Some history

The Beret… A national symbol  for the French and recognized the world over, The beret is so closely knit into the French culture its now a part of our DNA. Our goal is to protect and conserve this unique headwear by respecting a centuries old tradition, 175 years and counting. Our manufacturing process has evolved in some aspects but 80%of the production is still hand crafted using machines that where built on-site and a “know-how” handed down from generation to generation. Oloron-St-Marie was once the epicenter of beret producers and today Laulhère is the very last.

The « Basque » beret is in fact a “Bearn” beret (a neighboring region). It was the Bearn shepherds that first hand knit the beret and felted the wool in the mountain waters producing a remarkably robust hat that protected against the harsh sun and cold winters.
The term “Basque beret” became fashionable when Napoleon III became intrigued by this curious hat on his frequent visits to Biarritz where he built the beautiful Palais de Biarritz. Many of the laborers wore the useful flat hat for the same reasons the Bearn shepherds did. Thus the term Basque beret became fashionable and because the Basque people are seasoned travelers the name was exported all around the globe.
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The first major change happened when the military understood that the qualities in a beret where perfect for combat heavy use. Its practical side and the potential of identification on the battlefield made it a must for most armies. From there the little beret spilled back into civilian life and was adopted by the working class for the same reasons as the shepherds. Many moved to the cities to join the industrial age and brought the beret along with them.
Oloron-St-Marie, already a major center for textiles and wools since the middle ages became the world’s biggest producer of berets. This was due to its history with wool and textile trading and the geographic magic of the mountain water that runs through the Aspe valley and the Ossau valley.
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Image par Papitou sur CPArama.com
Mr Lucien Laulhère founded the Laulhère factory in Oloron Ste Marie. From the first year the business took off with a huge demand for berets both domestic and internationally. His sons Joachim and Adrien took over under the name “Laulhère Frères” and registered numerous patents for berets like the Zebra beret in 1895 or the famous flat cap beret cap in 1898.
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The wearing of the beret developed and spilled over into different social classes with almost no barriers between class or age worn both the young and old and rich and poor. In Paris just like in Hollywood the women’s beret shot into the limelight thanks to stars like Greta Garbo.
The Laulhère factory continued expanding thanks to the purchase of modern knitting machines.
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Laulhère was able to diversify its business from the 1940’s thanks to the famous combat beret developed by Laulhère with the French army and later with the new ladies fashion collection of merino wool hats.
Always eager to master its production process, the company developed their own machines and processes and kept on registering new patents.
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In 2011 the factory was awarded the rights to work and supply the Nato group of members with a military grade combat range.
The House of Laulhère is now the only beret-maker that makes its berets entirely in France and uses traditional processes.

This unique know-how has passed from generation to generation for nearly two centuries, to Laulhère who are now the only ones to master the entire process. It was recognised in 2012 by being awarded the Living Heritage Enterprise label (EPV) which promotes French know-how and excellence, and the Guaranteed Made in France label (Origine France Garantie) shared by only 350 companies that meet the stringent specifications for made-in-France claims.

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Laulhère is now the only remaining beret-maker in France, and has a unique and exceptionally ancient heritage. With the takeover of its sibling Blancq-Olibet in 2013, Laulhère now embodies the entire tradition with a mission to preserve this invaluable cultural practice as part of France’s heritage and is working to resurrect the beret in France and around the world.
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