In the morning, I met Jacques Saulue in the parking lot of LeClerq, and followed him to Denis Guédon’s MANUFACTURE DE BERETS workshop. The door was open, and Jacques walked in, with his wife and two sons, and me behind. I couldn’t hear (or understand) exactly what he said to Denis, but soon he had turned off the machine he was working with, and proceeded to describe the process of making a beret.
After the beret factory in Oloron closed, Denis bought the machines. He had been head of maintenance, so knew how to build and repair them. He manufactures a limited quantity (3,500 a year) of high quality berets. Though nobody else was there this day, I believe he has someone come in to do a step or two that needs good eyesight and coordination.
He showed us the operation of five machines for specific steps in the process, and there are also sewing machines that he didn’t demonstrate. He had several packing boxes of berets to be shipped, some of them to Los Angeles.
He explained that a beret starts with 5 euros worth of merino wool thread, and requires about 20 to 25 minutes of labor. He sells them for 16 euros.
Jacques asked to buy one, and Denis took a few out of the packing boxes, to check the size. Jacques settled on one, and one of his sons also selected one. As Jacques’s wife opened her wallet, I inquired what size would fit me. They all got excited, and Jacques handed me his to try on. I put it on, with a bit of help, and walked over to a mirror. I thought I looked, and I felt, a little silly, but I was fairly committed by this point. I turned to look at the others and they were all grinning, and Jacques gave me a big thumbs-up. This confirmed to me that I looked pretty silly.
I paid for the beret, and told Denis the change was for the tour he had given us, which took about an hour away from his beret manufacture.
Throughout the tour, both Jacques and his wife tried to make sure I understood what Denis was saying in French. Jacques’s wife even entered a few words into her phone, and showed me the translation into English: thistle, mower.
The experience was interesting, and I got some iPhone movies of the machines in action, as well as some photos. Little did I know the consequences of this event.
Next: The Wedding