L’amour est bleue, continued
After twenty years in advertising and marketing, the French ex-pat Vincent Tallec wanted to do something else. But he had no idea what – until he rediscovered his old Guernsey sweater hidden away in the closet.
”I’m both Normand and Breton and grew up with these clothes. Wool jumpers, moleskin jacket and corduroy made to withstand hard work in the factory, on the field or at sea. My dad is on his second Guernsey. He’s eighty.”
But in Sweden, French worker’s wear was nearly impossible to find. And that’s when the idea was born – a store that handpicks classic, French workwear only from manufacturers still in France.
”My friends at Søder Reklambyrå (an advertising agency on Södermalm in Stockholm) had played with a similar idea for a while, so we joined forces and popped up the first store in their office at Nytorget in Stockholm in September 2019. That went swimmingly and now L’Usine Bleue has its very own store, Nytorgsgatan 36.”
Feeling blue in Stockholm
A key piece at L’Usine Bleue is the classic ”bleu de travail” or ”coltin” – the indigo blue workshirt in heavy cotton. It’s looked more or less the same since the eighteenhundreds. Shirt lapels, 4-5 buttons, one breast pocket, two front pockets, one inside pocket, buttoned cuffs for rolling.
”While it’s true that haute couture was invented in France, we’re a working nation at root. And French workers want good, hardwearing, functional clothes at a reasonable price. Otherwise they’ll get angry. And angry French workers are, as you know, not to be trifled with”, says Vincent.
Today, well-worn, French workwear is coveted by both vintage hounds and fashionistas. Bill Cunningham, the legendary New York fashion photographer, always rode around on his bike in a ”bleu de travail.
”The more I’ve been digging into the French workwear tradition, the more manufacturers I’ve found. Some just a single machine and a few people, making the same sweater for generations, And what’s so inspiring is that they are driven by a deeper passion, pride and love than ordinary brands. They don’t think they make clothes. They are safeguarding a culture they love. And it shows in the garments. You feel it when you touch them.”
Sustainable – in more ways than one
”Most of our suppliers have sustainable manufacturing with ecological materials – and they’re accelerating the switch. But I think sustainability is much more than manufacturing. Sustainable clothes should also withstand hard wear and shouldn’t become unfashionable after just one season. We don’t do seasonal collections at all. We have one collection all year. These are timeless clothes which have long since stepped out of fashion – because they never stepped into it.”
By choosing only suppliers with manufacturing in France, L’Usine Bleue also wants to contribute to the preservation of local skill and know-how in Europe.
”Work environment regulations in France are super tough. It feels good to know that the people who make the clothes have good working conditions. Often better than Swedes do – a thirty-five hour week, for example”, says Vincent.