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Rethinking the Fan

Paper Fan folded at 180 degrees
Paper Fan folded at 180 degrees
Josephine Bourdariat, Josephine Bourdariat's final fan design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Josephine Bourdariat
Written by
Mica Lawrence
Published date
30 November 2020

The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers is a Livery Company based in the city of London, incorporated by a Royal Charter in 1709.

While rooted in history, today the Company is keen to create a wider awareness of the fan. To open new markets and discover new fan practitioners, they are supporting emerging designers and makers to develop new forms of fan making.

As part of this work, the Company has started a new partnership with UAL’s Material and Spatial Practices Programme, in particular the BA Product and Furniture Design course at Chelsea College of Arts.

For the first project in this partnership, second year BA Product and Furniture Design students have been working on a project this term which asks them to consider the history and principles of fans. Exploring the materials and practices that support their qualities, performances and usefulness, the students have developed their own artefacts that reflect the essence of the fan while responding to present-day concerns.

We spoke to a selection of students from the course to find out how they responded to this brief.

A range of different size fans made from white paper
Josephine Bourdariat, Josephine Bourdariat's fan design research
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Josephine Bourdariat

Josephine Bourdariat explored using the fan as an object for privacy and social distancing

“I developed my project around privacy in a public environment.

The first project which inspired me is the Lumio LED book, developed by Max Gunawan. He took an object (a book) and changed its function (lamp). Following that lead, the idea would be to create a fan that does not have the function of cooling but to use it otherwise by solving a modern problem like the lack of privacy in public spaces or social distancing in the covid-19 pandemic.

My fan can be used in in-side spaces such as offices, restaurants, libraries, or even at home, where privacy can sometimes be challenging. The fan is composed of a mechanism, a leaf part, rivet, structure, and stands that make the divider a light and beautiful object."

Wooden frame used to create fan
Josephine Bourdariat, Josephine Bourdariat's fan design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Josephine Bourdariat

"I had the opportunity to talk to Misaki Iinuma, a Japanese/French artisan who specialies in papers to create objects. She showed me her tools and methods to make precise folds. She gave me advice on what kind of paper to use that made my project move forward, such as an organic paper called washi used to make lamps.

Thanks to this encounter, I found out that instead of folding paper in straight lines, I should first cut out a circle and fold it according to certain angles. Throughout the project I learned a lot using different techniques such as laser cutting, digital software, printing, model making alongside an artisanal approach. I enjoyed mixing the old and new.

This project taught me that the bigger the scale is, the more difficulties one encounters. So I started small and went wider and wider to understand all the settings. I found out about the importance of going step-by-step and not rushing into something without understanding each aspect—also, the importance of making models and tests.”

A traditional shaped hand fan made our of red, green, yellow, black and white fabric pattern
Lily Hornsbury, Lily Hornsbury's final fan design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Lily Hornsbury

Lily Hornsbury designed a fan inspired by textile artist Anni Albers

“The final fan I submitted for this project focused on decorative and aesthetic qualities I had been exploring whilst experimenting with traditional textile-based craft processes, including weaving and rug punching. I was also inspired by the textile artist Anni Albers and my memories of her exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2018/19.

She was very inspirational in this project, especially with her practice blending art, design and craft, which is something I’m aiming to push towards. The design itself also reflects the way that I paint in my spare time, focusing on simple, blocky compositions and colours."

Weave machine used to create fan design
Lily Hornsbury, Creating the fan, Lily Hornsbury
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Lily Hornsbury

"The creative process for Rethinking the Fan was never linear or regimented which made it so rewarding for me as I’m interested in many disciplines.

The project has developed my design practice in terms of material investigation and in pushing myself to introduce different processes. During the summer break I had been thinking about cross-disciplinary relationships within craft and design, so I felt the introduction of new materials reflected this ideology. I want to continue to study the behaviours of materials and processes, seeing the outcomes and how they can change the final piece.”

Mobile phone sitting in a stand shaped like a fan
Ping-en Tsai, Ping-en Tsai's final fan design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Ping-en Tsai

Ping-en Tsai used a modern fan design to open up discussion

“In Asian countries, most people feel embarrassed to talk about sex. Traditionally, society regards being open-minded about sex as something to be ashamed of. As a result, some teenagers have no appropriate sources from which to get correct sexual health information.

In this project, using as a fan and phone accessories, I have designed something which the users can carry as a normal everyday item. However, different elements of the design are there to inspire conversation between users’ friends and family. My aim is to stimulate discussion about sex without shame."

Phone and Phone case with chinese drawing of a couple
Ping-en Tsai, Ping-en Tsai's final fan design
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Ping-en Tsai

"Initially, I intended to combine a message about safe sex with the final product. However, with too many issues mixing together, my main concept to challenge the shame around of being open-minded about sex was lost in a messy design.

Figuring out the best way to deal with the problem I had identified initially, combined with my own product design style was the biggest challenge I faced during the creative process. Designing to resolve an issue in society is always the best part of product design for me. Although I’m still a student, I am trying my best to learn how to affect the world and this is the most important thing to remember during the design process.”

Scans from a sketch book showing research drawings and fan protoypes
Luana Meneux, Luana Meneux's fan design research
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Luana Meneux

Luana Meneux design uses modern materials to challenge accepted ideas about the fan as a fragile, old-fashioned object.

"I quickly understood that this accessory was widely perceived as gendered, fragile and old fashioned. I decided that my first aim would be to use neutral materials in order to depart as much as possible from the stilted and decisively feminine connotation of the fan.

I found out that the materials traditionally used in fan-making were always very precious: Ivory, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl. It presented the fan as an elegant and treasured object. I came to understand that this was what made them bourgeois symbols.

I felt that by using a range of common materials from our contemporary world, materials that one is not scared to hold or to break, I could make people appreciate the object differently. I wanted to experiment with the relationship between materials and people. Making people interact with material is a very interesting research - people can have surprising reactions! Beyond that, I also wanted to understand how to turn this object into something organic."

Still images of a moving fan
Luana Meneux, Luana Meneux's final fan design in action
BA (Hons) Product and Furniture Design, Chelsea College of Arts, UAL | Photograph: Luana Meneux

"In the end, my main idea was to develop an exploration based on the flexibility of the fan’s leaves with the help of several material tests, inspired by the fish tail. I wanted to focus on the gesture around the fan and to experiment the air propulsion.

Working with organic shapes and flexible materials for my fan was very exciting. I really challenged myself to focus on the experiments rather than solely on the fan’s aestheticism. I was very happy to expand my research and to discover and understand other materials and how to play with them.”

Find out more about BA Product and Furniture Design at Chelsea College of Arts

Find out more about The Worshipful Company of Fan Makers