Deyrolle Shop Front: 46 Rue du Bac, Paris.
Photo by author, June 2017
As we get older I like to think we become more confident and at ease with our personal eccentricities. I know I have and, I can tell you, it’s a beautiful thing. Part of this process involves embracing the fact that we, at times, are drawn to activities and places which for many people might seem strange, morbid or darkly disturbing. While I have always been a little oddly curious and pre-occupied with death, in my case, maturity has attracted me to taxidermy – an interest which I can now ‘claim’ without sparing a thought for the response which this admission might incite in those around me.
Having heard about Deyrolle through Instagram (of all places), I decided it was as good of a reason as any for my last trip to Paris. Now, I live in Australia, in a rural town about an hour and a half from Melbourne; so going to Paris for one single shop is not a small jaunt down to the local town centre. It’s an epic production. As it happened, I had business to attend to in London, so in fairness I didn’t spend all that money on airfare just to gaze longingly at some dead animals. Anyway, as I turned up on the street outside Deyrolle, about an hour before it was due to open, I was suddenly overcome with fear that it might not live up to my expectations. Standing outside on the street and trying to gaze in through the metal shutters did nothing to soothe this anxiety. Certainly, upon entering the store at street level there was a moment of regret. Although the first floor is very beautiful, it in no way necessitates the journey I’d made just to see it. I was disappointed (and not for the first time during that particular jaunt in the French capital). Ascending the staircase to level two however, those concerns evaporated, as I was ensconced in a menagerie beyond my wildest dreams.
Lions and tigers and bears (oh my), you’ll see them all here. Frozen forever in scarily lifelike and mildly off-putting poses, it’s not until you really get up close (without touching or taking pictures, thank you) that you really appreciate the stunning mastery that comes with taxidermy. Sure, we’ve all see the reproductions of the family dog, cat of bird and had a giggle behind our hands, but when it is done right, this is almost as good as the real thing. Suddenly I see why Norman Bates got involved and am also a little envious of the grandpa from Lost Boys (I wish my grandpa had been into stuffing dead animals) and his penchant for roadkill and assorted woodland critters. Seriously though, taxidermy, as it turns out, is not just for serial kills and old men, it’s actually cool. Somewhere between high art and natural history, it’s everything wonderful about nature, with a bit of science thrown in for good measure. In short: a nerds delight.
Now, I know there will be someone reading this in interwebs world that is about to decry my taste and accuse me of being pro-cruelty to animals. Look, you’re entitled to your opinion and I am the first to admit that I love me some leather and I don’t object to certain kinds of furs either and thus, am a terrible person, but you’ll excuse me when I tell you to get out of my grill. To get all up in arms over taxidermy of wild game though is perhaps, in this age of extinction, near-sighted. After all, a taxidermy tiger, lion or rhino will last far longer than the average lifespan of the caged wild animal. With that in mind, might we might not be wiser to consider the merits of taxidermy to the preservation of wild species in the long run? I’m not suggesting that we all run out on safari and start slaughtering big cats, but at the end of the day, I would have to think that more exposure to places like this would negate the need to keep wild living animals caged. I think if there were more places like Deyrolle, where the general public could sate their fascination with seeing a real life wild animal that they would otherwise have to visit a zoo for, up close, we might able to let the animals that are still living see out their days in peace. Still, I know you’re not all going to be of that mind. (Maybe skip my upcoming post on the Field Museum then…)
But look, this is just an internet blog about weird cultural curiosities, not a soapbox. So enough preaching about right and wrong.
(photo courtesy of the Deyrolle website)
It’s almost legend now, but in 2008 Deyrolle was virtually destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt almost from the foundations (taxidermy included). You’d never tell that today as you wander between rooms, silent staring at animals you would otherwise never get to encounter up close.
While everything in Deyrolle does have a price tag on it, the cost of purchasing a memento is not for the faint hearted. A modest bird will set you back at least 300 euro, while the more exotic game animals can quickly reach into the thousands or tens-of-thousands. Trust me, it’s not like you’re going to be marching out of there with arms full of animals to take home and plonk on the mantle. I was lucky to leave with a little brown duckling, which is now proudly displayed in my bedroom, but which set me back 120 euro or $177 AUD (on sale). Regardless of the associated costs, my trip to Deyrolle has been one of the highlights of 2017 thus far (and we’re only half way through!) and I’ll certainly return to Paris again. Just so I can visit. Maybe next time I’ll have saved up enough for an owl.
The little brown duck, which Australian Customs officials thankfully let me keep. I call him Henri.