Story of a Sweater

Following my day and night discovering the secrets of Mont Saint-Michel with Centre des monuments nationaux, we headed to nearby factory Saint-James, one of France’s oldest and most famous brands which continues to manufacture locally. Being a designer myself, I was interested in discovering the history and makings of this label, located in Saint-James, a commune in Lower Normandy, 20 kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel. This is the brand that made nautical stripes famous, and I was about to find out how it all began.

How and when was Saint-James born? Around 1850, the Legallais family started to spin and dye locally produced wool. They resold this wool to the haberdasheries of Brittany and Normandy, later as woolen shirts which turned into the now famous fisherman’s sweater.

In 1950, the company changed hands and new owner Julien Bonte began manufacturing cardigans and sweaters, including the famous “Real Breton Fisherman’s Sweater” knit in pure wool. This became “the seafarers’ second skin”. Along with his son and much determination, Julien grew the company, renaming it “Tricots Saint-James” in 1970.

Julien’s son Bernard grew the company further in 1977 by building a new plant with an 1,800 square meter workshop and 300 square meters of office space. Tricots Saint-James also expanded its product range to include sea-themed seasonal attire for women. They were known across France as the knitwear leader, including a 100% cotton collection.

In 1989 Saint-James celebrated its 60-year anniversary as well as 100 years of Léon Legallais. In commemoration, they modernized their logo and knit the biggest sweater in the world, 8 meters high, and 14 meters from one sleeve to the other. Impressive! In 2001 the company further expanded and shirts, jackets and trousers were added to its wares.

In 2005, Tricots Saint-James received the trophy for “Ethics and Governance” following a company staff buyout. In the words of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, “The Company was chosen to recognize the good governance represented by Mr. Bernard Bonte (President until December 5, 1990) transferring power and capital to the employees, as well as the significant development of the company in France and abroad. The company’s takeover project of 1990 was declared a success for both its development and staff growth.”

What I noticed while touring the factory was the meticulous attention to detail. Every employee trains for over a year, taking pride in their work as each piece is carefully crafted by hand. Observing the process from weaving the wool or cotton to preparing the final product for shipment was fascinating. It’s no wonder Saint-James has such a stellar reputation!

These days Saint-James sweaters, shirts, scarves and dresses are available not only in Mont Saint-Michel, but in Nice, Paris, Saint-Malo, Strasbourg and Lyon, as well as  around the globe. Their timeless stripes and style continue to dress the world! What’s more, when you buy one of these shirts, you’re supporting the cloister restoration project! “The Tricots Saint James company is also associated with this major national heritage project with an exceptional and unique product-sharing operation. From 15 April to 15 October 2017, the “Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey” striped jerseys are on sale in the Saint James distribution network in France and abroad (Korea, USA and Japan), and in 3 bookshop-boutiques of the network (at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey, the Alignments of Carnac and the Towers of La Rochelle). For every striped jersey sold at the price of €45, Saint James pledges to donate €2.50 to the Centre des monuments nationaux for the cloister restoration project.”

Mont Saint-Michel

Last week I decided it was time to venture to Brittany. Having heard so much about the charming walled port city of Saint-Malo, I boarded the train headed west, and three hours later was welcomed by gray skies and sea. And so began my scenic sojourn in the land of crêpes, cider, oysters from neighboring Cancale, and rising tides.



The historically independent Saint-Malo, known in the past for privateering (a privateer was often considered a pirate), is still referred to as “cité corsaire”. During World War II 80% of the city was destroyed and rebuilt between 1948-1960. With few tourists in sight, I was happy to explore this walled hideaway. But what I was most eager to discover was Mont Saint-Michel in nearby Normandy. As soon as the sun rose, that’s where I headed.


At first sight of Mont Saint-Michel I was in complete awe. This wonder of the Western world truly takes your breath away. How did this Abbey come to be, perched atop a rock? At the request of the Archangel Michel, Aubert, Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church on the 16th October 709. In 966 a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. Here is more history and information about Mont Saint-Michel.


Join me in this scenic journey as I climb up the steps leading to this UNESCO world heritage site.


The views from the top are simply stunning! Where does sky end and sea begin?


Not to mention what lies on the inside.


I will certainly return, and next time stay the night. I hear it’s particularly stunning at sunset…

lost in Normandy

Several weeks ago my Italian and I decided to explore the coast of Normandy, beginning (with umbrellas) in Cherbourg. At the exact spot where the Titanic left port exactly 100 years prior.

Guided by a rainbow beneath a gray sky, our adventure began.

Our last trip to Normandy was to the D Day beaches and Honfleur. This was quite a different experience, as we were soon to discover.

Alone on the open road, with only the cows to provide direction.

Until we reached a view that left us speechless.

Still without food and shelter we drove along many an empty street until we reached our gastronomic haven. Along with which came a place to call home, just for the night.

The charm of Auderville was undeniable as we drove all along the coast to Barneville.

We even stopped to visit the home of poet and screenwriter Jacques Prévert in Omonville-la-Petite.

What impressed me most of all were the landscapes.

One of the highest cliffs in Europe with views to eternity.

A terrain wild and uniquely beautiful. Reason enough to become lost in Normandy.

the dream of Honfleur

I grew up listening to my parents tales of journeying around France, during those seemingly endless summer months when they would leave my brother and I in Poland to fend for ourselves. Well, not exactly. We were in good company with a dozen or so cousins and plenty of aunts and uncles who took delight in temporarily parenting the ‘American’ cousins. Summers were spent building houses out of haystacks and learning the difference between the variety of pretty and poisonous mushrooms on our frequent walks in the woods. I’m still not certain whether elfs really do live inside trees? As well as being a gullible child, I was always very curious and knew one day I too would run wild amidst lavender fields in Provence and drink copious amounts of Champagne in where else but the Champagne region. Those dreams have yet to be realized, though I did travel around Luberon during my year of exploring the world. Most recently I lost myself (literally in fact) in the charming village of Honfleur during a romantic weekend escape. I imaged to feel the charm of this intimate coastal town much in the manner that my parents did so many years ago, considering it has not changed for centuries.

Honfleur provides a setting in which to dream, to become lost within the tangle of cobbled streets possessing brightly colored buildings evoking a historic Normandy. Impressionist masters such as Gustave Courbet, Eugene Boudin and Claude Monet found inspiration within this scenery, immortalizing it forever upon the canvas.

Much of our time was spent sitting on the Old Harbour in peaceful observation. Time moves at a slower pace, surely allowing one to waste more of it!? As in most regions of France, you can easily live off of the local produce in Normandy. Had I not already been a gourmand I surely would have become one! We feasted on local oysters, scallops and an assortment of freshly caught fish, each meal ending with a cheese plate, camembert being the regional speciality. Evenings called for a well-aged calvados, necessary for digestion, of course.

It is here where the oldest wooden church stands, Eglise Saint-Catherine, a perfect place in which to seek refuge when caught in a sudden romantic rainstorm.

Before returning to Paris and concluding the dream of Normandy, we stopped at Étretat, known for it’s twin cliffs. This, another scene of inspiration for Monet, a natural splendor rising from sea to sky!

the Normandy sky

Our adventure in Normandy began with a drive along the coast, beneath one of the most dramatic sky that has ever captured my gaze! This tumultuous sky seemed fitting, considering the battles of D-day which took place along the beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. A little history. On the morning of June 6, 1944, an armada of over 6,000 ships and boats hit the northern Normandy beaches and tens of thousands of soldiers from the USA, UK, Canada, etc, stormed onto French soil. These landings, known as ‘Jour J’ in French, were followed by the 76-day Battle of Normandy. The Allies suffered 210,000 casualties, 37,000 troops were killed, as well as a loss of over 14,000 French civilians.

As exhilarating as it was to explore this region of France and gaze into the vastness of the sea and sky, it was an equally intense and thoughtful journey into recent history. I will forever recall the feeling and depth of this sky…

A final moment of calm before the journey continues…to Honfleur!