In 1917, Coco Chanel unveiled her ‘Nautical Collection’, having been inspired by the naval shirt’s infinite
potential. This marked the evolution of a functional military garment to a fashion statement on a global scale,
emanating Gallic chic and easy cool. “Coco Chanel just saw the importance of this universal garment,” Marco
Pettruci, Export Manager and company oracle of Armor Lux, tells me. Founded in 1938, Armor Lux is one of the most
august purveyors of the Breton shirt, and inextricably linked to the heritage and tale of the Breton shirt. It’s
also a stunning example of a company that’s still to this day fully vertically integrated. Today we, as mindful
consumers, care more for the origins and purpose of our clothing. “People appreciate the fact that the Breton stripe
is still made in Brittany more and more,” says Pettruci.
It’s also important to note the profound influence Coco Chanel had on womenswear by
incorporating it into her collection. Style icon and the original influencer, she liberated the female form,
democratised it and set it free by adopting a military garment into contemporary women’s style. It was “a symbol of
gender equality”, Benjamin Auzimour, Managing Director of Saint James North America, states. Saint James, founded in
1889, was one of the first companies to start producing Breton shirts after the production moved upwards from a
cottage industry. As Chanel once said “Fashion changes, but style endures” and that is the crux of the Breton’s
success; in almost 160 years it’s still a reliable wardrobe staple with its function intact.
Since Coco Chanel revolutionised the Breton stripe’s accessibility and inaugurated it
into the contemporary vernacular, it wasn't long before it started making appearances in cinema. Professional cowboy
John Wayne wore one inAdventures End(1937), as did James Dean whilst filmingRebel Without a
Cause(1955).Cary Grant, a man of superior taste,styleand panache if ever there was one, wore a Breton with a red bandana beneath — albeit in
navy with fine white stripes, it’s still considered a Breton — inTo Catch
A Thief(1955). It also made its way into the wardrobe of artists and
musicians. In 1950, the celebrated photographer Robert Doisneau candidly shotPablo Picassoat his home in the south of France. “It just looked so natural on him,” Pettruci adds on
how Picasso donned the Breton. Those images of Picasso are some of his most iconic; the Breton will forever be tied
Warholin his heyday was also a fan. Jump forward a few decades, Kurt
Cobain, the embodiment of teenage angst, often wore stripes as well. Rakish women such asBrigitte
BardotandAudrey Hepburnboth wore the Breton as well with effortless grace and glamour.
The Breton stripe continues to influence luxury menswear today, both in heritage
workwear circles and in high fashion. Kris Van Ache’s Dior Homme Spring/Summer ‘13 collection saw a plentitude of
stripes, as did Officine Générale’s Spring/Summer ‘16. Burberry’s Christopher Bailey Autumn/Winter ‘17 collection
also paid homage to the Breton. Whilst the traditional Breton will remain the backbone of specialists like Armor
Lux, innovation is key; something clearly visible across the brand’s collections. Pettruci notes: “People are eager
to see new developments in connection with the stripes, such as a small striped patch on a plain hoodie or stripes
used in trousers”.
The Breton stripe might not be a luxury garment, but its genesis and growth into what
it is today makes it more than a simple top; a garment whose design and history continue to influence style today.
Auzimour succinctly underlines the style’s unique merging of form and function: “function gives a style more depth
and more soul.” Pettruci summarises the garment’s ongoing success, saying “It’s a universal garment that fits with a
cool weekend look, a cool sportswear look but even when combined in a rather formal context it still fits. It fits
men, women and children well, and that is key for an icon to emerge and establish itself.”Vive le Breton!