B is for Breton | haute horizontal | rock star stripes

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

Bouillabaisse, baguette, Bastille Day … and the Breton stripe. What could be more French?

Royalty and the literati have had much to say about Paris. “Paris isn’t a city, it’s a world,” declared King Francois 1 in the 16th century, when it probably was; Ernest Hemingway wrote: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast;” while poet Allen Ginsberg noted “the bewildering beauty of Paris.”

Trust the peerless essayist  James Thurber, though, to nail it. In The First Time I Saw Paris he writes: “Paris, when we finally got there, seemed to our depressed spirits like the veritable capital of the Beginning. Her heart was warm and gay, all right, but there was hysteria in its beat, and the kind of compulsive elation psychiatrists strive to cure…”

Paris worked its spell on Sydneysider Claudia Stahl, when she and journalist husband Michael Stahl lived there in the early years of the new millennium.

“We lived in the 5th arrondissement, the Latin Quarter, next to Notre Dame,” says Stahl. “Our street, Rue Dante, ran off Boulevard Saint-Germain. We were 10 minutes’ walk to the legendary Saint-Germain cafes Les Deux Magots and Café Flore. Our local market was at Maubert Mutualité, where we shopped for fresh produce twice a week. Hearing the cathedral bells ring every day … it was one of the best chapters in my life!”

The Breton stripe pretty in pink

So the City of Light got under her skin and today, Stahl is an advocate for all things French, conducting French classes from her eastern suburbs home, and selling a range of French classics under the Jac Cadeaux umbrella (JAC combines the initial of daughters Ava and Juliette with that of Claudia, and “cadeaux” is French for “gifts”). The collection  includes luggage, sequinned and canvas totes, cool cashmere tracksuits, and linen T-shirts and dresses in fetching stripes.

But not just any old stripe. The Breton stripe. The benchmark of stripes, which harks back to Bretagne (or Brittany), on Franceʼs north-west coast where, in the mid-19th century, before fluoro Gore-Tex, Breton fishermen relied on heavy woollen jumpers for warmth and water-resistance while working on deck.

Says Stahl, “The jumpers, made from local Breton yarn, were adopted in 1858 by the French navy, which specified the blue and white horizontal stripe because it was more visible in the water. Folklore has it that the French Navy specified 21 horizontal stripes, to represent each of Napoleonʼs victories over the British.”

There’s nowhere the Breton stripe can’t go

You could say, then, that the Breton stripe was the harbinger of hi-vis.

The authentic Breton stripe is 1cm wide, separated by 2cm of white. Designers have had an enduring love affair with this simple, but chic stripe. Says Stahl, “Coco Chanel introduced it in a light jersey fabric a 1917 collection; it was a fashion natural for the seaside vacationing that took hold in the Roaring Twenties.”

James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, Salvador Dali and Brigitte Bardot were among those ambassadors for what became synonymous with effortless French style, something Claudia Stahl is a sucker for.

“Only a French woman,” she says, “would dare team her Chanel jacket with active wear, shopping for the perfect pâté after her spin class.”

Stahl’s stripes flout the Navy regulations, they come in pink and khaki, too, bateau neckline (but, of course!) or V-neck. The brand of French inspired clothes and accessories is online at www.jaccadeaux.com and she also sells at markets in Mosman, Orange Grove (Balmain), Avalon, Double Bay and by appointment at her Darling Point salon. Breton-stripe linen T-shirts start at $100, long-sleeve tops $130, and dresses $150.

Photos by Mark Bramley












Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

'B is for Breton | haute horizontal | rock star stripes' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.