For centuries, the Guernsey wool sweaters kept both fishermen and navy sailors warm at sea. But to the families who originally knitted them, they were and are deeply embedded in their identity with family knitting patterns handed down though generations.
Originally hand-knitted in one single piece, the Guernsey was designed to keep the seaman warm, dry and safe in almost any weather. It is made from worsted wool – a high quality and slick yarn that can can be woven and knitted very tight enabling it to resist wind and rain better than traditional woolen sweaters. That’s why Lord Nelson included the Guernsey as part of the Royal Navy’s uniform.
The traditional design is unisex, has a stand-up half collar and no defined front or back – according to legend to make the sweater easy to put on in the dark. It has a boxy silhouette and dropped shoulder seams. The traditional workwear version is dyed deep indigo blue. (Black sweaters were sometimes worn at formal events and funerals.)
Today, the traditional Guernsey sweaters are made exclusively by the small manufacturer Le Tricoteur at Rocquaine Bay on the west coast of Guernsey. Every sweater is still finished by hand and signed by the knitter – often a descendant of the Guernsey ladies who began the tradition over 500 years ago.
The blue Guernsey wool sweater
Rising suddenly and high from the sea in northern Bretagne coast, Mont Saint-Michel is like an island from a fairytale. Medieval houses spiral up to the abbey and church at the top. Once a day the tide rolls in and separates the island from the coast. And once a day the water recedes, re-connecting it.
Here in the bay, William the Conqueror established the village of Saint-James. The local sheep grazed the surrounding salt marshes, providing the perfect, hard-wearing wool for sweaters to keep sailors and fishermen warm at sea. In the 1700s the sweater got the characteristic stripes and shoulder buttoning we recognize today as the Marinier.
In 1850, the company Saint James was formed to produce dyed and weaved wool. And soon another original was born – the Breton. The Breton is in its essence a heavy cotton version of the Marinier and which became standard issue for seamen in the French navy. The design requirements were 21 white and 21 blue stripes on the chest and back and 14 blue stripes on the arms.
Today, the Breton from Saint James is a true, French icon, copied by brands and designers all over the world. But there’s only one original.
The striped ”Breton” cotton sweater
First established in 1922 as the ”Manufacture de Bonneterie Lorientaise”, Le Minor is today the oldest, still operating manufacturer of traditional Breton woolens and naval wear.
With deep respect for the ancient signature Breton pieces, like the striped chandail or marinière sweaters, Le Minor continues to carefully reinvent these traditional garments to suit a modern age, but without losing their heritage.
All the Le Minor clothes are manufactured in France, and many of them on vintage machines that produce a superiour quality compared to modern machines. These machines have a soul and a mind of their own, and require extensive training of every new generation of operators in order to preserve the ”savoir-faire”.
This is one of the reasons why Le Minor 40 years ago were selected as an official supplier to the French navy for the officer’s wool sweater.
L’Usine Bleue is proud to be the only shop in Scandinavia to offer Le Minor’s fantastic clothes.
In early 1950, Primo Zelanti began selling worker’s clothes in Bourgogne. The business grew and in 1956 he created his own brand – LE LABOUREUR.
His inspiration were the traditional shirts, jackets, vests and trousers used by farmers and workers for generations – clothes that through the ages had evolved to perfectly fit their purpose.
What remains is pure function and an understated elegance. Neither more nor less than needed, and intended to last – the everyday wear and tear eventually telling the story of a life well lived and loved.
60 years later, Le Laboureur is still a family business. The small factory in Bourgogne and its 30 employees produce their well-respected worker’s wear in cotton, wool and linen for anyone who values true and lasting craftsmanship at great value.
The classic, navy blue worker’s overshirt.
Known since 1935 for their ultra-longevity workwear, Kidur represents the very best of French craftsmanship. L’Usine Bleue is very proud to be the only retailer in the Nordics to carry Kidur!
Kidur is a portmanteau for ”qui dure”, which roughly means ”that which lasts”, reflecting its origins as a heavy duty cloth maker. After World War II, the business diversified into making original shirts and workwear for factory and field. In the 1960s the company changed its name to Moynaton & Roy, which would become one the fifth largest shirt makers in France. In 1986 the cloth making ceased entirely and tailored, premium shirts became to sole business.
In 2018, the brand Kidur was reborn under the guiding hand of vintage clothing expert Gauthier Borsarello. The new team is updating the brand’s traditional know-how and maintaining its original spirit by manufacturing products on the company’s original site. From start to finish, the products are developed and manufactured at C2S, the brand’s birthplace.
All Kidur items are designed in the company’s in-house design studio. The techniques used have been handed down over many years. There is now an on-going transformation to sustainable manufacturing, switching to re-used or eco fabrics and natural dye methods