It’s easy to forget, nowadays, when we share our thoughts with the world via manifold online platforms, that there was once a time when communication was decidedly more subtle. Once, entire exchanges were conducted in the wink of an eye or the flicker of a fan, onlookers oblivious to the intimate conversations happening right beneath their noses. Indeed, the role of the fan as silent communicator was one of the factors to which Daisy Hoppen, founder of the namesake fashion PR agency and now co-founder of Fern Fans, a collection of classic and contemporary wooden handfans, alongside textile and print designer Amanda Borberg, was so attracted.
Hoppen has long been an avid collector of the accessory, she explains, and her tastes range from the cheap – an LGBT rainbow fan picked up at an Ibiza tourist spot, for example – to beautiful vintage treasures. “I always try and match them with my outfits for weddings,” she explains. “And I think you have to have them at weddings, it’s like a must – or on the Central line in the summer.” This juxtaposition, of the sweet and traditional with the urban and contemporary, is key to the philosophy which underpins Fern Fans; to assume that the fan is a nostalgic nod towards attitudes gone by is to miss the point entirely. “They’re really practical,” says Hoppen. “I mean, there’s a reason why people used fans for centuries and centuries. Now obviously it’s more decorative, but ultimately you still see old ladies in Spain sitting on the doorstep fanning themselves. It’s useful.”
With present-day values front and centre – “it was just about making it quite modern and chic,” Hoppen says – Borberg set about creating a range of designs which could satisfy even the most modern of tastes, using fresh-feeling colour gradients based around four shades – green, navy, white and rosy pink – along with minimal stripes, and hand-painted floral patterns (a modern iteration of the rose, to be precise) for the more decorative styles. “We didn’t want it to look like something from an antique market,” explains Borberg. The result falls far from a nostalgic, dressing-up-box style – rather they feel graphic, and sophisticated; a welcome alternative to a using a fluttering newspaper for ventilation on a hot summer’s day. There’s something very tactile about their appeal – not least in an age when both hands and eyes are preoccupied with screens. Imagined at a summer dinner party, Fern Fans offer an opportunity to create a new means of communication, says Hoppen – a tribute to that of masked balls in years gone by. “We want to make our own, modern language.”
The collection launches imminently, and will be stocked at Claire de Rouen, the London bookstore run by Lucy Moore which has become something of a centre for creative activity in the city, hosting talks, events programmes, and stocking an unrivalled range of independent artists’ and photographers’ books. “I think that is because almost everything I sell is made by someone I know, apart from mainstream publications of course, but the special things are made by friends or friends of friends,” Moore says of the store’s ability to draw like-minded people together. “I love that aspect of the bookshop and it is reflected in the people that visit.” Hoppen first mentioned the project to her when the pair were at Arles photography festival together last summer, she explains, and it immediately seemed a perfect fit. “There’s something about the way [fans] are constructed that parallels books, in a way,” she says. “The way they fold… There’s a material friendship there between fans and books that I quite like.”
Surrounded as she is by extraordinary archive material, it seemed natural that Moore pull out a selection of fan-focused reference imagery (some of which is pictured here). “I love imagery that is kind of erotic and that whole history of sexy men and women in photography,” she says. “I was quite amazed, when I started looking, at just how many I found in such eclectic and wonderful places. There are also lots of amazing Japanese photo books of lots of beautiful women carrying fans, and historical fashion books I have, where there are engravings of women with fans in the 18th century. They have that symbolic theatrical element. They’re all about display, I guess, and performing public life, not private life.”
For more information, visit the Fern Fans website.