St. James of France makes le vrai chandial – the real French fisherman sweater – perfect for the mariner in all of us, even if only on the street. These sweaters are made of unwashed sheep’s wool that is very tightly spun and stitched. The unwashed wool preserves the natural water repellent oils in the wool, making for a relatively heavy garment that resists the wet and wind of ocean tides.
What has become a classic sweater was based on a those made in the 18th century for the onion merchants of Brittany, France, who endured the frigid and wet journey to England to sell their crop in nearby England wearing a boldly striped jersey knit by their wives from local wool. The marchand d’ail – garlic merchant – was anglicized as “chandail” and became the name of those jerseys.
Early versions were extra long, so they would remain tucked in pants while working. The signature one-shoulder buttons added warmth and access alike. Adopted by the French navy in the 1850s, solid color sweaters were reserved for officers, and the stripes – easy recognizable – were for recruits in training.
The St James company began circa 1850 in the town of the same name in Normandy, France, where William the Conqueror had established a town in the 11th century that became renown for weaving.
To this day, the Saint James atelier and factory is still located in the small village of Saint James, (population: 3000) about 20 kilometers from Mont-Saint-Michel.