BLEU DE CHAUFFE
SAINT-GEORGES-DE-LUZENÇON, AVEYRON, FRANCE
After long hours on the road under pouring rain, we discover the Tarn valley. Rather familiar with seaside landscapes, we instantly fall under the spell of this region. Before reaching our destination, we pass by the bottom of the famous Millau Viaduct, which architecture is impressive.
At the entrance of the village, we take a small road, no sign indicating the presence of the workshop… We turn a bit… turn back… And we randomly decide to stop in front of a building that seems to match the conception we had about it. Our intuition is good, we are welcomed by Thierry Batteux and Alexandre Rousseau, the two founders of the Bleu de Chauffe brand. Each one has a well-defined role, but we can feel a common passion when we hear them talk about their workshop. They explain us that it’s a bit by chance they ended up in Millau. Looking for leather goods workshops in France, they were first interested in the Cholet region, but finally headed for Aveyron, after they met Julien Hanchir. It’s together they decided to settle in the building we discover today.
We get right into it, the tour starts. We thus follow our guides to the leather stock at the end of the workshop.
– THE LEATHERS –
The brand is well-known for its exclusive use of vegetable-tanned leather. This chromium-free process uses natural components, including barks, to treat and colour the skins, keeping their appearance transparent and natural. With a raw aspect, their colours can be shaded. The leathers have not been coated, they’ve retained their irregularities and grain, but that is what makes up their charm. All the skins originate from French tanneries: Arnal, near Rodez, and Mazur, close to the Belgian border.
Three types of bovine leather are used in the manufacture of the brand’s models. The body of the bag is cut in what’s called straps or double crops. As the products aren’t lined, the skins are not splitted, and must thus maintain a certain thickness. This also compels the tanner to work on the flesh part of the leather, i.e. on the reverse, to bring it a neat finish, while preserving its natural aspect.
For the components like straps, shoulder straps, or bridles, they use necks. This leather is thicker, and moreover tougher, so these yokes can maintain their shape and function without risk.
– THE TEXTILES –
For clutch bags and shoulder pads, Bleu de Chauffe uses felt, a non-woven wool textile, relatively thick, to ensure the comfort and the material’s protection. Once again, the brand is supplied by a French specialist in Normandy.
They rely on another Norman manufacturer for the cotton canvas fabrics used in more casual products.
As for the waxed fabrics, they come from England. These fabrics are coated to be resistant and waterproof. The British Millerain company has been specialised in this kind of product for more than a hundred years, and supplies leading luxury houses.
– MANUFACTURE –
We are then introduced to Bruno, the cutter. In command of his press, he’s the one to analyse the leather, its defects, and choose the blades’ placement. As the skin is treated naturally, without artifice, the percentage loss is relatively high. After working in a tannery near Millau for several years, Bruno seems to have a trained eye which will let no imperfection get out of the way.
When we enter the second part of the workshop, we are surprised to find a majority of young women, mainly from the “Compagnons du Devoir”. Unlike the Fordism theories, each artisan designs his/her products from A to Z. There is thus a lot of movement in this small space. They move from a sewing machine to the adhesive table, with their items in the arms or in crates. This organisation prevents the artisans to have repetitive tasks, which may become tedious or cause health issues. It allows them to master each of the steps, but also to take pride in manufacturing top quality products from start to finish. Moreover, each product is signed by its maker.
They are between 10 to 15 to ensure the whole production. We meet Mélanie, who’s been here for a bit less than a year, and who’s producing a collection of Pognon purses. She starts by assembling the two backside leather pieces and the metal zip, before proceeding to the sticking of the inside components. She goes back to the sewing machine to stitch the four material layers, then sands the raw edge, and finally tints it with a paintbrush. Despite her young age, we can feel her expertise and her passion for this manual and delicate work.
– INSPIRATION –
Bleu de Chauffe draws its inspiration from working tool bags, the vintage workwear, adapted to our modern needs, and rediscovering the durability of yesteryear’s products. Everything is studied, considered, each detail is determined by its function, nothing is superfluous.
On the Postman bag for instance, Alexandre explains us that the bridles on the side are not just used to dress the model, or to adjust its volume, but also to support the seams when the bag is loaded. The Charles bag, with its turnstile lock, is inspired from old medicine bags. It has a gendarme handle, which ensures its great solidity. The Woody backpack, with its diamond-shaped leather yoke, is a reinvention of old climbing bags, on which climbers used to attach their ice axe.
The logo isn’t directly displayed on the models. You’ll recognise the brand, thanks to its distinct style, and with all the customised metal accessories. For instance, the brass and resin rivet you’ll discreetly find on the side of the Postman bag was inspired by the ancient faucets, with their ceramic knobs.
Each product has its own history, technical specifications and material. At the end of the workshop, we notice work-in-progress backpacks on a table. The khaki canvas fabric gets our attention: it has such a particular aspect, with a brightened, shaded look. We are told that, for this bag, they use a canvas reissued originally for the Jeep restoration of the U.S. military. “The only thing the supplier didn’t manage to recreate is its exceptional smell”, says Alexandre, smiling.
– TODAY –
In 2015, the brand produced around 11,000 items, of which 60% were destined to France.
The main destinations for export are the USA, Korea, China and Germany.
Most of the products currently sold are men models. For several seasons, the brand has been developing its women products, addressed to a female consumer looking for authenticity.
The leather ranges are predominantly sold in winter, so the brand wants to expand its canvas range, especially for the summer season.
– COMING SOON –
The first stones will soon be laid for the new building close by, which will host the workshop and the showroom as of next spring. A wood and metal construction, adapted to their needs and will of development.
A customisation service will soon be available on the e-shop. You will then be able to get your initials engraved inside your bag.
Coming soon also, a collaboration between Olympus and Bleu de Chauffe, to develop a new range of accessories around photography.
Marion & Quentin
BLEU DE CHAUFFE