Deyrolle may be the reigning queen of taxidermy, but it’s not the only place to discover a glorious array of preserved wildlife in Paris, says Jennifer Ladonne
Anyone who’s been to Deyrolle, Paris’s great cabinet of curiosities, has come away feeling they’ve made a marvellous discovery. A feeling Parisians have shared for the near-two centuries that this specialist in taxidermy, entomology and natural history has resided at 46 rue du Bac. Frenchmen and women of all generations remember the name from their school days, printed on educational charts covering such wide-ranging topics as the grape varieties of France, the human circulatory system, the life cycle of frogs and even the perils of alcoholism.
The shop has weathered its own life cycles. In 2001, it was bought by Prince Louis Albert de Broglie – founder of the elegant gardening line Le Prince Jardinier – and transformed from a dusty, chaotic and astonishing jumble of wild and domestic bugs, birds and beasts ready to pounce from every surface to a polished Saint-Germain boutique.
After a fire swept through the shop in 2008, charring the original wooden cabinets and incinerating 90 per cent of the collection, all of Paris rallied to this much-loved landmark in an avalanche of support. Famous politicians, actors and artists along with fans from far and wide raised enough to restore the 17th-century premises to an elegant facsimile of its ancient self.
Nowadays you can find anything from aristocratic gardening tools and charming limited-edition sneakers sporting colourful butterflies to magnificent shells and corals, glittering bell jars of butterflies, birds, flowers and/or beetles (€160-€3,000), a Siberian tiger (€25,500) or a massive water buffalo with a fluttering heart of buttercup-coloured butterflies (€30,000).
That’s not to say Deyrolle has abandoned its age-old role as educator. You will still find dozens of pedagogic posters, old and new, and natural history books – and the boutique avidly supports projects for sustainability and ecology. Budding and professional taxidermists will also find all the pins, boxes and tools of the trade.
The boutique’s outstanding collection of insects, filling dozens of drawers that visitors are welcome to explore at their leisure, are mostly farmed. None of the animals are hunted in the wild, but donated by zoos, circuses or private collections after perishing of natural causes. Rare species come with all the proper certifications and no endangered species are sold here.
UNICORNS AND ANTELOPE
“Are these real animals?” marvels a wide-eyed tourist. Not such a silly question, considering visitors to Design et Nature, a crowded taxidermy shop in an 18th-century building near the Place des Victoires, are greeted by a phalanx of pastel-coloured chickens, twin trophy unicorn heads (in black or white) and a rat dressed up as Leonardo da Vinci poised in front of his “mousterpiece”. All these creatures are close to the heart of Anne Orlowska, who began her career in taxidermy as the owner of Deyrolle from 1994 to 2001, when she sold the outfit to Louis Albert de Broglie. Orlowska’s wit, imagination and eye for the beautiful as well as the wacky make her latest shop a frolicsome counterpoint to the more polished Deyrolle.
Orlowska’s colourful menagerie ranges from big game – a huge trophy rhino, antelope, or hippopotamus heads, tigers, bears, baby elephants and half a giraffe
– to a magnificent albino peacock, owls and parrots of all sizes and a quantity of insects. Everyone from Louis Vuitton to Harry Winston has featured her animals in fashion spreads and the store boasts an A-list clientele of Parisian artists and celebrities.
Design et Nature’s ‘artists’ editions’ include a unique collection of winged mammals called “chimera”, skull-and-shell sculptures, and animal characters (an accordion-playing monkey or a pigeon chef), interspersed with the dozens of animal, bird and butterfly specimens on display. On closer inspection, the riotously coloured, dinner plate-sized butterflies prove not to be the real thing but carefully mounted and boxed photographs of rare exotic species.
On the day of my visit, Orlowska and her well-informed assistant Marie Neubauer are preparing for a special exhibition of animal-themed paintings of presidents by artist Bernard Tirouflet: Trump scowling in front an elephant and eagle, Putin with a hungry wolf and a grisly bear. Both women are quick to assist customers in composing their own box or bell jar from dozens of butterfly and insect species (butterflies are mostly priced between €20 to €50 with a few topping €100) in boxes ranging from 10 x 10 cm (€30, not including bugs) to 39 x 50 cm (€80).
Design et Nature works closely with restaurateurs and designers to add a touch of the unusual in their interiors. “I work with what I love,” says Orlowska, and that translates into a shop of enormous charm and charisma.
After working as an entomologist, ornithologist and taxidermist for 25 years at Deyrolle, Claude Nature set out on his own. But he didn’t stray too far from the rue de Bac. His small, eponymous shop at 34 boulevard Saint-Germain in a leafy neighbourhood near the Sorbonne is just the right introduction to the world of insects, rocks, shells, crustaceans, birds and mammals. Not too expensive, or overwhelming, the specimens on display range from a friendly North American raccoon to a baby dromedary, inky crows, vivid parrots, frog and bird skeletons and all manner of insects and butterflies priced from a few euros into the thousands.
“I’ve watched kids from the neighbourhood grow up,” says Hervé, who has worked in the shop since it opened in the early 2000s and is a patient and engaging raconteur in both French and English. Anyone showing an interest, especially children, can hear the tales of exotic seashells, a fully deployed blowfish or an intricately reconstructed lobster.
It’s not only school kids who adore Claude Nature: Hervé’s clients include natural history museums and collectors, interior decorators and creative types looking for an unusual gift. “Why settle for something boring when you can bring your dinner hosts an exotic horned beetle?” Done up in a smart black box to offset its brilliant gold carapace, a metallic dung beetle (€120) trumps a bottle of wine any day.
INSECTS AND ICONS
Not many people, let alone families, can bask in the glory of having a species of beetle named after them. During his two years in Ethiopia investigating the native beetle species as a graduate student in entomology, Cyril Di Gennaro discovered more than 30 as yet unclassified species of bugs that he bestowed with names like Hegemus pluto Christinae, for his mother, Christine.
The ALD boutique is the smallest of the taxidermy- entomology shops in Paris and that’s its advantage. Instead of competing with the more famous boutiques, Di Gennaro focuses on what he knows best: expressive Ethiopian orthodox paintings, icons and relics, African carvings, stuffed birds and small mammals, a large range of butterflies and insects from around the world and, of course, beetles. ALD is the place for entomology geeks and the most likely shop to score a rare – but never endangered – insect, like the Papilio rex franciscae, a stately black-and-white butterfly from Ethiopia with touches of ivory and russet (€1,200); or the Papilio ney ney from Peru, of which a rare male specimen commands one of the highest prices in the shop (€2,800).
Bestsellers include small, well-priced bell jars of brightly-coloured butterflies (€80-€130) and dramatic single beetles tastefully mounted with a map of their place of origin. You can create your own box from a huge range of bugs, including beautiful turquoise-and- black weevils from New Guinea, metallic green scarabs from Brazil and even a giant ant. The insects range in price from a few euros to thousands, but most cost less than €25. Every specimen comes with certification so you’ll never have an issue taking your box across borders.
An avid collector of insects and animals since boyhood, Gregori Ferret finally put his passion on display in 2013 in his whimsical Haut Marais outpost. Galerie Chardon is stocked to the gills with stuffed mammals of all sizes, a host of birds both exotic and quotidian, trophy heads, crustaceans, shells, skulls and skeletons, insects and butterflies as well as a few things you won’t find in other stores, like a fanciful dress of giant silk monarch wings and black tulle or a dramatic display of a male lion taking down an Oryx (€27,600).
Chardon also features a line of jewellery to delight any Goth: delicate silk-cord necklaces sporting an ant, starfish, snail or hermit crab suspended in resin or fragile bird skulls mounted on pendants and dangling from not-so-fragile brass chains. As no cabinet is complete without its curiosities, those with more eclectic tastes will love a miniature box of ducklings dressed up for a costume ball, or snowy white mouse pelts in the style of tiny bear rugs complete with head and tail. You can compose your own box on site from a wide selection of pristine insects and butterflies. Or you can get a head start by visiting Chardon’s online store, which gives a good idea of the boutique’s inventory.
Deyrolle, 46 rue du Bac, 7th. deyrolle.com
Design et Nature, 4 rue d’Aboukir, 2nd. designetnature.fr
Claude Nature, 32 boulevard Saint-Germain, 5th. claudenature.com
ALD Entomologie, Cabinet de Curiosités, Art Ethiopien, 19 rue Frédéric Sauton, 5th.
Galerie Chardon, 21-23 rue des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd. galerie-chardon.fr
From France Today magazine