How to make hand fans

When you're almost breathless in the shimmering heat under the mask, fans are often the last resort. The foldable lightweights fit in every pocket and help to dissipate the heat within seconds. Actually incomprehensible why men so seldom use it. Very different from David J. Ranftl: the art historian has been collecting subjects from the 17th to the early 20th centuries since childhood. Today the 34-year-old works in the art trade, advises collectors and works as a curator for the German Fan Museum in Bielefeld, among others.

SZ: You can wag yourself with the fan, of course. And also?

David Ranftl: You can use it to protect yourself perfectly, for example from the bad breath of other people, as Karl Lagerfeld did, or from intrusive looks: at an advanced age, Empress Elisabeth of Austria hid her face and bad teeth behind the fan. In stuffy ballrooms and opera houses lit by innumerable candles, the fan not only provided cooling and saved the ladies in their tightly laced corsets from the next swoon. It was also an indispensable fashion accessory and status symbol: Depending on the quality and design, such a fan could still correspond to the current value of a small car at the turn of the century.

Let's go to the present. What does a really good subject need nowadays?

It should be made of the lightest possible material, such as bamboo or light wood, with a sheet of fabric or paper. It has to be a good size so that it fits in your pocket and at the same time be stable. It should also open and close with a ratchet. In Spain this is even considered a central quality criterion, because the flamenco dancers give their gestures additional expression in a very impulsive way. The wear is correspondingly high. Seen in this way, flamenco is practically the ultimate stress test.

And what makes more wind: folded fans or these round ones, as we know them from Japan?

You speak of so-called stick fans or hand-held umbrellas - they basically work equally well. It's more the technology that makes the difference. You can do a lot wrong there. If the ladies from back then could see what many are doing with it today, they would be ashamed of themselves: the fan is often held rather coarse and also upright instead of horizontal.

Sounds embarrassing. How should one correctly fan out?

The fan is taken in the right hand, the thumb grips the fan head with the spike on which the struts come together. Then the fan is opened at a 180-degree angle and held in such a way that it forms an exactly parallel line to an imaginary table top. In addition, the sheet always points towards the viewer so that he can see the motif. And then please do not wave around wildly, but with a certain grace.

Pretty complicated. Especially since you have to be right-handed for that, right?

It is true that the classic fan only ever opens in one direction. Fortunately, some dealers now offer models for left-handers, which was really a niche in the market. If only because it is not good for the fan in the long run if you open it the wrong way round.

Why do men keep their fingers off the fan even in the sweltering heat?

Probably out of fear of looking ladylike - a question of cultural roots. In Asia there has never been much distinction between the sexes in this regard. Subjects are also much more present in culture because they also fulfill other functions. For example, small cakes are served with it at the tea ceremony, in Chinese opera the fan serves as an extended arm to underline gestures. In Europe, on the other hand, the fan was already being used as a fashion accessory and tool of coquetry as early as the 18th century. Most gentlemen therefore prefer to take a theater program or a menu to hand to blow their breath. Except for Spain - there are even special compartments for the gentleman, they are a bit simpler, with a black leaf, and of a narrow shape.

However, subjects have fallen a little out of time, the tech-savvy people of the 21st century tend to use alternatives such as mini-fans.

These things that you charge with a USB stick are a no-go! It may be that the small devices are more contemporary or even more effective - but they are completely stylish. With these summer temperatures, I always have a black fan, matching a tuxedo, in my shirt sleeve at festivals or balls.

Do you have a favorite piece?

Yes, it comes from a series with scenes from various Wagner operas that were once made personally for King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The collection went to the Spanish Infanta María de la Paz, who gave it to her court master. Then it loses its track, with the exception of two copies: One can be seen in the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. I have the other.

You can spend a lot of money not only on antique pieces, but also on fashionable subjects ...

Absolutely. Haute couture labels have their models specially made for their collections by trained specialists. The products from the Parisian fan manufacturer Duvelleroy, for example, are sometimes sold for several thousand euros to wealthy customers as far as Asia and the Emirates. And the unique pieces by Frenchman Sylvain Le Guen, all handcrafted at the level of the previous century - embroidered by hand, decorated with sequins or feathers, folded like origami - are all small works of art. But if someone who cares about fashion and aesthetics can afford a Hermès bag, why not a fan too?

After all, anyone who affords something like this can flirt with it wonderfully: Allegedly there is even a special language with flirt codes.

In the 18th century, fans were used as an instrument of coquetry, so the ladies hid their faces and squinted from behind them. The game with the fan lasted into the early 20th century. In certain circles, a kind of secret language developed from this among young people - which excluded the parents' generation. Fan manufacturers then published leaflets that were supposed to explain certain gestures and their supposed meaning. For example, a closed fan held against the left cheek supposedly means "I love you". However, I doubt that secret fan language would make sense if everyone could interpret it. Apart from that, fans were used to the end as a means of flirtation to attract attention: for example, by the lady dropping it so that the gentleman would pick it up.

Doesn't all this symbolism and gesture leave a lot of room for misunderstanding?

It is quite possible that these codes led to one or the other embarrassment, for example if the participants came from different cultures. The message of a lady who puts a closed fan on her lips, however, should be clear.

Be quiet!?

Well, actually "kiss me". Maybe not that clear after all.