A few weeks ago we did an historical flash back on The little black dress. Here is an other iconic and timeless french fashion piece: " la Mariniere" or the Breton stripes sweater.
Originally reserved for professional purposes, this sweater has now become, like denim, a 20th century fashionable clothing item. Rooted in the french heritage, this mythical sweater is worn by both fishermen and enthusiast sailors, at sea, and in town. The chandail is now a quintessential item for the wardrobe or adventurers, artists and fashion conscious consumers alike.
The origins of the Breton stripes sweater are to be found in 18TH century in Brittany. Garlic merchants, leaving from Brittany to sell their goods in England, wore a very distinctive item of clothing that made them recognizable from a distance.
The French expression "marchand d’ail" (garlic merchant), was soon anglicized as "chandail" and ended up referring to this unique item of clothing that was the fisherman sweater.
Knitwear, which until then had been made from wool cloth, was made using a secret, extremely tight stitch which granted the chandail, made of unwashed sheep wool, a considerable resistance to both wind and cold, keeping sailors warm and dry on the seas.
The real Fisherman’s sweater was a long garment, very close fitting and worn inside the pants in order to protect a sailor’s back even when bending and working on the boat.
Within a few decades several color variants appeared: red, white, striped, but it should be remembered that, in the Navy, the single colored sweater was reserved for officers, and the striped variety for sailors. To this day, in the French Navy, young recruits wear a striped tee-shirt during their three month onboard training period.
According to an old lore from Brittany, the 21 stripes each correspond to a naval victory of Napoleon's French fleet against the British.
WHEN FASHION DESIGNERS TAKE THE MARINIERE
It is once again Coco Chanel who launch the Breton stripe sweater in Deauville as a fashion must have in the 1916's. At that time she get her inspiration from sailor collar's blouse by adding a feminine touch with the silk fluidity.
Luc Godard will resume Chanel's idea in his movie "Le Mepris" in 1963 in which Brigitte Bardot wears a nowadays "mariniere".
In the 1960's, Yves Saint Laurent also adopt the stripe uniform and launch a first haute couture collection. But it's definitely Jean-Paul Gauthier who will settle the Marinere as a fashion must-have by changing its shape and material. In 1983 while presenting his "Boy Toy" collection he closed his fashion show wearing his own version of the Breton Stipes top.
SAINT JAMES - THE BRETON STRIPES BRAND
We could not speak about the Mariniere without mentioning Saint James, the famous french brand of Nautical Stipes and Breton Sweater. In France, Saint James is to stripes and all things nautical the absolute reference.
For over 125 years Saint James has been making some of the favorite garments of professional sailors to fashion conscious consumers from Tokyo to New York. Renowned for the quality of its garments as well as the attention paid to every detail, the company’s reputation was earned thanks to the careful attention given to every step of the manufacturing process as well as the time spent transmitting each craftsman’s know-how to a new generation.
Historical in Saint-James, circa 1850, the Legallais family's spinning plant, Les Filatures de Saint-James, began producing the yarn for the fisherman sweater, fostering its popularity and transforming this regional expertise into a successful industry. To this day, the Saint James atelier and factory is still located in the small village of Saint James, (population: 3000) about 20 kilometers from Mont-Saint-Michel.
Saint-James has remained true to its hallmark for over 150 years, producing the highest quality nautical-inspired silhouettes. To this date, Saint James still purveys the French Navy and the French Army with their official uniform sweaters.
Saint James is also renowned for the side-buttoned Breton Fisherman Sweater that has been traditionally worn by Breton fishermen since the 19th century. Close-knit quality and double-twist wool meant to protect against sudden gusts of wind and be sturdy enough to withstand strenuous work at sea.
Our very own good news is that Saint James and its Breton Stripes collection will be at our Valentine's Day Pop Up Concept Store! Save the date and come and say "Je t'aime" with us at our boutique - 230 Mulberry Street, NYC.