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BLEU DE TRAVAIL

It was in 2016, after watching the documentary
Bill Cunningham New York about the New York Times’s legendary street-style photographer Bill Cunningham (1929–2016),that the French blue working jacket
worked its way into my wardrobe.

(If you haven’t seen the film, do it now, it is great).

When the utterly charming, understated Bill Cunningham went round New York on his bicycle to capture the next brilliant street-style fashion photo,
he often wore ‘bleu de travail’.

 

October 2023

From HÅNDVÆRK bookazine no. 8 the fashion issue.

While I was working as a designer, I often included variations on the smock in my collections.
The blue working jacket with stitched-on pockets and a shirt collar fills the same role. It is practical, and it can be formal or informal, depending how worn it is and what it is combined with. Even if they were originally designed to meet strictly functional criteria, both the working jacket and the smock have an air of casual elegance.

I bought my first blue working jackets new from France and sold them on my online platform slowfashionhouse.com, which existed from 2008 to 2013.

Around this time, I bumped into Amah Ayivi in Paris. He was born and raised in the republic of Togo and developed the fashion concept Marché Noir Lomé-Paris – a stylish mix of traditional African textiles and items of clothing, such as the Ghanaian batakari (tunic) made from hand-woven textiles, and French vintage pieces, including workwear.

In 2018, he exhibited at the fashion fair in Copenhagen, showing batakaris and workwear and worn French nightshirts.

That season, his designs were the only ones on the fair that appealed to me.

Thomas Lundqvist Bang is senior project manager at DSB
Dorte Lundqvist Bang is a customer ambassador at DSB
Together, they own and run Olibrius Vintage de Luxe and Olibrius Workwear

Around this time, in Copenhagen’s Østerbro district, Dorte and Thomas Bang were planning their next trip to Lille to buy from one of the largest markets in France. By now, they had already made quite a few such trips, starting with a private visit in 2011 with no other purpose besides having a good time and perhaps buying a few bits and pieces for their home after recently moving in together. 

They loved the atmosphere, and when they had a little wiggle room in their budget, they decided to go again, this time to invest in furniture and interior objects to be sold on. They named their project Olibrius Vintage de Luxe.

An old dream? I ask. ‘No, not at all.’ Dorte explains that while she was always interested in interior design, her style was classic Scandinavian design, and Thomas had no interest in interior design whatsoever.
He had previously sold his own time as a consultant, but neither had any experience selling products.

It was harder to sell the things than we anticipated. We kept them in our flat and put them on Instagram, but nothing really happened,’ Dorte recalls.

She smiles when she says that she had a naive idea that they would be able to go toe to toe with the best vintage shops in Copenhagen, but that she had to swallow her pride and set up a stall in a market to sell their purchases. And then people began to take an interest in Olibrius.

Today, Olibrius has a large storeroom in the countryside. Thomas and Dorte have moved to Frederiksberg and spend their summers in an allotment on Amager. This was where we first met, because I had heard they had some old French linen shirts in stock, and I wanted to buy one. 

Although a market stall was not Dorte’s first choice, it is now Olibrius’s preferred sales channel. The couple feel particularly in their element on summer Saturdays in Tisvilde.
They also have a lucrative sale of furniture and interior objects to a company that decorates holiday homes in southern Europe. 
In 2020–21, Olibrius were co-owners of a shop on Værnedamsvej in Copenhagen for 14 months, a chance for them to test whether a shop might be their next step. ‘From time to time, we have toyed with the notion of quitting our day jobs and going full-time with Olibrius,’ says Dorte, adding, ‘Now, we are quite certain that we don’t want to have a shop.

Our next meeting is on an early Saturday morning in Tisvilde. I hang around while they unpack and set up for the day. Dorte and Thomas left home at 6 in the morning. The morning has its own regular rhythm until 9 o’clock, when the first shoppers show up. 

Workwear has a prominent place in their display. ‘It began in 2018, when we bought some 20 or 30 jackets,’ says Thomas.

There was an old man who was selling a lot of workwear, and for some reason, it appealed to us. We were confirmed in our choice even before we left the market: while we were walking round in Lille with the clothes draped over our arms, other shoppers wanted to buy them from us, and the few jackets we brought home were quickly sold.

 At the same time, you had reached a point,’ says Dorte, looking at Thomas, ‘when you said you couldn’t handle any more cushions and candlesticks, and I asked you to figure out what other items you might be interested in instead.

I thought about it,’ says Thomas, ‘and decided that I would focus on working jackets.

I found a supplier and bought 200 kilos. He needed the money and offered a good price.

When they first arrived, I thought, “Oh my god”,’ says Dorte – ‘The jackets were filthy, and we soaked them in our tub for days. There is a lot of work involved in selling old clothes. They have to be sorted and either laundered or aired out, and some pieces need mending.

At one point, a supplier asked if I was interested in boiler suits,’ says Thomas. ‘We were.’ says Dorte. ‘My gut feeling told me there would be a demand for them; the demand for the jackets had been growing steadily.

The fashion magazines are taking an interest, and up here, many people have bought not just one but several jackets.

During the Covid lockdown, we advertised the jackets on Instagram and were really busy photographing, measuring, replying to emails and sending jackets.  

Traditional French working jackets are made of cotton twill or moleskin.

Twill is a weave characterized by diagonal lines on the face of the fabric.
Moleskin is woven and cut and has a short, soft texture on the face that is similar in appearance and texture to chamois.

Is the market unsatiable? ‘We actually thought we were beginning to see the end of it,’ says Dorte, ‘but it doesn’t seem to be the case.
In the meantime, I am getting increasingly nerdy,’ says Tomas. ‘I have found several good suppliers, now that I know what to look for, and discovered that there is an international environment of collectors who want old, unused moleskin jackets. The older the more they’re willing to pay, and unused with tags is the most exclusive quality. The latter is a challenge, because even if the clothes are unused, they are filthy when we find them.

Others prefer jackets that are very worn and have many authentic repairs. They are like small works of art.

Personally, I prefer the aged ones, but I don’t wear them. For work I buy jackets I’m not really into selling because they’re too boring.

Visible mending as a decorative element on old blue workwear  is a creative form of expression, especially in many Asian cultures.

You can read about visible mending in HÅNDVÆRK no 5.

What is next? ‘We never go looking for anything specific,’ says Dorte. ‘If you’re too targeted, you’re not open. I like to follow my intuition, and so far, it hasn’t steered me wrong.

Will you be bringing home more shirts? I ask. I love mine . It is hand-sewn in linen, carefully planned to avoid wasting even a centimetre of fabric. Used and washed year after year and lovingly mended. I would like to have a couple more, and I see on their hanger bar that they are almost sold out. Dorte is not done with linen, she says. On the contrary, she is only just getting into it, delighted and humbled by all the work that has gone into the making and the careful maintenance over the years.

Fra HÅNDVÆRk bookazine no.8

Det var efter at have set dokumentarfilmen Bill Cunninghams New York i 2016 om den legendariske New York Times-street style-fotograf Bill Cunningham (1929-2016), at den blå franske arbejdsjakke sneg sig ind i min garderobe.

(Hvis du ikke har set filmen, så se den straks, den er fantastisk). 

Når den aldeles charmerende og underspillede Bill Cunningham tog turen rundt i New York på cykel for at fange det næste brillante street style-modefotografi, var han ofte iført ‘bleu de travail’.

Da jeg selv arbejdede som designer, havde jeg ofte variationer over kitlen i mine kollektioner.
Den blå arbejdsjakke, med påstukne lommer og skjortekrave, kan det samme. Den er praktisk og kan være uformel eller formel, afhængig af hvor slidt den er, og hvad den sættes sammen med, og selvom den ikke oprindelig er designet til at være noget andet end funktionel, udstråler både arbejdsjakken og kitlen skødesløs elegance.

Mine første blå arbejdsjakker købte jeg hjem fra Frankrig som nye. Jeg solgte dem på min onlineplatform SLOWFASHIONhouse.com, som eksisterede fra 2008 til 2013.

I samme periode stødte jeg i Paris på Amah Ayivi, som er født og opvokset i republikken Togo, han står bag modekonceptet Marché Noir Lomé-Paris, hvor han med sikker hånd blander traditionelle afrikanske tekstiler og beklædningsgenstande, som den ghanesiske batakari (tunika), fremstillet af håndvævede tekstiler, med fransk vintage, blandt andet arbejdstøj.

I 2018 udstillede han på modemessen i København. Batakarier og arbejdstøj og slidte franske natskjorter.

Den sæson, på den messe, var hans varer det eneste, jeg fik lyst til.

Thomas Bang er senior projektleder hos DSB.
Dorte Bang er kundeambassadør hos DSB.
Driver sammen Olibrius Vintage de Luxe og Olibrius Workwear

Nogenlunde samtidig, et andet sted i København, på Østerbro, var parret Dorte og Thomas Bang i færd med at planlægge deres næste tur til Lille for at købe ind på et af Frankrigs største markeder. De havde efterhånden været af sted en del gange, startende med en privat tur i 2011 uden andet formål end at nyde og måske købe lidt til deres nyetablerede fælles hjem.

De var blevet bidt af stemningen, og da de havde lidt frie midler, besluttede de at tage af sted igen. Denne gang for at investere i møbler og indretningsdetaljer med henblik på videresalg. De døbte projektet Olibrius Vintage de Luxe.

En gammel drøm?, må jeg vide. “Nej, slet ikke”, Dorte fortæller, at hun altid har været indretningsinteresseret, men har boet med skandinaviske designklassikere; Thomas har ikke interesseret sig for indretning overhovedet.
Han har tidligere solgt sine timer som konsulent, men ingen af dem havde erfaring med at sælge vare

“Det var vanskeligere at afsætte varerne, end vi havde forestillet os; vi havde dem i lejligheden og forsøgte os lidt med Instagram, men der skete ikke rigtig noget”, erindrer Dorte.

Hun smiler, da hun fortæller, at hun lidt naivt havde forestillet sig, at hun var i stand til at tage kampen op med de bedste vintageforhandlere i København, men at hun måtte bide hovedet af al skam og gå på marked med deres indkøb. Da begynde kunderne at interessere sig for Olibrius.

Olibrius har nu et stort lager på landet, selv er Thomas og Dorte flyttet til Frederiksberg, om sommeren bor de i et haveforeningshus på Amager. Det var her, vi mødtes først, fordi jeg havde fået nys om, at de havde fået gamle franske hørnatskjorter på lager. Jeg ville købe en sådan.

Selvom salg fra markeder ikke var Dortes første prioritet, er det nu Olibrius’ foretrukne salgskanal, navnlig sommerlørdagene i Tisvilde omtaler parret som værende deres rette element.
Møbler og indretningsdetaljer sælger de desuden med stor succes til en virksomhed, som indretter ferielejligheder i Sydeuropa.
I 2020-21 var Olibrius i 14 måneder medindehavere af en butik på Værnedamsvej i København, en mulighed for at afprøve, om en butik var et oplagt næste skridt. “Vi har nu og da leget med tanken om at sige vores faste jobs op for at blive fuldtidsbeskæftigede i Olibrius”, fortæller Dorte og fortsætter umiddelbart: “Vi er nu helt sikre på, at vi ikke skal have butik.”

 

Vores næste møde foregår en tidlig lørdag morgen i Tisvilde. Jeg lusker rundt, mens de pakker ud og stiller klar til dagens rykind. Dorte og Thomas er kørt hjemmefra klokken 6. Morgenen har sin helt faste rytme frem til klokken 9, hvor kunderne begynder at dukke op.

Arbejdstøjet fylder en del. “Det begyndte med, at vi købte en 20-30 jakker i 2018”, fortæller Thomas.

“Vi havde set en gammel mand stå med en masse arbejdstøj, og det trak af en eller anden årsag. Vi blev bekræftet i vores valg allerede på markedet, for mens vi gik rundt med tøjet over armen i Lille, ville andre besøgende købe af os, og de få jakker, vi havde med hjem, solgte vi hurtigt.”

“Samtidig var du nået til et punkt”, Dorte ser på Thomas, “hvor du gav udtryk for, at du ikke orkede flere puder og lysestager, og jeg bad dig finde ud af, hvilket produkt du så ville kunne brænde for.”

“Jeg tænkte lidt”, svarer Thomas, “og så bestemte jeg, at jeg ville interessere mig for arbejdsjakker.

Jeg fandt en leverandør og købte 200 kg; han var i økonomiske vanskeligheder og solgte billigt.”

“Lige da de kom, tænkte jeg Oh my god”, fortsætter Dorte, “jakkerne var møgbeskidte og lå i blød i vores badekar i dagevis. Der er meget arbejde forbundet med det gamle tøj, som skal sorteres og vaskes eller luftes; noget af det skal også repareres.”

“På et tidspunkt spurgte en leverandør, om jeg også ville have kedeldragter”, fortæller Thomas, “det ville vi gerne”, siger Dorte, “min mavefornemmelse sagde mig, at dem ville der være efterspørgsel på, efterspørgslen på jakkerne var vokset stødt.

Modemagasinerne har interesseret sig for dem, og heroppe har mange købt ikke en, men flere jakker.

Under coronanedlukningen annoncerede vi jakkerne på Instagram og fik virkelig travlt med at fotografere, måle op, svare mails og sende jakker.”

De franske arbejdsjakker bliver traditionelt fremstillet af bomuldstwill eller bomulds-moleskin.

Twill er en vævebinding, der er kendetegnet ved diagonale linjer på retsiden.
Moleskin er vævet og klippet og har en kort, blød overflade på retsiden, som i udseende og tekstur minder om vaskeskind.

Er markedet umætteligt? “Vi troede egentlig, det var ved at være slut”, svarer Dorte, “men det virker ikke sådan.”
“Jeg bliver til gengæld mere og mere nørdet omkring tøjet”, fortsætter Tomas, “jeg har fundet flere gode leverandører nu, hvor jeg ved, hvad jeg skal lede efter. Jeg har erfaret, at der findes et internationalt miljø af samlere, som vil have gamle, ubrugte moleskinsjakker. Jo ældre, jo mere betaler de, ubrugt med tags er det mest eksklusive. Det sidste er en udfordring, for selvom tøjet er ubrugt, er det møgbeskidt, når vi finder det.

Andre kunder foretrækker jakker, som er meget slidte med mange autentiske reparationer. De er som små kunstværker.

Jeg kan selv bedst lide de patinerede, men dem går jeg ikke i; til brug på jobbet køber jeg de jakker, jeg egentlig ikke gider sælge, fordi de er for kedelige.”

‘Visible mending’ udført som dekoration på gammelt blåt arbejdstøj er navnlig i Asien en udtryksform.

Du kan læse om ‘visible mending’ i HÅNDVÆRK bookazine no. 5.

Det næste? “Vi tager altid af sted uden at lede efter noget specifikt nyt”, svarer Dorte, “er man for målrettet, er man ikke åben; jeg følger min intuition, og indtil nu har den ikke taget fejl.”

Tager I flere skjorter med hjem?, vil jeg vide, jeg er vild med min . Den er syet af håndvævet hør, omhyggeligt tilrettelagt, så ikke en eneste centimeter stof er gået til spilde. Brugt og vasket år efter år og sirligt repareret. Jeg vil gerne sikre mig et par stykker mere, og jeg kan se på bøjlestangen, at det er ved at være slut med den første portion? Dorte er ikke færdig med hørren, svarer hun, tværtimod, hun er først nu ved at blive rigtig glad for den; glad og ydmyg over alt det arbejde, der er lagt i fremstillingen, og over hvor godt der er passet på dem gennem årene.

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