MILLAU, AVEYRON, FRANCE
We returned for the second time in Aveyron. This time, we’re expected in the town centre of Millau. In the heart of the old town stands a mansion easily recognizable by its red facade.
The House was founded in 1924, when Etienne Fabre, the great-grandfather of the current directors, set up his glove-making workshop in his family home. Back then, 67 workshops of this kind were already present in Millau. The region is well-known for these leather factories, because of the significant number of sheep farms, intended for the manufacture of Roquefort (French cheese). The skins are salvaged, tanned, then worked within a restricted perimeter, thus developing the Aveyron economy since the Middle Ages.
When entering the building, we are immediately drawn by the facing stairs, which goes downwards to the workshop. Several buildings are organized around a central tree-lined courtyard. In olden times, the workers used to bustle in each wing of the building, assigned by divisions. Today, only one of them is used for the glove manufacture.
– CUT –
As soon as we enter the workshop, we meet Victor, a young Compagnon du Devoir, saddler and leather worker, making his Tour de France. He was trained for several months by the former cutter, Christian, now in retirement. The material has a very important role in glove-making: it should be flexible enough to ensure maximum comfort. Its preparation therefore requires genuine expertise.
Standing in front of his wooden time-worn workbench, he starts by humidifying the skin with a brush, then twists and stretches it, to make it more flexible. He cuts a first rectangle of leather, stretches it again, places the mould beneath, then hits it hard with the palm of his hand, to imprint it.
In order to obtain the same shade, the thumb part is integrated on the same piece of leather.
Glove-making requires the use of thin and flexible skins, mainly from goats and lambs, but also more specific leathers like peccary, or exotic skins like crocodile or python. Positioning is also important considering the thickness of the skin. For women’s models, the cutter opts for the back of the beast, called the butt, because the skin is thinner. Conversely, the men’s models are cut near the head, namely around the neck, to have a thicker skin.
When the size is obtained, that the imprint of the mould is sufficient, and that the size is chalk-marked onto the back, Victor gathers the pieces in pairs, side to side, to send them to the next step, along with the forks and other garnitures.
– PRESS –
The press rests proudly in the middle of the workshop. It seems it’s always been there. When it’s on, you can hear a slow and regular sound throughout the workshop. For each model and each size, there’s a mould, that is a metal punch allowing to cut the glove. They fill the shelves surrounding the press, and there’s even some on the workshop walls.
The first step is to put the appropriate mould on the table, then to place the two side-to-side leather pieces on it, before adding a thick plate above it, allowing to maintain the items altogether and to increase the pressure of the machine. A ring is attached at the bottom of each mould, allowing them to be slipped under the press and removed safely. Two or three movements are necessary for the pieces to be cut nicely.
After the cut, depending on the model, comes the embroidery step. Made by hand or by machine, this amounts to making the seams on the back of the hand and thus giving it relief. For other models, especially for women, it’s at that moment that garnitures and other accessories (pompoms, bows…) are fixed.
– PIQUE ANGLAIS –
We then arrive near the machine which makes up the specificity of the House: the pique anglais machine. We meet Stéphanie, a young American woman, who’s been in charge of the workshop for several years. This sewing technique, which is specific to the Millau gloves and has almost vanished nowadays, is recognisable by its stitches, which look like chain stitches, thus ensuring a solid assembly.
She starts by sewing the thumb piece, 1 mm from the edge, and fixes it to the body of the glove. She then places the pieces between the fingers, which she sews on the inner side of the glove. Next, she places the carabins, which are small triangular pieces of leather between each finger, designed specifically to give more comfort to the customers.
We are mesmerised, trying to grab each movement. There is no point of reference for the seamer, despite the flexibility of the material. She places and assembles all the items by eye, from habit.
Once the stitching is done, she puts a spindle inside the glove, in other words a wooden tool which looks like pliers, to check her work.
The seams on each pair of gloves come with a lifetime guarantee, thus ensuring quality and the savoir-faire of the House.
– LINING –
Once the external assembly is over, each pair of gloves is lined in silk or in cashmere. The lining is first placed on a wooden hand shape, to glue the tips of the four fingers with a paintbrush. The body of the glove is then threaded onto the lining, and pulled to place it correctly. This process is repeated for the gluing of the thumb, placed inside the body using the spindle. No stitches are required at this stage. Finally, the excess lining part is cut and glued to the glove entry.
– FINISH –
To complete the entry of the glove, the edge is folded. A garniture is placed alongside the slit, with an English binding, then the whole glove is stitched by hand or by machine.
The final touch is to place the ended gloves on the metal “warm hands” aligned at the end of the workshop, to flatten them and smooth the material out.
When it was created in 1924, Etienne Fabre only manufactured white gloves.
Now, besides its classic models, Maison Fabre diversifies and offers a large range of products. For instance, they offer hand-stitched rabbit fur or sheepskin models, to brave the winter cold, or even crochet mittens, for a sportier style.
Since the 1950s and Rose’s management, the House also gravitated around Art and Cinema. They manufactured the gloves of Louis de Funès in “Delusions of Grandeur”, revived the magical gloves of “Beauty and the Beast” from Jean Cocteau, and even reinvented the perfumed glove of Marie Antoinette showcased in Versailles.
And many other projects are still brainstormed…
– A FEW DATES –
In 1924: Foundation of the glove workshop by Etienne Fabre in the family house.
After World War II: Takeover of the company by the grandparents, Denis & Rose.
In the early 1950s: The House has 350 employees – Establishment in the current workshop.
In 1995: Loss of administrative markets, which results in the closure of the Millau workshop.
In 2001: New momentum with the arrival of Olivier Fabre – Beginning of collaborations with designers (Claudie Pierlot, José Levy, Sébastien Meunier…).
In 2002: The workshop reopens its doors.
From 2006: Presence in the major department stores (Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette Haussmann…)
In 2008: Opening of the Palais Royal shop.
In 2013: The House is awarded the title E.P.V. – Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant (or Living Heritage Company).