Originally a working garment for the seaweed farmers of the Pays Pagan in Finistère, the kabig has gradually become the emblematic garment of the Breton people. Looking at the history of the kabig is also discovering the cultural history of Brittany.
We are pleased to present you a book dedicated to the history of the kabig, the work coat of the seaweed farmers that has become emblematic of the Breton culture and spirit.
But where does its name come from?
Kab means coat in Breton. The kabig was called "kab an od", coat of strikes or "kab gwenn", white coat. The term "kabig", small coat, was definitively adopted in the second half of the 20th century to designate this historical garment.
Éditions Coop Breizh, 2020
Former curator of Breton museums, he organized the exhibition "Kabig, le destin d'un habit de grèves" (Kabig, the destiny of a garment of strikes) at the port-museum of Douarnenez, in 2008.
Former director of the Écomusée des goémoniers et de l'algue de Plouguerneau, he is the author of Nous te fais [autrement] Bretagne (Yoran Embanner, 2017)
Gwenaël Le Berre
Weaver and Bigouden artist, He initiated and participated in the exhibitions "Kabig, the destiny of a garment of strikes" in the port-museum of Douarnenez, in 2008 and "From sardines to lace" in Pennmarc'h in 2003.
He also archives the work of his father, the Seiz Breur Marc Le Berre.
"Kabig, the destiny of a dress of strikes" traces the history of the kabig from its beginnings to our days.
The kabig is a short hooded coat, made of woolen cloth, with a belly pocket and "cabillots" (small wooden pegs with a rope) as buttons, like on duffle coats.
Born in Finistère, in the small and isolated territory of the Pays Pagan, the kabig was the working costume of the seaweed farmers. These very poor peasant sailors lived on the coast and fished or collected seaweed, the only way to survive in this territory far from the main roads and with arid soil, almost unfit for agriculture.
The first mention of this garment was made by the English writer Adolphus Trollope in his notes during a trip to Brittany in 1839. Its first visual representation dates from the summer of 1844. The draftsman François Hippolyte Lalaisse, on vacation in Brittany, recorded in watercolor all the regional costumes he saw during his trip. This Kab an aod or cape of strike was cut in a white fabric with red and blue border. The white color was used to locate the seaweed harvesters in the middle of the rocks, as well as those which had fallen to the sea.
Lalaisse's watercolor was used in prints and engravings in works on folk costumes. Thus, in 1849, the costume designers of the Paris Opera were inspired to create the costumes of the actors of an opera whose action took place in Pornic.
This traditional costume thus became the representation of a generic marine garment. Revisited in a romantic vision by artists of the late nineteenth century, it represented the imagination of Brittany: an exotic and picturesque garment worn by rough and wild inhabitants.
Although linked to a tiny region enclosed in Brittany, the original kabig was made of a woolen sheet woven in the Drôme. The blue and white border so characteristic of this coat was the trademark of the Morin establishments in the town of Dieulefit. With a solid commercial network, this company was able to export its solid, warm woolen sheet as far as Finistère. Its tight weave made it waterproof which seduced this small maritime peasantry. This fabric was ideal for making a strike suit to protect the workers from bad weather and cold.
Photograph by Jos Le Doaré for an advertisement for Le Minor, 1952
The development of seaside resorts from 1894 onwards opened up the Pagan country. The Breton bourgeoisie discovered the kabig. Seduced by its characteristics, they took hold of it, continuing to wear it when returning from vacations and thus participating in its diffusion.
The kabig went beyond its folklorization during the inter-war period. Created in 1923, the artistic movement Seiz Breur worked for a Breton cultural revival. In this context, the ethnologist René-Yves Creston and the Quimper tailor Marc Le Berre worked on the modernization of the kabig.
It knew its apogee between the 50s and 70s.
First in the cinema, in the film Dieu a besoin des hommes (God needs men), awarded at the Venice festival in 1950. The Parisian actors continued to wear the kabig in the city after the shooting.
It then became a fashion reference thanks to Le Minor. Playing on the authentic aspect of this piece and recalling its modest origins, our company produced the kabig on a large scale, making it known beyond the Breton borders thanks to modern advertising campaigns. Le Minor modernized this workwear by varying the shapes, ornaments and colors. This massive diffusion went hand in hand with the Breton cultural renaissance. The bagadoù, Breton musical ensembles appropriated the kabig. Aware that a musical group looks more prestigious wearing a uniform, the musicians naturally adopted the kabig. Warm, waterproof, more practical than the traditional ceremonial costumes, it remained a simple and cheap garment to make. Thus worn by a free and independent youth in Brittany as well as in the other regions of France, the kabig spread throughout the country before being rediscovered in the 80's by world-renowned designers such as Val Piriou.
AT THE HEART OF THE WORK
Much more than a historical approach, this work has an ethnographic vocation by looking at the kabig from a cultural and anthropological point of view. All the social dimensions linked to the wearing of the kabig are evoked: geographical, religious, psychological, linguistic aspects...
Although erudite and well-documented, the book remains clear, simple and readable, within the reach of all. We particularly appreciated the testimonies of the actors of the rebirth of the kabig, collected by the authors. Understanding the aspirations and motivations of those who in the second half of the twentieth century carried the kabig like a standard humanizes the subject. Beyond the movements of history, we discover the simplicity and authenticity of an everyday garment.
Throughout its 128 pages, the text is punctuated with unpublished archives: old Le Minor advertisements, 19th century engravings, designers' drawings, posters, personal photos, etc., which enrich the book and allow for a better immersion in this epic.
The chapter devoted to Le Minor offers a unique insight into the history of our company. From the manufacture of dolls presenting traditional Breton costumes to the development of our ready-to-wear lines, the kabig embodies the evolution of our company. This chapter highlights the excellence of our age-old know-how, our attachment to Breton heritage and textile innovation. By drawing on these roots and exploiting our archives, we are able to offer the kabig again in our collections from winter 2022.
More than the history of a garment, this book is a dive into the Breton soul and its cultural identity, far from clichés and folklore. This book will appeal not only to Bretons and lovers of Brittany, but also to lovers of know-how, heritage and textile.