The art of fashion in feathers, or plumasserie, is one that originated in South America, but is one in which the French have excelled since the 13th Century, when peacock hatters began to use the bird’s plumes extensively to decorate the finest of hats in fashion conscious Paris. By the 15th Century, the artistes were known as plumassiers, and by the 17th Century, under Louis XIV, Peacock, Ostrich and Heron feathers, sourced mainly from North Africa, became as popular as jewellery among the rich and famous, adorning hairstyles and gowns alike.
At its height, the fashion feather industry in Paris in 1890, numbered 800 businesses employing in excess of 6000 people. This was the inescapable heyday of the sometimes bawdy, but always popular Folies Bergere, its entertainment from 1886 the expansive brainchild of Eduard Marchand, who set Paris alive with his music hall revues of which women were to be the centrepiece. With elaborate costumes in daring styles, dance routines featuring giant feathers rejuvenated and reinvented the feather as an exotic enhancement to fashion that would be carried through to the 1930’s.
As a teen, Julien Vermeulen studied working with feathers at the Lycee Octave Feuillet, the last public school to offer a Diploma Course in Plumasserie, and then attended the Ecole Duperre. Now, the House (Maison) of Vermeulen, founded in 2014, appears set to join the pantheon of greatness alongside Dior, Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, and Louis Vuitton as the young artiste, the most sought after in Paris, is “rediscovering the enchantment of feathers.” His visual artistry, his craftsmanship, and his captivation of light in the lightness of the feather itself, certainly mark the young man as a master of his art, acknowledged by his peers.
The artist understands his place in the greater scheme, saying, “The Maison Vermeulen is heir and custodian of a heritage, that of the plumasserie, an ancient and precious technique. While preserving this tradition, our house aims to overcome it, to go beyond our know-how, to renew it. With an almost scientific approach, we are looking for new processes to work with feather material, with our imagination as the only border.” He continued, saying that using talented people, and techniques, observation, experimentation and innovation allows them to identify elements that have attracted their curiosity, to imagine and develop unexpected textures. From there, they develop haute couture, jewellery, art and decoration for a growing clientele.
This winner of the Maison & Objet Paris ‘Rising Star’ Award during Paris Fashion Week 2016, is much sought after today for his imagination, with M&O saying, “His work is a testament to the possibilities of feather work.” One only has to note the intricacy of his work, the startling contrasts in colour and texture, and the mood elements of light emphasised by the layering. From his ‘Bado Sensei,’ to his ‘Oie Noire,’ he captures the diversity of a medium of artistry most of us would never have considered, to stunning effect.
Emily Dickinson wrote, in her inimitable manner, that “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul — and sings the tune without the words — and never stops at all.” Maybe Julien Vermeulen is interpreting the hope, giving life to something that deserves an end more fitting of that has natures gifts, through birds, of flight and song.