The knitwear from Saint James has remained much the same since 1848. The colors, patterns and materials all draw directly back to what the company was doing over a century ago. It’s the French brand’s consistency that is the allure. This week though, there’s a ripple of newness in the storied company’s seas as a special capsule collection from France’s Saint James arrives exclusively at Barneys New York. The small knitwear range consists of eight pieces that were inspired by a take on classic-American-sportswear-meets-Brittany with elements like the Ivy League shall collar and the Henley shirt mixed with traditional French design details like Breton stripes. Rest assured, all still made in the company’s factory in Normandy.
The new styles build upon the original simplicity of two favorite Saint James classics, the striped side-buttoned fisherman sweater, “Matelot”, and the ecru-navy long sleeve jersey, “Meridien” and sticks to the traditional Saint James color palate of red, navy and natural. Everything was designed by Martin Carvajal, who previously worked at Freeman’s Sporting Club. I have to say, Martin did a good job of making it different without, well, fucking it up. It’s about as adventurous as I would really want to see Saint James get, which basically says to me that this is a success. It’s like my old man says: “change is Bad.” In this case, a slight change is welcomed and even appreciated.
To show off the new capsule collection (the first ever in the knitwear company’s history dating back to 1848 — which really, is insane), Saint James tapped Backyard Bill to put together a very stylishly and very stripe-y calendar. That is indeed The Style Guy Mr. Glenn O’Brien, not to mention the equally stylish Kirk Miller of Miller’s Oath. Incidentally, both men boast roots in the middle west, Cleveland for Mr. O’Brien and Minneapolis for Mr. Miller, and each have had the unfortunate experience of being subjected to the pain that is the ACL comments section (here and here). But Just like at Saint James, both have stylishly endured.
A brief history of Saint-James from the company:
Saint James is the maker of the authentic nautical Breton shirt in combed cotton jersey that has been part of the official French naval uniform since 1848. According to an old lore from Brittany, the 21 stripes each correspond to a naval victory of Napoleon’s French fleet against the British. Saint James is also renowned for the side-buttoned Breton Fisherman Sweater that has been traditionally worn by Breton fishermen since the 19th century. Close-knit quality and double-twist wool meant to protect against sudden gusts of wind and be sturdy enough to withstand strenuous work at sea. It is considered the seafarer’s second skin.
In France, Saint James is to stripes and all things nautical what Repetto is to ballet flats and dance pointes, i.e. the absolute reference. In 2009, Saint James celebrated their 120th anniversary. In the 19th century, the Breton Fisherman Sweater was designed to protect fishermen from the elements during long days and nights at sea. It became the trademark apparel of the garlic merchants, or marchands d’ail, of Brittany. As they braved the English Channel to sell their goods to the United Kingdom, the marchands d’ail were never without their iconic sweaters, which soon earned the nickname of chandail, a shortened version of the merchants’ name. At the helm of the sweater’s creation were the wives of the merchants and fishermen of Brittany. Applying a secret-stitch technique preserved by generations of mothers and daughters, their pullovers surpassed all others, granting warmth and resistance to water and wind.
It was in Saint-James, a town in Normandy established by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and renowned for its extensive weaving and draping traditions, where the women acquired their yarns. In Saint-James, circa 1850, the Legallais family’s spinning plant, Les Filatures de Saint-James, began producing the yarn for the fisherman sweater, fostering its popularity and transforming this regional expertise into a successful industry. To this day, the Saint James atelier and factory is still located in the small village of Saint James, (population: 3000) about 20 kilometers from Mont-Saint-Michel.