Taking Flight

‘Birds of Paradise:’ Feathers in Fashion at Antwerp’s Fashion Museum (Photos)

A new exhibit at the Mode Museum in Antwerp takes a look at the way exotic plumes and feathers have been used in fashion over the past several centuries.

Roger Vivier

Roger Vivier

Feathers have a deep history in the fashion industry. In the 17th century, plumassiers (feather workers) would craft ostrich, peacock, or heron feathers into objects or accessories; feather fans re-emerged on the French social scene as symbols of status and wealth early in the 19th century; the 20th century saw designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga, utilizing feathers as a replacement for fur on the collars of coats or to fill entire dresses. To pay homage to the material, a new exhibition at Antwerp's Mode Museum (MoMu) celebrates the "elegance and refinement" of feathers and plumes in the fashion industry, highlighting facets including "refinement, luxury, freedom, modernism, femininity, lightness," as well as themes such as "lost innocence and dark romance." The exhibition begins with a painting by Melchior d'Hondecoeter and 23 stuffed birds juxtaposed alongside the "femme oiseau" (bird woman) dress from French designer Thierry Mugler's Spring/Summer 1997 Haute Couture collection, which was created from peacock, rooster, eagle, and bird of paradise feathers. Providing a comprehensive look at the use of the feathers in fashion, both past and present, the exhibit touches on different facets of the industry, from the history of the plumassiers and Queen Astrid of Belgium's feather fan collection to their trompe l'oeil effect and use in hats designed by the likes of Steven Jones and Phillip Treacy. From the past century until now, designers including Christian Dior, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Dries van Noten, and Ann Demeulemeester have utilized feathers to exude modernism, glamour, drama, and seduction. "Birds in flight fascinate me," the late Alexander McQueen said. "I admire eagles and falcons. I am inspired by a feather's shape but also its color, its graphics, its weightlessness, and its engineering. It's so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women."

François Nars

Alexander McQueen, Fall/Winter 2009-2010 collection.

Boy Kortekaas

Inside the exhibition, by Boy Kortekaas.

Roger Vivier

Roger Vivier, Blue Angel, Fall/Winter 2012-2013 collection.

Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire, Cleave, 2012.


Boy Kortekaas

Inside the exhibition, by Boy Kortekaas.


Patrice Stable

Dries van Noten, Fall Winter 2013/2014 collection.

Boy Kortekaas

Inside the exhibition, by Boy Kortekaas.

Stephen Mattues

Foldable hand fan by Altenloh E&R Jewellers with a leaf painted in Ostrich dégradé and blonde tortoise frame, 1928, formerly owned by Queen Astrid of Belgium.

Bache Jespers

Dries van Noten, Fall/Winter 2013-2014 collection.


Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire, Quell, 2011.

Boy Kortekaas

Inside the exhibition, by Boy Kortekaas.


Dan Lecca

Ann Demeulemeester, Fall/Winter 2010-2011 collection.

MoMu/Suzan Rylant

Hat trimmings from the MoMu collection.