The Feather Master

PETER SCHLESINGER • NOVEMBER 6, 2017

The Feather Master

PETER SCHLESINGER • NOVEMBER 6, 2017


A closer look at the exquisite designs of Eric Charles-Donatien, whose feather-craft transforms dresses into works of art.

Paris-based plumassier Eric Charles-Donatien has never abided by the birds of a feather philosophy. While his colleagues at fashion school were daydreaming of becoming the next Coco Chanel, he was focusing on the fabrics and textures they could use to get there. “For me, having my own brand and doing things for my name was a dead end,” the designer says. “It was more challenging and interesting to put all you know into something that will not go in your direction.”

After interning at Hermès, he secured an entry level position at renowned  featherwork brand Maison Lemarié, a Paris institution for plumed filagree since 1880. It was during his fourteen-year tenure there that Charles-Donatien discovered feathers’ malleability, helping to bring the historic company into the 21st century. “What we were doing was still from an old time—very madame, very chic. I thought about what I had to provide to this craft, and decided that I’m from mixed origins,”—though French-born, his parents are from Martinique—“let’s mix. Let’s take feathers and make new textures…What about making feathers look like fox? What about doing tiger in feathers? What about making them look like leather? Or wood?”

In 2010, he started his own studio in Paris, allowing him to stretch his creative wings further. He’s since collaborated with the leading fashion houses, which come to him—often just days before a show—to transform a dress from mundane to ethereal. Looking back, he understands why feathers were a perfect fit. “As a kid I thought I was an angel who had lost his wings, and my whole life’s aim has been to find them again. So I’ve always been in love with things that give you freedom—with traveling and being in the air. I even worked at an airport!”

Here, Charles-Donatien shares several of his most beloved pieces, including an installation at the reopened Hôtel de Crillon.

The Feather Master

Stéphane Rolland dress - 2014

"It’s all about the back. The idea was to have the dress all black in front, and then this transparency that shows all the colors and featherwork when she turns. The motif looks like a landscape or trees or birds...You don't even know what it is, but it looks like some magical garden directly on the skin like a tattoo." Photo by Olivier Buhagiar.

The Feather Master

Armani Privé jumpsuit - 2015

"This is one of the chicest silhouettes we've done. A beautiful, sheer, embroidered organza, embroidered by the textile house Hurel. The burned ostrich feathers in black float once she's walking. We put the feathers in upside down so they keep their three-dimensional effect and create an aura around the body." Photo by Kim Weston Arnold / Indigitalimages.com

The Feather Master

Sorapol London dress - 2015

"This dress, for Thai designer Sorapol in London, has a huge skirt of rainbow colored ostrich feathers, a hand-painted bustier with additional feathers, and feather shoulders. The technique is actually one of the simplest of our art, but the effect is just exceptional. We had a lot of fun doing it, and it's one of the only times I've seen a model so happy trying on a dress. She was jumping up and down like a little girl." Photo courtesy of Sorapol London.

The Feather Master

Roberto Cavalli Met Gala dress for Kim Kardashian - 2015

“This was the first dress from Peter Dundas after he re-entered Roberto Cavalli as creative director. There’s embroidery under the transparent tulle dress, and the idea was to add a fairy princess effect for the Met Gala. She had to look like a bride, so we created a train dense with white ostrich feathers ending with tiny feather hairs. It’s one of our most major dresses we’ve done these past few years, and to me it’s one of the dresses she looks most amazing in.” Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

The Feather Master

Quentin Veron Jacket - 2015

“Quentin Veron is a young fur designer and a very close friend of mine. I love to collaborate with him and create hybrid chimeras out of fur and feathers. This jacket has a skeleton effect on the back, where the rooster feathers—dyed in red with a metallic green—add to this long bone in the back.” Photo courtesy of Quentin Veron.

The Feather Master

Vera Wang Met Gala dress for Rita Ora - 2016

“We started making this dress in Paris, then finished it in New York. Until the very end, we were working on it for Rita to be the most beautiful as possible, with the exceptional metallic effect. Vera provided us the shape in organza and chiffon, and we covered it with feathers, each painted one by one with a variety of shades of metallic grays. She looked like a tattooed person. We were so proud when we saw Rita climbing those stairs with Vera at the Met Gala—and it was great to see that picture everywhere.” Photo by Jamie McCarthy / FilmMagic.

The Feather Master

Christian Dior Crown - 2017

“It looks so simple, but as with many simple things, it’s more actually more complex. For this crown, it’s all visible, so nothing can be hidden. The ostrich feathers, dyed to match the fabrics of the Steven Jones’s Dior outfits, look like they’re coming directly from the head. These hair pieces are a perfect modern crown for a little princess.”

The Feather Master

Crillon Alcove Chimère - 2017.

"At the Hotel de Crillon, this structure hangs over an alcove that’s a transition between the garden and the peaceful spa designed by Tristan Auer. It’s a link in between those two worlds, and the idea was to give this link a magical note, one that’s comforting, attractive and seductive, but with a little bit of a weirdness. Made with metal and feathers, so it's a mix of organic and metal. It’s an ode to freedom and to dreams, and it’s somewhere, I hope, that you’ll want to stay for a while." Photo courtesy of Agent d'Artisans.

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Written By: Peter Schlesinger

11.6.17

Locations: Paris

See more: Style

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