Monday, March 9, 2009

All a Flutter

Certain accessories, like jewelry and sunglasses, have their shape-shifts and periodic retools, but they never really go out of style. Such is not the case with others: parasols, white kid gloves, or chatelaines.

Fans fall into the latter category. Apart from special circumstances like flamenco dancing, burlesque, or kabuki theatre, they are well and truly period pieces: to carry one is to signal a deep affiliation with times past.

It's a shame, because back in the pre-air-con days when they were carried as a means to keep cool, fans also had a flirtatious language of their very own. A lady going to the opera, for example, could spot a paramour in the balcony opposite and launch into an elaborate series of covert glances, flicks and flutters (example: resting the fan on the heart meant that the heart was breaking). The subtlety made the bellowed drama on stage elephantine in comparison.

Today arcane, vintage fans abound at fairs, markets, and in shops specializing in Victoriana. More surprising, they can also be found in the accessories department of one of London's poshest department stores, Fortnum & Mason. The gorgeous black and white lace versions there are sold primarily as bridal accessories, but, as a saleswoman explained, they could also be carried outdoors, when it's warm, to picnics, open-air theatre, even rock festivals. Given that it's England the "when it's warm" part was optimistic but you could see fans such as these gorgeous Habanico versions making a dramatic counterstatement to the usual Kate Moss tripwear at Glastonbury.

To my delight I've learned that there is an entire museum devoted to fans in Greenwich, a tube ride out of London. The museum holds fanmaking seminars one Saturday a month. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to while away an afternoon, amid all those sultry memories. Especially if outside, there's a chill rain.

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