The French have more style icons than any other culture, but as if that weren’t enough, when they choose, they take on “foreigners” and make them their own. If they want you, they’ll take you! Such was the case with Picasso. That rotund, Spanish phenomenon of a man and artist who became a French style icon, spent the better part of his life there, died and was buried there, and most certainly fit the Gallic stereotype of the bohemian lover of many younger women: his muses, every one. The largest collection of Picasso’s work is in France, where from his berét to his tan, from his shirts to his espadrilles, Picasso was stylish.
Not unlike Jane Birkin and her basket, Picasso took the simple clothes of peasants and elevated them. I believe that if he would have been born later, he would have embraced jeans. Jeans, as we know but maybe have forgotten, were once just laborer’s pants…
If one article of clothing, more than any other, is iconically Picasso, it’s the Breton fisherman’s shirt he wears in the picture above. If someone asked you to picture Picasso in your imagination, you likely would picture him in that shirt, am I right?
Picasso wore that shirt well, but so did Coco Chanel—arguably the first French style icon, and actually French.
The original Breton sweater, made of wool and constructed by fishermen’s wives, was what the onion merchants of Brittany came to wear on their voyages to England to sell their goods. In 1930, a factory to make shirts in the same style was founded at Saint James, a small town not far from Mont Saint Michel. The Saint James company still makes the Breton fisherman’ shirt there today. It has come forever to be associated with the sea, and immediately comes to mind when we say nautical style.
I really love the history of these simple, beautiful things. I love how people borrow from each other and swap and pass on the love of good and simple things. It doesn’t really matter to me that today Chanel exemplifies haute couture at its most decadent. As a matter of fact, that makes the whole world of fashion and its place in history and historical movements all the more interesting.
I leave you with a newer, brighter yet retro picture of the Breton fisherman’s shirt. The actor, Audrey Tatou, as Coco Chanel.