The last beret maker France

Written by on June 28, 2015 in French Icons, French Style, Midi-Pyrénées

beret-maker-france

The iconic beret of France was born from the land, not from industry. It is part of the heritage and local savoir-faire….

You will probably think this is very cliché, but if I ask you to picture a typical French man, he is very likely to be sitting on his old bicyclette, a baguette under his arm and a beret on his head… Am I wrong?

Not just a cliché, the beret is a strong cultural icon of South West France and every generation shares this pride. It brings together so many qualities needed for life in the country. On a practical level it is waterproof, doesn’t crease, is foldable, protects from the rain, the cold and the sun. Aesthetically it demonstrates an individual identity, depending on how you wear it.

Few realise, perhaps thanks to the Paris stereotype in movies, the beret (from Gascon word ‘berret’) is in fact from the Bearn, in the Pyrénées. The beret was born from the land, not from industry. It is part of the heritage and local savoir-faire….

This is an excerpt from the full article in The Good Life France Magazine

How to make a real French Beret

It takes two full days to make a traditional, authentic beret, sometimes longer, each item being a unique piece with its own adjustments and checks. Traditionally using pure Merino virgin wool, the dying process requires a mixture of various pigments, and demands great care to make sure the dye ‘takes’ evenly across the whole of the wool. Every beret is checked over and over to make sure the colour is perfectly deep and bright, making it a unique and noble product.

beret-brigitte-bardotBut let’s jump back to our cliché French man: what you can’t see is that the label on most berets came perilously close to reading ‘Made in China’. The French-crafted beret very nearly disappeared altogether somewhat unceremoniously. Was it not for an enterprising local business leader in Gascony, who rescued the notable beret-making company Laulhère the great French beret would be no more…

Laulhère is the last remaining historic beret-maker in France, based in Oloron-Ste-Marie in the Pyrénées. It was created in 1840 by the Laulhère family; the company has in recent years been struggling from an on-going textile industry crisis as well as from low-price, low-quality products from international competitors. These factors sadly led to the decision to finally close its doors two years ago and that may well have been the death-knell for the French beret as we know and love it.

However, a rescue effort was mounted by a Gascon based company called Cargo Group and its sister company Blancq-Olibet and thanks to them our beloved berets will continue to be “Made in France”.

Aimery Forzy, Cargo Group’s CEO says: ‘We decided we wanted to save our famous Beret Gascon, which is part of our history and patrimoine. It is hard to picture the ‘Frenchy’ with a baguette and no beret!’

LAULHERE-beretA Gascon through and through, Forzy explains “We will try our best to keep the three main production lines: the military, traditional Basque/Gascon beret, and the fashion beret…. and we’re updating it! For example we are currently working with Agnes B (a trendy Parisian brand) and other renowned French fashion designers. Some new designs will be a bit more modern, but with an emphasis on the traditional and noble touch. So far so good, but it is very important that we all continue to support the Laulhere/Olibet beret, which is one of the Gascon main ready-to-wear items.”

At the end of 2014 Rosabelle Forzy, the eldest of Aimery’s six lovely children, became the company’s new Managing Director.  After visiting the historic factory, she fell in love with the place, the product and the amazing savoir-faire of the people working there. Rosabelle says

“I thought it would be mad to let this institution disappear, it is such a big part of our French heritage.

“The beret has an extraordinary history. On top of its obvious intrinsic qualities it is an object that is in constant movement. It has been on the head of many free spirits: it is quite symbolic for artists, revolutionaries, jazzmen, cinema stars, the Yéyés (1960’s fashion), and it continues to be a symbol of freedom of thought and a constant fashion accessory…

Read the complete article in The Good Life France Magazine (Mar/Apr 2015)

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