In 1959, Brigitte Bardot turned the fashion world upside down with her Vichy wedding dress. Created by the famous designer Jacques Esterel, this fabric symbolized luxury and the French art of living. But who knows that it came from the Desgénetais factory in Bolbec, near Le Havre?
Indeed, in 1934, Marcel Boussac, the founder of the Boussac Saint-Frères or BSF empire bought the flagship of the local textile industry, the Desgénetais companies created in 1853 by three brothers, one heiress of whom married the Count of Castelbajac and became the grandmother of the world renowned stylist Jean-Charles de Castelbajac.
Until 1976, before being swept away by competition from synthetic fibers and low-cost production from Third World countries, the factories in Bolbec, Gruchet-le-Valasse and Lillebonne produced fancy textiles. From handkerchiefs from Bolbec to tea towels, from curtains to clothing, damask fabrics, Norman checks and especially Vichy will be sold all over the world.
“With its first red, blue, yellow and finally pink checks, Vichy is characterized by its reversible appearance and technically by an alternation of 14 white threads and 14 colored threads whether on the warp or the weft. The fabric appeared for the first time in 1820 in Roanne (Loire) and it was the court of Napoleon III who brought it back to Paris. Then, of course, Brigitte Bardot and Tati made it fashionable, ”explains Jacques Levaray, president of the“ Bolbec, au fil de la mémoire ”association founded in 1997 in order to keep track of local textile productions.
A 100% operational production line
This is why in 2008, the 200 members installed a museum in the wasteland of the old factory where they also recreated a 100% operational production line “unique in France”. “Thousands of visitors come each year and we have been able to hire three employees to run and maintain the machines,” explains Jacques Levaray.
Using samples from the archives, the volunteers now re-weave the iconic fabrics. In 2014, at the instigation of a shopkeeper, the association thus produced 600 m of Vichy. “It was a wave. The chain was used especially for the dresses of the contest of Miss Bolbec. The city and the traders immediately took up the symbol of the tiles in the supports and other logos. There is even a race called La Vichy during the October Rose charity operation. Everyone played the game and it was the return of Vichy, ”Jacques Levaray is still delighted.
Since then, the fabric is available for sale by the meter in the museum shop as well as objects made by a dozen volunteer seamstresses. At a rate of 12 meters per hour, the association “Bolbec, au fil de la mémoire” has just relaunched a new production on June 24: “The goal is to be able to supply our seamstresses and our shop. We take our time, because it’s more educational and we have to pay attention to our machines. It will take several months to get out the 600m. But, there will now always be available ”.