Skip to content

Plumassiers, these rare birds at the service of luxury

Behind the splendor of the Moulin Rouge stage, at the end of a maze of corridors, hides the Maison Juillet workshop. Around ten feather workers are active here on a daily basis. Their profession? Handle feathers to make sumptuous creations: boas, capes or headdresses for cabaret dancers, or to respond to orders from the most prestigious haute couture houses such as Hermès, Dior or Louis Vuitton.

Created in 1929, the Maison Juillet was bought in 2009 by the Moulin Rouge group to become one of its subsidiaries and preserve its unique know-how. While featherwork almost disappeared in the middle of the 20thand century, with the end of the hat fashion, it was the military (the Republican Guard uniform in particular includes feather ornaments) and the entertainment world that saved this rare craft.

Revue Féérie du Moulin Rouge. The dancers wear feather costumes created and maintained by Maison Juillet.

Cabaret, design and haute couture

Today, there are about fifty feather workers in France, and only one diploma course, unique in Europe, the CAP from Lycée Octave Feuillet. “When I was at school, about ten years ago, featherwork was has-beenlike all manual trades”, testifies Maxime Leroy, workshop foreman and co-director of the February House. The feather in the skin, tattooed on his forearm, this feather worker took over with Paul Baret the February House in 2019, after 10 years at Jean-Paul Gaultier, to preserve the historical know-how of this house, to transmit and innovate. Today, the profession is experiencing a real comeback, especially with luxury. “Fashion houses are turning towards this they know how to do best, craftsmanship”, observes Maxime Leroy.

Before the Moulin Rouge closed due to the pandemic, cabaret shows accounted for 75% of Maison Juillet’s activity; they will only gradually resume on September 10. So instead of creating the costumes or repairing the adornments of the dancers, the workshop takes the opportunity to respond to all the orders from haute couture, but also from designers, fitters, automobiles, yachting, or individuals. . “We can’t imagine the amplitude of the feather. We can do everything, enthuses Maxime Leroy: fringe for a wedding dress, jewelry, design creations, upholstery… In keratin, the feather can even act as natural plastic. We can adapt to all requests”, assures the plumassier, samples of ostrich feather caning for Dior in his hands.

Saddle made by Maison Juillet for Hermès

And the profession has evolved with the times. Animal material is less popular, but “stylists who continue to use it are sensitive to feathers, observes Maxime Leroy. A discreet feather. You have to move with the times, know how to listen. We can do super chic things, without knowing that it is feather”; the strap of his watch bears witness to this… in feathers.

Read alsoIn the world apart from watch enthusiasts

Animal wellbeing

While featherwork almost led to the extinction of birds in America, the market today is extremely controlled by the Washington convention. No bird is killed for its feathers. All the feathers prepared by French feather workers come from birds bred and killed for their meat. “I buy my feathers from a French supplier who buys them from edible bird farms, such as chickens,” says Prune Faux, an independent feather worker based in Provence. For rare or protected birds, it is only possible to buy back old stocks, provided that the feathers can be traced and dated. “It’s very regulated and it’s normal, considers the feather worker. I’m very careful with my suppliers. If I’m not, our profession could disappear, the company must be the most transparent and the most ethical possible.” On the other hand, it is impossible to work only with collected feathers, for volume issues and because the feathers must undergo treatment to guarantee the absence of parasites or diseases that the birds could transmit.

Prune Faux plumassière workshop. Credit: Virginie Ovessian

In addition, “to obtain beautiful feathers, you need healthy birds”, adds Maxime Leroy. For its two tons of ostrich feathers consumed each year by the Moulin Rouge, Maison Juillet obtains its supplies from South African companies, where the consumption of ostrich meat is widespread, at a price of 700 euros per kg for the finest feathers. The house also has a partnership with a rhea breeder in the United States. The feathers collected (on the ground) are sorted, counted, certified and meticulously traced by customs before reaching the hands of feather workers in Paris.

Read alsoHaute couture: How Paris wants to green its fashion shows

For the other birds, the suppliers are mainly Asian. “The pheasants or the hens come from there originally. In Europe, we kill the birds before they mature, so before their feathers are the most beautiful, regrets Maxime Leroy. In Asia, we are not looking for a chicken calibrated that can fit in a slow-cooking oven like ours, but the biggest chicken possible to feed the whole family. The culinary culture has an influence on the quality of the feathers. They also have a business vision, everything is sold in the world. ‘bird.” As for the protected birds, “no one takes the slightest risk anymore”, assures the workshop manager. Precious historical stocks, containing for example bird of paradise feathers, are used sparingly, only for exceptional pieces.

Creation and meticulousness

On the side of aspiring craftsmen too, the feather seduces. The CAP plumasserie at Lycée Octave Feuillet normally welcomes six people in the first year, leaving college, and six in the second year. If there are still places to be filled, the training is open to young people who have already graduated and who can complete their CAP in one year. For this start of the 2021 school year, the deputy director of the Véronique Le Jallé high school has received more than 30 requests from young graduates… for two places.

However, it is these diversified profiles, also having training in styling, sewing or even design, that are of increasing interest to feather houses. Like all crafts, a feather worker must be meticulous and patient, but that is no longer enough. Recruiters are also looking for designers. “I want multidisciplinary feather workers, testifies Maxime Leroy, who are also artificial florists, embroiderers or illustrators, rich people, who have a practical and creative spirit. There are the ‘little hands’, and the qualified feather workers that I am looking for. , those who have thought.”

Creation of the February House for Stéphane Rolland

Because Maxime Leroy wants to move the featherwork. If he was hired to find the knowledge of yesteryear and transmit the know-how, he is also in constant search for innovation, to save time, better recycle scraps, develop new techniques… “As soon as I I have a free feather maker, I’m putting it on technical development. The feather maker remained frozen in the cabaret for a long time, today it dialogues with haute couture, design… everything is evolving.” One thing, however, remains unchanged, the precision of manual work: “feathering is one of the rare skills that cannot be industrialized. Apart from a sewing machine, everything is done by hand in the workshop. “

hands of gold

Like all rare luxury professions, know-how is prized, so there is room for feather workers. However, more and more young people who have just graduated are turning to self-entrepreneurship. Like Prune Faux, specializing in accessories and decorative items. She chose independence after a first collection for Alexander McQueen and several years in haute couture, and today sells her creations in her shop or on her website. Count 250 euros for a bridal comb, 350 euros for a lampshade, 700 for a cloche hat.

Cloche hat, design by Plume Faux. Credit: Virginie Ovessian

An independence that seduces while a beginner feather worker does not earn much more than the Smic, sighs Véronique Le Jallé; up to 1,700 euros net at the February House. “When you see the selling price, the time spent, and the salary, the equation is not good”, considers the deputy director of the school Octave Feuillet. Because feather products are expensive. The February boa is worth around 1,300 euros per meter; the workshop produces 3 kilometers per year. The white feather capes worn during the review by the three main roles and renewed every quarter because they are stained by the makeup of the dancers, are worth 7,000 euros each. “The students are there out of passion, summarizes Véronique Le Jallé. They know that they will not be billionaires. Yet it is the talent in their hands that is worth gold.”

Find the previous parts of our Exceptional Professions series:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.