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The Caban

We continue our journey through time. Today, without there being any need to invite Stéphane Bern and Loránt Deutsch, we are going to go back much further than the Trench, the Jean, and the Blazer, to tell you in a few words about the Pea Coat.

In the 15th century. century, the European discoverers of new horizons, made many encounters, rarely marked by mutual sympathy, with people encountered on the road, or rather at sea. The latter were called the Barbarys, or pirates many centuries later, it that is to say if the confrontations were not tea dances. However, it is well known that any friction can lead to unforeseen connections and creativity. Thus, our navigators found very practical the kind of cape that their fierce opponents wore to protect them from the violence of the climate. In North Africa, this garment was called “Qaba”. The Europeans adopted it then adapted it until it became “pea coat”.

Once again, as with the Trench, Jeans or Blazer, the British were in charge.

At the end of the 18th century, the Royal Navy standardized the peacoat and made it an almost all-weather uniform, obeying a precise and functional nomenclature: thick, mid-length jacket, very wide collar, large patch pockets with flap, 10 buttons decorated with anchors of marine, in 2 rows of 5 allowing to cross, for better protection, the edges of the jacket, which are buttoned alternately on the left or on the right, depending on whether the offshore wind comes from port or starboard. From all these details we will notice that the Caban, unlike its contemporary the Blazer, made for show - see the previous episode - was designed for the thankless tasks of seafarers. In this vein, astute sailors completed the device by waterproofing the object, using a mixture of tar, tallow and turpentine oil… you can smell the smell from here, an unstoppable way of leaving a trace.

Centuries later, a Saint-Laurent or a Jean-Paul Gaultier, fortunately did not retain this way of leaving their mark, their creative genius was enough, but they adopted all the original codes of the pea coat when they in turn adapted it .

“There is no fashion if it does not hit the streets” proclaimed Coco Chanel.

She was so right. We will not betray her thoughts by saying that she could have proclaimed that the street also generates fashion. The peacoat specially obeys this empirical law.

First of all, a custom of the Royal Navy as of the French Navy was that any retired sailor could keep his pea coat, provided that all insignia was removed, including buttons engraved with a naval anchor. Thus returned to civilian life, this foolproof jacket began to be invested in thrift stores and surpluses. At the turn of the 1960s, a time when the pressure cooker of change began to whistle quietly, then very loudly, on campuses, our peacoat became the accessory of the broke student. Leaving the campus, the mix of peacoat, corduroy pants and brown Clarks invaded the cafes where people were remaking things, including near Saint-Germain des Prés.

Jean Cocteau, Jacques Prévert, Boris Vian wore it without ostentation, just as a practical item of clothing. Even Lou Reed, better known as a toxic dandy “[to] walk on the wild side” than as a sea dog, wore it in a way that has become almost iconic.

Jacques Brel, an authentic navigator, wore it against the bad winds that awaited him at his destination.

“In the port of Amsterdam, there are sailors who drink…”, there is no doubt that they also wore a peacoat.

In this abundance, the sequel was predictable, in the wake of Saint-Laurent and Gaultier, the stylists and the big houses, from Versace to Hermès, via Balenciaga and Vuitton, went about their re-interpretation by adapting the peacoat to the women's wardrobe, far from the original codes... and the prices of the La Redoute catalog and popular surplus items. It is the law of the market, they say.

This law is not really ours. We want to put fashion, know-how, craftsmanship and beauty at the service of a meaningful commitment, as you know. Our turn has come to pay homage to this garment made for the open sea.

We will name him “Ernest”, as is obvious. 

How can you imagine Hemingway other than wearing his peacoat. Ah! “The Old Man and the Sea”, which movingly symbolizes the desperate struggle of the old fisherman against the elements… but Ernest Hemingway is also “Paris is a Party”. Let's hold on, the party will take over the sneaky virus, a question of resilience and solidarity. Do you see where we are going with this..?