Un soutien-gorge

Lejaby is back. Just a few months ago, the French lingerie manufacturer was making news for for reasons that were far from uplifting. Right in the middle of the French election campaign, the 82-year-old  company announced that it was closing two out of three factories due to plunging profitability. Workers staged sit-ins and threatened hunger strikes, while brandishing gigantic bra-flags stitched in patriotic bleu, blanc, et rouge. The company was planning to outsource jobs to Tunisia to workers who would work for even less than the already modestly compensated sewers. The average worker’s salary is hardly padded at only $1,300 US a month! The nation took the beleagured workers to their bosom, as they symbolized all the fear in the French economy. If France, once known for its nifty knickers and cunning corsets, couldn’t make it in the industry it had once dominated, what was the world coming to?

The textile industry has been, in fact, a poster child for all that is wrong with French manufacturing. These days, only one item of clothing for every 20 sold in France is actually made in the land of the tri-couleur. Bernard Arnault, of luxury conglomerate LMVH, saved the jobs at one of the factories by agreeing to retrain the workers to make Louis Vuitton purses instead of bras. Many suspected that the decision was underwired with the promise of political favors since Arnault was one the band of close personal friends of former-President Sarkozy, a claim Arnault hotly denied.

But what about the workers at the remaining plant? The new PDG (CEO) of Maison Lejaby, Alain Prost, has re-launched the brand as luxury lingerie. They’re putting the finishing touches on their elegant new showroom on the rue Royale, right next to Maxim’s restaurant. The new line will retail for $500 to $4,000 US per set. The designers are delighted to be working with the best materials, instead of trying to just cut costs to the bone and churn out goods as quickly and cheaply as possible.

The idea of buying goods made in France was first highlighted by Louis XIV and his savvy finance minister, Colbert, when France was strapped for cash. Unlike my daughter, I’m no economist, but sourcing goods of the highest quality within France’s borders kept it abreast of the competition once, why not again?

And now for a little lingerie vocabulary:

  • un soutien-gorge (uhn sue-tea-n gorje) – a bra (literally a bosom support)
  • un balconnet (uhn bahl-kon-ay) – a demi-cup bra
  • un soutien-gorge à armature (ah ar-ma-toor) – an underwired bra
  • un soutien-gorge pigeonnant (pih-zjee-ohn-nahn) – a push up bra (literally, it’s going to make you look like a pigeon!)  (primarily in Quebec – in France, they use soutien-gorge push-up)
  • un soutien-gorge à bretelles croisées (ah brehtell crwayzay) – a racer-back bra (literally “a crossed-straps bra”)
  • un soutien-gorge rembourré (rom-boor-ay) – a padded bra

I’m quite disappointed that I couldn’t work a pun for “cup” into my coverage of this story, so if you can think of one, I’d appreciate some extra support.

Beneath It All: 100 Years of French Elegance

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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