Saturday, November 7, 2009

Interview with French hatter Stéphane Jacquet

Following is part of an interview by Dirk Beauregard with French hatter Stéphane Jacquet; the article in full can be read here.

What about the humble béret?

Another bestseller, but here too, the clientele has changed. There has been a role reversal. The old men who you might have expected to see sporting a béret, are all wearing hats. The Béret has become an essential Bobo fashion accessory. Most béret-wearers nowadays seem to be the bourgeois bohème type. I think they are looking for an authentic and tangible symbol of la France Profonde, or, la douce France, the cliché from the Charles Trenet song. The béret is perhaps synonymous of France’s rural past where life was supposedly easier and simpler than today. Of course, the béret is also very popular with the English. I always sell quite a few to British tourists passing through Bourges in the summer.

Can you give us a few béret-buying tips?

Well, the first thing to look out for is the size. Not simply the hat size, but the diameter of the béret itself. Both are indicated on the leather band around the outside. A normal béret may have a diameter of twenty-five centimetres, however some bérets, can go over thirty. The more béret you have on top, the bigger the slant, the more you have to pull to one side, or another. There is a popular myth, which says the side to which you choose to slant you béret, left or right, is a sign of your political affiliations. The last two French béret makers are in the Basque country, where the locals also wear the traditional red béret, nothing to do with politics or paratroopers though. The largest bérets are possibly those of the French Alpine troops, les Chasseurs Alpins. To give you some idea of the size, they refer to their béret as a crêpe

We hear so much about production of traditional French products being delocalised, boules for pétanque made in China or foie gras from Hungary. Are bérets still made in France?

About forty years ago, there were thirty béret manufacturers in France, now there are just two. « Blancq-Olibet » near Nay and « Beatex », at Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Both in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Blancq-Olibet, have been making bérets for about two hundred years.

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