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May 23th 2021
Author: Spiff
Sailors We Are

It's been years since I've bought into fashion. That rush of constant changes makes me nervous. Garments with expiration dates closer than that of the chicken breasts you bought a few days ago. That almost stifling desperation by brands to renew themselves, to "create", to innovate. Planned obsolescence in retail, ridiculous and unsustainable... I respect it, I will always respect it. Fashion is art, one more way of creative interpretation, a way of moving someone to emotions… Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, De la Renta, Halston… Don't expect current names, I don't know any.

Of the last one, Halston, I wrote two years ago. A kind of James Bond from across the pond. "Just call me Halston," Roy would introduce himself as back in the 70s, with his sunglasses and white dinner jackets. A lean, figure who loved to party, a snob, but above all, a genius. Halston wasn't just the guy who designed Jackie Kennedy's pillbox. Netflix recovers the figure of the designer in a miniseries. I go into each detail of it. I stop, rewind, take notes. Safari jackets, turnover collars, oversize rimmed glasses, sweaters and sailor shirts...everything is remarkable, everything is yes. A sailor shirt is the pinnacle of effortless, it's the indie girl singing a Velvet Underground song in a sailor shirt, skinny jeans, booties and red lipstick, it's Picasso again resting one of his enormous hands on the table; it's Jagger, it's Kurt Cobain holding Courtney Love's hand, it's Coco Chanel taking her Great Dane for a walk, it's Rafael Alberti sailing, it's Cary Grant with a red kerchief knotted at the neck, it's Warhol doing something akin to lifting weights, it's James Dean and his sad beauty, it's Brigitte Bardot smiling and making us fall in love with her.

Cary Grant to catch a thief

Cary Grant in Catch a Thief in a striped sweater.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis

It all starts in 1858 with The Act Of France, the French Navy and its official uniform. A white sweater with indigo stripes made first in wool and later in cotton. The blue-white contrast was easily identifiable if any of the sailors fell overboard. Dreamt up in the regions of Brittany and Normandy -from there its other name, Breton-, it was presented as a long-sleeve or three-quarter-length sleeves, a boatneck that could be easily removed, a low-cut fold around the neck and 21 white or blue lines in a nod to the Napoleonic naval victories over the English.

A design that, had it not been for Coco Chanel, would probably have never come to light. Once again the French designer in the 1910s, while on vacation, took note of something that the others seemed to ignore. Sailors dressed in stripes. A relaxed fit that could fit in just well in modern Madames as in male sailors. In 1917 she created a nautical-inspired collection and it marked an evolution in a garment that up to that point could only be considered military. The Breton shirt would become a symbol of gender equality. That is how Benjamin Auzimour, Managing Director of Saint James North America, a brand founded in 1889, and which would become one of the first to begin mass producing Breton shirts.

"Fashion changes, but style lasts", Coco Chanel stated. That crumb of naval shirt, a blazer, a sweater with turnover collar...this is the success of standing the test of time, unchanging, weathering the storm, becoming with each summer a basic element of every wardrobe. The breton shirt is the non-perishable item in the supermarket. It's always there, waiting for you in some corner of your closet. Always thankful.

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