Friday, July 31, 2009

The Secret Life of Berets

Here you can read all about the secret life of berets.
Little known facts, like:
"The first beret on record was spotted in the streets of ancient Crete, at the beginning of the Middle Minoan period around 1750 B.C."
"Helmer brought up a heretofore unmentioned appeal of the beret: " I don't think it's the European aspect that draws people, I think it's that they fit in your pocket." I hung up the phone, horrified. Berets have a new tactic . . . they are going to spread across the globe under the guise of portability."

Thanks Mike

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Citroën SM

Car manufacturer Citroën is, like the beret, one of the great icons of France.

Sure, they may all be cliches: the baguette, the red wine, the beret-wearing-red-nosed peasant in his deux chevaux on a mountain track among the goats, but still, they are recognized by everyone as being typical French.

When it comes to French luxury icons, the Citroën SM is unquestionably at the very top of the line. Only 12.900 of these grand high performance coupé's have been produced in the early 1970's, now treasured by collectors all over the world. I have never had the pleasure to drive one; even though "growing up in Citroëns", it was merely deux chevaux and Ami 8's that we moved around in.

The only Citroën I ever owned, was an Acadyane - how much further can it be removed from the SM?

These days, what I can afford is a beret embroidered with the Australian SM Club

logo. Not French made, unfortunately, but a surprisingly comfortable beret to wear.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another way to get your own

Sure, you can buy a beret from me (plenty of colours, sizes and qualities to this choose from), but you can also make your own, of course.

So many patterns, shapes and varieties; like these here:

Or these 1940's oversized berets

Instructions on how to actually make them, are all over the net:

How to make berets here

A beaded, velvet beret here

Or get yourself one of these Beret and Scarf Kits

And for those who really want a headband, here

Or the more traditional, felt beret here

A complete video course here

And this one I really like, "How to make a beret out of an old shirt or sweater"! Good luck!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Beret: A Personal History

My earliest memories of berets are of my grandfather, Abraham Kolthoff, wearing a small diameter black beret (or alpino as they are called in Dutch). As a boy, I often went for walks with my 'Opa' and father (who donned a maroon beret). In the forests around Naarden in the Netherlands, where I grew up, I became a soldier with one of their berets on my head (my father's very close to a paratroopers', after all). For me at that time, berets only represented military headgear. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any photographic evidence left of their berets. Over 45 years later, my dad, Baruch "Dick" Kolthoff, dons a beret again; a brown coloured Elosegui Fina. Here he is, in his garden in Amersfoort (Nl):

And the other grandfather of my children, Rhys Thomas, now sports
a navy blue Espinosa, when working his olive orchard on Waiheke Island.

In the meantime, I started to develop an interest in berets myself; my first one is an old Royal Dutch Marine Corps one, without the crowned-anchor-badge. This picture was taken just outside the houseboat where I lived (I believe in 1986), near the village of Spaarndam, in the Netherlands.

My first Béret Basque
was French made, a Bakarra, I believe.
Somewhere along the way I lost it. This picture was taken in 1992, at the moment of leaving for the Gers in France to set up an organic farm with my friend Martijn (driving there in his beautiful Citroën HY van, just visible in the background) and saying farewell to ex-girlfriend Miriam.

Steadily, my collection grew over the years. One beret very dear to me is this one:

A Chechen Boivik (or Fighter one). It got this beret as a present from my friend, driver and bodyguard Isa, while I was working for a medical organization in Chechnya, in 1997, between the 1st and 2nd war. Isa died, of cancer, but really of lack of
treatment and money... May he be happy in Paradise, with 20 virgins at his side. And please, don't forget the awful plight of the Chechen people.

These days, I can choose from some 40 berets to wear, but generally I wear an Espinosa 28 or one of the grand Elóseguis.
And I am not the only one in the family... Here my beloved partner Megan wears a Canadian Parkhurst in Ivory White while my youngest daughter Emira Zaza sports an unknown Chinese brand in pink - always pink.

And, whatever my feelings towards the idolization of Ché Guevara, my oldest daughter Marshida happily wears the replica that my brother brought from Cuba.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wear a beret - in Australia

On my quest for signs and posters, I came upon this beautiful one. Not Spanish, but to my surprise in English and from Australia!

Issued by the Minister for Labour and Industry in New South Wales.
Without a date of publication, unfortunately.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rita Angus 2 - Self Portrait with Orange Beret

Self portrait (with orange beret)

Description: Self-portrait of Rita Angus wearing an orange beret. Three-quarter view of her head and shoulders.
Date of work: 1929
Country: New Zealand
Materials: Oil on canvas
Size Overall: 557 x 456 x 60 mm
References: Rita Angus, National Art Gallery 1982, p141
Credit Details: Rita Angus Loan Collection
Copyright Holder: The Estate of Rita Angus (click here)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Signs of the Beret

Looking for signs and posters of berets, it takes a while to skip through all the pictures of bistro's and café's that try to attract people by giving itself a French image - thanks to the use of a beret. Like this one, in Leeds

But then, there are also lots of people holding signs. Like this beret-wearing gentleman, outside a house in Washington, protesting the war in Iraq

or these folks in Prague, protesting for the same good cause, complete with megaphone and beret

But more interesting I find these road signs, for a cycle lane in Budapest, Hungary
or a sign indicating a road is forbidden for beret wearing pedestrians in the Czech Republic

or watch out for beret-wearing road workers on the Prague roads

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Labels (2)

Always more labels... Except for the first Cataluna label, you won't find any of these in the shops - they have all become extinct with the decline of hat wearing over the last decades.

Cataluna, from Fabrica Nacional de Sombreros in Uruguay

New Zealand made beret by Hills, Wellington

Dantzaris Aznarez from
Pamplona, Spain

La Numantino
Neptuno, from Spain

Peter Bindon from Australia sent me these pictures of a Campeador and a Haritza.

Rita Angus with Green Beret

Rita Angus (1908-70) is one of New Zealand’s most significant artists. A pioneer of modern painting in this country, she created some of our most memorable and best-loved images.

Here, Rita Angus portrays herself as a ‘modern woman’ – urbane, stylish, and in complete control of her own destiny.Self-portrait, 1936-37, Rita Angus

Everything in the picture is carefully staged, from the cigarette – billowing perfect smoke rings – to the beret, casually clasped over her elbow. Angus stares boldly out of the picture, a challenging yet guarded figure.

Angus first exhibited this work in 1937 under the title ‘Portrait’, so that only those who knew her would recognise it as a self-image. Today, it is one of her best-known pictures.

Rita Angus was anadmirable pacifist and deeply opposed to World War II. She refused to work in a factory to support the war effort and was eventually prosecuted in court. The 1940s were an unsettled time for Angus, marked by personal troubles and illness. She became more solitary, determined to devote her life to painting. In 1943, her father, concerned about her well-being, bought her a house in Christchurch. The place became a sanctuary for her.

A fantastic exhibition of Rita Angus' work was on display at the Te Papa Museum in Wellington, NZ.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Interview with a French Hatter

An article by Nick Rowswell from Conexion, March 2009

BERET manufacturers Blancq-Olibet based at Nay in the Basque country have more than doubled production over the past two years.
Churning out more than 300,000 berets a year, their orders come from around the world from as far afield as Japan. In 2006 the company received an extra boost when the Cuban government ordered 100,000 berets to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the revolution.
The beret revival comes just a few years after the industry was on the verge of disappearing. Chairman of fellow beret manufacturers Béatex, based in Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Bernard Fargues attributed its rise in popularity to several factors.
As well as the emblematic portrait of a beret-wearing Ché Guevara, which turned the hat traditionally associated with French paysans into an essential fashion accessory with the nation's youth, he also feels it has grown in popularity with young, affluent city types hankering after a traditional France.
Named bobos, or the bourgeois-bohème, Mr Fargues said they are buying berets as a sign of authenticity and a link to rural France, where their grandparents probably lived and worked. MILLINER Stéphane Jacquet in Bourges in the Cher department explains why the country’s youth is bringing the hat back into fashion, reveals the current trends and gives an insight into the profession’s future.
Are hats back?
They've never been away. I think though that hats now appeal to a younger public. Most of my trade used to be with the over-40s, however nowadays a lot of my customers are in their early 20s.

Many have bought a cheap hat in a chain store, caught the hat bug and then come to me for something a little more authentic and longer lasting.
France is also a very hat-orientated society. Most

professions have their own distinctive hats, such as the gendarme with his képi.

Even the post office has brought back the emblematic beret for their postmen.

What about the humble beret? Another bestseller, but here too, the clientele has changed. There has been a role reversal. The old men who you might have expected to see sporting a beret, are all wearing hats. The beret has become an essential bobo fashion accessory and most beret-wearers nowadays seem to be the bourgeois-bohème type. I think they are looking for an authentic and tangible symbol of deepestFrance, or, la douce France, the cliché from the song by 1960s singer Charles Trenet.
The beret is perhaps synonymous with France's rural past where life was supposedly easier and simpler than today. Of course, the beret is also very popular with the English. I always sell quite a few to British tourists passing through Bourges in the summer.
Can you give us a few beret-buying tips? The first thing to look out for is the size. Not simply the hat size but the diameter of the beret itself. Both are indicated on the leather band around the outside.
A normal beret may have a diameter of 25 centimetres, however some berets, can go over thirty. The more beret you have on top, the bigger the slant, the more you have to pull to one side, or another.
There is a popular myth, which says the side to which you choose to slant your beret, left or right, is a sign of your political affiliations.

The last two French beret makers are in the Basque country, where the locals also wear the traditional red beret, nothing to do with politics or paratroopers though. The largest berets are possibly those of the French Alpine troops, les Chasseurs Alpins. To give you some idea of the size, they refer to their beret as a crêpe.
We hear so much about production of traditional French products being made abroad, such as boules for pétanque made in China or foie gras fromHungary.
Are berets still being made in France?

About 40 years ago, there were 30 beret manufacturers in France, now there are just two - Blancq-Olibet near Nay and Béatex, at Oloron-Sainte-Marie. Both are in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Blancq-Olibet have been making berets for about 200 years.

You have been a chapelier in Bourges for nearly 20 years. In these hard times, do you think that there is a future in the profession?
Hats are not prone to recession but to the weather. With the recent cold spell, I have been doing a very brisk trade. I also think that when it comes to hats, people are ready to pay for a long lasting and quality product. A stetson or a broswell are not as expensive as you might think. For around €80, you can purchase a quality item that will last you for years.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lydia Guevara

Che Guevara's granddaughter poses for animal rights organisation PETA.

Her grandfather fought for his idea of freedom, equality and a better world; Lydia Guevara is fighting for a better world in a different way, posed semi-naked with bandoliers of baby carrots slung across her shoulders in an advertisement promoting vegetarianism.

Miss Guevara, 24, has been recruited by animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "It's a homage of sorts to her late grandfather," said a PETA spokesman. "It very much evokes the tag line of the ad, which is Join the vegetarian revolution."

PETA enlisted Miss Guevara, who lives in the U.S., after finding out she was a vegetarian. The ad is PETA's first campaign promoting vegetarianism in South America. "We say the best way to save animals is not to eat them," Mr McGraw said.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Beatniks

A beatnik was a member of the Beat Generation (late 1950's - early 60's), a nonconformist in dress and thought.

The Beatniks were known for wearing black turtleneck sweaters, stove-pipe trousers, dark glasses and berets. They used to hang out at coffee shops where they would recite poetry (sometimes accompanied by bongo drums), experiment with marijuana and talk about jazz or the people/society/regimes that were oppressing them (and trying to make them conform). Their poetry often resembles Rimbaud, Blake and Whitman.

The Beatniks (or Beat Generation) pre-dates the hippie movement by about 10-15 years.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Auxiliary Navy of the Basque Country

In my naivety I thought I read almost everything there is to read on the Spanish Civil War, until I came upon some information on the Auxiliary Navy of the Basque Country. Intrigued, I started searching for more information and found this web site. It makes fascinating reading…

The Auxiliary Navy was one of the most unusual and least known military units that took part in the Civil War. Unusual as well in the sense that it exclusively answered to the Basque Government.

The Basque Navy was established in October 1936 to assist the Republican Navy to protect maritime traffic and fishing in Basque waters and keep access to Basque ports free from mines.

Many fishing boats were converted to warships, staffed by volunteers with backgrounds of masters, pilots, engineers and stokers… By June 1937 the Basque Navy counted some 700 members.

And of course, they all wore the Basque beret. Dressed in the blue overalls like the workers' militias in Republican Spain, they did not use insignia or braids to identify the different ranks. A street uniform was issued as well, consisting of a jacket and trousers (ranging in colour from greenish grey to dark blue), together with fisherman's boots and a dark beret.

A most interesting book on the Basque Navy can be downloaded for free here. A number of videos on the Basque Navy can be watched here.

Portraits (top - down):
Cdt. Asolo G. Bilbao de los Araba
Ricardo Achicallende Tellechea
Cdt. Santiago Asolo Landea
Jose I. Murelaga in the Maritime Police uniform