for the pieces in their personal collection, they began to make their own and take orders from around the world. Their vision was to fill the shoes of dedicated luxury fan boutiques that inhabited London’s main shopping streets in the 1920s.

Rockcoco’s striking ready-to-wear collection starts from £55 (about HK$525), but it is the quality of the custom designs that is truly remarkable. Materials are obtained from British royal warrant-holders and precious stones are ethically sourced. From the engraver of the mother-of-pearl, the goldsmith that creates the gem setting and the rivet which holds the fan together, the gilder that finely applies gold leaf into the engraving and the bespoke tassel makers, skilled British artisans work in harmony to bring each fan to life.

VLC Hand Fans

Another all-in-the-family venture, VLC Hand Fans is based in the United Kingdom but has its roots in Valencia, where fan-making developed in the early 1800s and became part of Spanish culture. A secret hand-held language sprung up as lovers flirted through alluring gestures and provocative swishes of their fans.

The duo behind VLC, Pilar Taberner Quiles and daughter Isabel, hail from a family long involved in the artisanal craft. The fans they sell are made in the traditional way – hand-crafted, hand-painted and hand-assembled in Spain – so each one is unique. Top-of-the-range wood such as sipo, palo santo and ebony is paired with exquisite fabrics including lace, chiffon and feathers to create luxurious and distinctive designs.

Their fans are striking fashion accessories or serve as decorative art to showcase at home. For bespoke orders, their team of craftspeople carefully select the finest materials, vibrant colours and different wood carvings and textures to meet the requirements of clients. Non- bespoke prices range upwards to £170 (about HK$1,700) and vary widely according to the level of detail and material selection.

House of Duvelleroy

One of the oldest and most luxurious hand-fan boutiques, Duvelleroy was founded in Paris in 1827 by Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy, whose royal clients included Queen Victoria and the Empress of Austria. A venture born of one man’s dream to bring fans back into the hands of elegant women has remained faithful to the traditions of French fan-making.

Engravers, pleaters and embroiderers are involved in the manufacturing of these precious objects. A fan-maker, one of the last in France, assembles every piece by hand and each is embellished by a golden daisy, the emblem of the house. Raw materials of horn, ebony and mother of pearl are cut into layers of only 9-10mm thick, which are then trimmed again and shaped, in the French style, into supremely light frames of 14 sticks. Polishing and engraving are the final touches before the sticks and their outer guards are fastened together by a rivet. Prices rise from US$69 to US$2,250 (about HK$540 to HK$17,600) for the most elaborate designs.

Sukhari Designs

A Taiwanese artist and global traveller, Sukhari Yang expresses beauty and refinement through handmade crafts, which include gorgeous silk fans. The product of rich, artistic influences from Italy to Indonesia and a celebration of the universality of cultures and traditions, her collections are theme-based and handmade by Balinese artisans. Among the most popular are the Lotus Born Master and Flower of Life collections.

Each Sukhari silk fan takes about three weeks to produce with their carved and polished wooden spokes and handles providing quality and effortless movement. They embrace unique embellishments such as an ornate brass ring that can be used to hang the fan from one’s attire and tassels featuring semi-precious stones, and each comes in a black silk slip case. A leather belt with a fan holster is another novelty for fashionable clients.

Varying in size, colour and design, the fans draw on sacred geometry for their perfect form, proportion, harmony and value. The most affordable options start at US$69 (about HK$540) with no compromise in beauty or intricacy.