“Flamboyant” flambeaux lighting has been a mainstay in the world of outdoor lighting for centuries. Here we look at where flambeaux lighting originated, how it is made, and how and where this style of lighting is used today.
Flambeaux torches were commonly used to illuminate night processions and celebrations. With flickering flames, flambeaux lighting often takes on the shape of a large ornamental candlestick. The sight of the flickering open flame is known to evoke a sense of occasion and drama.
The definition of ‘flambeaux’
With its tradition dating back for centuries, the name itself originates from the French word “flambe,” which literally translates to “flame.” It is a fitting description for the fiery brilliance of this style of lighting.
“1. a burning torch, as used in night processions. 2. a large ornamental candlestick” (Collins Dictionary)
Interestingly, the use of the singular and plural forms of the word “Flambeaux” follows a typical French pluralisation rule, which involves dropping the “x” and adding “eaux”. So, if there is one torch, you would refer to it as “Flambeau”, whereas the plural is “Flambeaux”.
Tradition & history of the flambeaux
As we now know, flambeaux were originally used to light special events and celebrations and, later, were seen as symbols of celebration. From ancient celebrations to modern festivities, flambeaux lighting has been part of several cultures for generations. Here are some important historical milestones:
First Recorded Flambeaux: Ancient Olympic Games
- The origin of flambeaux lighting can be traced back to ancient Greece and the prestigious Olympic Games.
- In ancient times, it was believed that the Olympic Flame was a sacred fire sent by the gods to bless the games.
- The Olympic Torch was a symbol of divine favour and an inspiration to both athletes and spectators alike.
1857 and Mardi Gras in New Orleans
- Mardi Gras, the vibrant carnival season, has become synonymous with flambeaux lighting.
- In 1857, flambeaux carriers first appeared in Mardi Gras processions, captivating spectators with their flickering flames.
- These towering torches became an integral part of the Mardi Gras tradition.
Modern Olympic Games – Amsterdam 1928
- The inclusion of a formal modern Olympic Torch Relay began in 1928 during the Modern Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
- The relay was inspired by the ancient tradition of the Olympic Flame, where the torch was lit using a flambeau.
- This symbolic ceremony signalled the start of the Olympic Games and associated celebrations, adding excitement and drama during its global broadcast.
Comrie Flambeaux Procession
- The Comrie Flambeaux is an ancient fire festival, possibly dating back to pagan or Pictish times, which is held every year on Hogmanay night in the small Scottish village of Comrie.
- The procession, consisting of between five to eight torches, (3-meter high poles adorned with large sacks set ablaze—the flambeaux) is followed by the Comrie Pipe Band and villagers dressed in fancy costumes.
- At the end of the procession, in the main village square, Melville Square, the torches are put into a bonfire for spectators to dance around.
- Traditionally, it signified the ceremonial ‘cleansing’ of the village before the start of a new year and today it serves as a showcase of the flambeaux lighting tradition.
Why flambeaux lighting is unique
Why be satisfied with the ordinary when you can experience the extraordinary? Handcrafted with meticulous care and attention to detail, William Sugg & Co. Ltd strives to make all flambeaux lighting as elegant and grand in spirit as the original torch bearers who inspired them.
Bespoke lighting designs can transform an ordinary outdoor space into one that is both memorable and distinctive. It makes a space feel unique, expressing creativity and style through intricate details and personalised touches.
“There are three responses to design. Yes, no and wow! “WOW!” is the one to aim for.” Milton Glaser
Meticulously handcrafted bespoke lighting pieces transform spaces with lighting that is perfectly tailored to complement its surroundings, era and personality. William Sugg’s bespoke lighting is not only unique to you, it is made to last. Today there are several applications for bespoke and custom flambeaux which will add a sense of sophistication and style to any outdoor setting.
How flambeaux are made and how they work
A traditional flambeau, as described earlier, is portable and designed to be carried by an individual. It will often feature a ‘dead-man handle’ so that it can be safely transferred from one person to another (or be set down in a holder) without going out. Depending on the design, it may be made to go out automatically if dropped. Some are ignited using a ‘flamepaste’ that is purposefully designed not to extinguish, even in water. (This style of flambeau was designed by the Romans many years ago and is still sometimes used today!) Portable flambeaux can be wooden, or metal in their construction.
A stationary flambeau, suitable for an outdoor space, however, is built differently. Some are built to burn liquid fuel and many modern flambeaux are powered by gas. For example, a propane fuelled flambeau typically features a fuel reservoir, regulator, and piping. Flambeau lights can be set to turn on and off at specific times, or they can be turned on remotely by various versions of remote control.
Popular applications of open flame lighting & Sugg examples
Our unwavering commitment to crafting bespoke and high-quality flambeaux has led us to collaborate on some remarkable projects. Here are just a few examples of where flambeaux are used today and why they are, quite rightly, so popular!
Gardens & ponds
Garden flambeaux are dramatic centre pieces that can be used to focus attention to a specific space and add a sculptural element to a garden’s design. Pond flambeaux offer an elegant touch to the overall garden design by adding drama and attention.
Andy Sturgeon, who has won nine gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, was named best in show three times, including once with his innovative planting, lighting and installation ideas which featured a Sugg flambeau centrepiece, as pictured below.
The William Sugg custom designed garden flambeau, a contemporary cage like design, gave focus to this area of the garden. This winning design was highly commended for the striking use of unusual plants, architecture and sculptural forms.
Grand entrance ways & outdoor dining areas
With their dramatic open flames, flambeaux are the perfect choice to create a warm and welcoming ambiance and improve the aesthetic appeal a building’s exterior.
Custom and bespoke flambeaux create an impressive and dramatic focal point for large houses and buildings, especially outdoor dining areas. The beauty of custom design is that the flambeau can be made in almost any shape or size; using a traditional design that complements an historical building of a certain era, in a modern or contemporary design for a new space, or to bring together the new and the old stylishly.
As shown in our work at the New Theatre Royal Drury Lane, custom flambeaux were designed for The Ivor Novello Terrace, a lofty terrace, overlooking Covent Garden and serving evening snacks, rosé, and punch. These flambeaux were designed as part of the theatre’s refurbishment and the design was purposefully sensitive to the building’s history. These lights gave the whole space a new and upgraded look and feel to delight visitors.
Film & TV
Flambeaux are frequently used in films and television to add dramatic and atmospheric effects to a scene, especially in period dramas.
In period pieces they add authenticity and create a sense of time and place, as seen below in a Bridgerton. Filmmakers frequently incorporate flambeaux to create a romantic or nostalgic atmosphere that harkens back to a specific past era where this style of lighting would have been common for large functions and celebrations.
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