French Fancies: J.M. Weston

I’ve featured posts about ladies’ shoes but I thought I should address the balance and look at a French producer of predominantly mens’ shoes. 

J.M. Weston, despite the Anglo-Saxon sound of its name, is a French luxury shoe company, founded by Édouard Blanchard in 1891, in Limoges. It is renowned for its handmade shoes for men though they now also make women’s shoes, plus a full line of leather goods ranging from belts and briefcases to luggage items. J.M. Weston shoes are generally sold in its own boutiques.

At the start of 20th century, Edouard was joined by his forward thinking son Eugène, who had his sights firmly fixed on the modern manufacturing methods employed in United States. He went there in 1904, more specifically to Weston, Massachusetts, to learn the latest production techniques. He stayed for three years and learned all about the welting process which makes it possible to resole shoes, thereby making them last longer. (Around 15,000 shoes are returned to the company for repair and resoling each year.) It was also he who, in 1919, on the death of his father Édouard, decided to limit production from six hundred to eighty pairs a day.

In 1922, Eugène Blanchard joined forces with Jean Viard, a Parisian dandy he had met at the racetrack, quite possibly Longchamp. Together they registered the J.M. Weston brand and opened their first Parisian boutique on boulevard de Courcelles, then in 1932 on the Champs-Élysées.

https://www.montres-de-luxe.com/photo/art/default/52888108-40199066.jpg?v=1610133718

During the iconic swinging sixties, the brand was adopted by the rebel French mods (Bande du Drugstore) who adopted the Weston loafer as their own, wearing it without socks and teamed with jeans. This sparked a massive trend and thereafter France’s elite adopted it as their clan uniform, resulting in huge commercial success for the brand.

In 1974, the company bought the trade mark (but not the factory) of Sylvestre Vincent et fils, an old quality footwear company founded in Limoges in 1881, shortly before the creation of the Weston company by Edouard Blanchard in 1891. This acquisition allowed Weston to access a number of captive markets such as the supply of boots for the Republican Guard and the National Gendarmerie and  the ceremonial shoes of the army officers

May be an image of saddle-stitched leather and footwear

In 1981 Weston bought the tannery Bastin & Fils (located about twenty kilometers from Limoges, in Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat), founded in 1860, whose kiln dating from the industrial revolution is listed as a Historic Monument. This tannery has supplied hides only for the soles since the company’s inception. The leather for the upper part of the shoe comes mainly from the French tannery in Puy-en-Velay, acquired by EPI (see below) in 2011 and subsequently sold to the Hermès Group in 2015.

Dans les ateliers de J. M. Weston

From first cut to final inspection, the shoes go through almost 200 construction processes. It takes a year just to make the leather sole! The shoe hides are cut from calf leather by laser for pinpoint accuracy though tradition and quality is the company’s constant ethos with some of the machinery dating back to WWII.

J.M. Weston, l'art d'être constant et moderne - Madame Figaro

2006 ushered in the introduction of leather goods and luggage. A small, highly curated collection for women followed. The range of leather goods has expanded year on year.

Weston is one of the brands of the privately-held luxury holding company EPI founded by Jean-Louis Descours in 1974, the year it acquired J.M. Weston, and is today managed by the founder’s grandson Christopher Descours, who claims:

Today, it is the values of craftsmanship, durability, quality and transmission of French know-how that the EPI group strives to perpetuate in each of its other acquisitions, all inherited from the particular spirit of this brand of shoes.

While the company opened its first store in 1922, it now has over 40 boutiques and two franchises with an annual turnover rumoured to be just north of sixty million euros.

In more recent years, like many upmarket brands, the company has pursued a design-led strategy and collaborated with companies who share its ethos to broaden its product offering.

The Fondation d’Entreprise J.M. Weston

This is tasked with supporting initiatives that encourage manual work and the exchange of outstanding skills in France. It has three main lines of focus, which it hopes to fulfil by through its partnership with the Association Ouvrière des Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France:

  • Support creation and innovation
  • Encourage skills training
  • Promote open-mindedness and exchange of ideas

The company has its own on Foundation Awards to perfect the mastery of shoe manufacturing, within the JM Weston factory in Limoges, and an exchange scheme with a similar company in Japan. Essentially the work of the foundation is to ensure a future stream of talent for the company.

 

Silent Sunday #80

This year all my photographs are of France.

The Musette: Breton Palets

These are really, really good cookies! They are buttery – as they should be, not too sweet and a little salty. And their texture, so delicate, so tender, so sandy, is a little marvel.

How much salt you use is up to you. If you use the smallest amount, you’ll catch the flavour now and then; use the greater amount and the salt will be present, as it is in Breton cookies. I also add vanilla though it’s not in the “traditional” recipe but I think it’s a nice addition. Of course, if you’d like to add a little lemon or orange zest, I won’t stop you.

These are easily made without a mixer, especially if your butter is very soft – think soft like an expensive face cream. However, if like me you use a mixer, work on a low speed, you want to blend the ingredients, not beat them into a fluff. Once you’ve got the dough made, a matter of minutes, you’ve got to freeze it for at least 2 hours before baking, so remember to build in that time into your schedule.

I bake the cookies in muffin tins. It forces the soft dough to bake into perfect rounds and gives the bottoms and sides of the cookies a gorgeous, deep golden colour. If you bake them on a cookie sheet, they’ll spread and be quite flat. They’ll be tasty, but they won’t be palets.

Method (makes 24 palets)

  • 215g (1 2/3 cups) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate (baking) soda
  • 225g (2 sticks) very soft (but not oily) unsalted butter
  • 90g (3/4 cup) icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sieved or sifted
  • 1/2 to 3/4 tsp fleur de sel or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (to taste)
  • 2 large organic egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract (optional)

Method

1.Whisk the flour, baking powder and baking soda together, then set aside.

How to make Palets Bretons - salt butter biscuits from Brittany? - Salmon and Frogs

2. Working with an electric mixer on low-medium speed or with a flexible spatula or whisk (if your butter is soft and creamy, the dough is very easy to make by hand), beat the butter, sugar and salt together until very smooth. If you’re using a mixer, go easy – you’re not looking to beat air into the mixture.

3. One by one, add the yolks and beat to blend. Beat in the vanilla, if you’re using it. Add the dry ingredients in two additions, beating or stirring them in until just incorporated. You’ll have a soft, sticky dough.

4. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a log that’s about 15cm (5 1/2 to 6 inches) long (get the length right and the width will be fine). It’s a fussy job because the dough is so soft. I generally put the dough on a piece of cling film (plastic wrap), greaseproof (parchment) or wax paper and use that to cajole it into shape. Or chill the dough for a while and then log it. Either way, freeze the logs for at least 2 hours (or for up to 1 month).

5. When you’re ready to bake, position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat it to 180°C/160°fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Have two standard-size muffin tins at the ready. (I usually bake one tin at a time, so I centre the oven rack.) There’s so much butter in the cookies that there’s no need to butter the tins.

6. Working with one log at a time, unwrap the log and score it so that you can cut 12 rounds. If a round cracks or slivers when you cut it, just press the pieces back into shape. Drop a round into each muffin hole.

7. Bake the palets for 18 to 20 minutes – rotating the tins top to bottom and front to back after 10 minutes, if you’re baking two tins at once. Bake until they are beautifully golden around the edges and just firm to the touch in the centres. Remove the tins from the oven and turn them over onto a rack, tapping the tins lightly, if needed, to release the cookies. The cookies are very fragile, so be gentle with them. Cool to room temperature on racks before serving.

Biscuits au beurre, palets bretons | Vrac & Bio | Magasin vrac DurabL

8. Packed in a covered container, the palets will keep for at least a week providing they’re well hidden!!!

One from the Vaults: French Basque Country – Bayonne

This week I’ve popped over the border into the French Basque Country.

A mere eight kilometres (5 miles) from Biarritz is the wonderful town of Bayonne which we’ve visited a number of times, the last one being on a Saturday in 2018 on our way down to San Sebastian.

Bayonne (“Baiona” in Basque) is located at the northernmost point of the French Basque Country where the Nive and Adour Rivers meet. It’s renowned for hosting one of the largest French summer festivals, called the Fêtes de Bayonne. This is the French version of Pamplona’s San Fermin (Running of the Bulls) and attracts more then one million visitors annually. It may not have been that particular festival but the town was full of people who’d dressed up and were playing medieval games.

Even though Bayonne is technically a city, it feels more like a large town. A stroll along the Nive River which separates the two main neighbourhoods of the city, Grand and Petit Bayonne, is both beautiful and relaxing. The buildings are decorated in a lovely mixture of Basque and French architecture, each adorned with colourful wooden shutters. Both sides of the waterfront are lined with bars and restaurants and make for great places to stop and take in the most beautiful views of the city.

Thanks to the Adour River which connects Bayonne to the Bay of Biscay, the city was well positioned and grew wealthy with the help of the whaling and cod industries. This influx of money helped finance many of the city’s buildings, including the massive gothic cathedral.

Because of Bayonne’s commercial importance and its close proximity to Spain (aprox. 30 km [19 miles] away), the city features many fortified structures. Most of the original wall that surrounded the city is gone but it’s still possible to see some of the remnants when wandering through its streets. Some other examples of the city’s defensive structures include the Porte d’Espagne, Château-Neuf, Château-Vieux and the citadel. Unfortunately, most of the fortifications are closed to the public, however, it is possible to view them from the outside.

Grand Bayonne is the more commercial part of town but also its ancient beating heart where one finds the Sainte Marie Cathedral, which dominates the city’s skyline. The construction of this gothic cathedral started in 1213 though it wasn’t finished until 17th century (with exception of the north tower, finished in 19th century). Alongside the cathedral is the cloister, which dates back to 1240 and  is one of the largest in France.

Not far from the cathedral, you will find the Château-Vieux (Old Castle). Built in 12th century by the Viscounts of Labourd. This was originally the official residence of the governors of the city (including Edward, the black prince). It’s still owned by the military and is therefore not open to the public.

The impressive Town Hall of Bayonne (La Mairie or L’Hôtel de Ville) is located at the intersection of the Nive and Adour Rivers. It was built in 1843 in neoclassical style and was originally home to the customs office. The six statues on the roof represent the economic and artistic activities of the city. Apart from the town hall, the building also houses a theater and a café with a nice terrace in the square in front of the building.

Next to the Nive River is Bayonne’s covered market called “Les Halles”. This is the perfect place to discover the area’s bounty and particularly the lovely gâteau Basque. The market and its surroundings are especially busy on Saturday mornings, when local producers gather there for an open-air market.

Bayonne also has a botanical garden, called Jardin Botanique, located at the Avenue du 11 Novembre (next to the Tourist Office). It was opened in the late 1990s and it stands on top of a bastion between the cathedral and the ramparts.

Apart from wandering through the streets of this beautiful neighbourhood and enjoying its architecture, in Petit Bayonne, you can visit the Basque Museum. Founded in 1922, it contains a nice collection of Basque and local French history. It is located in a small palace from 16th century called “Maison Dagourette.”

Another interesting museum located in this same aea is the Bonnat Museum. It is named after the local realist painter, Léon Bonnat, whose own work makes up most of the main collection. It was due to reopen in 2020 after extensive renovation works.

Sitting in the highest point of Petit Bayonne you will find the Château-Neuf built in the 15th century by Charles IV. This massive building now belongs to the university and is again unfortunately closed to the public.

From Petit Bayonne, it is possible to cross the Adour River via the Pont Saint-Esprit to the neighborhood of Saint-Esprit, where the citadel and train station are located. This neighborhood was originally part of Gascony and therefore different from the rest of Bayonne. It was settled primarily by Jews who had escaped from the Spanish Inquisition at the beginning of 17th century.

The Jews contributed much to Bayonne’s growth particularly through the introduction of chocolate which first gained its foothold in Bayonne and then later spread to the rest of France. Today, there are still many chocolatiers found in the city, such as the L’Atelier du Chocolat which has a workshop on the far end of Saint-Esprit. Well worth a visit!

Cee’s Flower of the Day #168

I much enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year, and from around the world.

Cee’s FOTD Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

Thursday doors #130

This week I’m featuring a few new French doors from my recent trips out and about on two wheels.

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Cee’s Flower of the Day #167

I much enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year, and from around the world.

Cee’s FOTD Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

Trip to Saint-Jeannet

I’m continuing my series of posts about Villages Perchés (perched villages) because there are so many I’ve yet to cover. Today’s village of Saint-Jeannet is another one of the sixteen villages grouped together by the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur tourist department as the Route des Villages Perchés (Route of Perched Villages). The others are: Aspremont, Carros, Castagniers, Coaraze, Colomars, Duranus, Eze, Falicon, La Gaude, Lantosque, Levens, La Roquette-sur-Var, Saint-Blaise, Tourrette-Levens and Utelle. 

Carte MICHELIN Carros - plan Carros - ViaMichelin

In the Alpes-Maritimes, just 20 kms (12 miles) from Nice and a stone’s throw from Vence, the village of Saint-Jeannet sits on a ledge beneath the towering Baou (a Provençal word for steep rock) de Saint-Jeannet, which resembles a crouching sphinx, with the Baou de la Gaude just to the right (east), and the Baou des Noirs and Baou des Blancs lined up to the west towards Vence. Orientated south, the village receives an abundance of sunlight while the Baou draws in the pleasant sea breezes in summer while acting as a barrier to harsh northern winds in winter.

In bygone days, the strange sphinx-like silhouette of the Baou made the villagers of nearby Saint-Paul de VenceTrip to Saint-Paul de Vence say that the people of Saint-Jeannet were witches. But the only spell that is cast today is the charm of Saint-Jeannet, which entrances and enchants the visitor because medieval village has hardly changed since the 17th century. Its old gates, which could be shut in case of attacks, are still visible. Come and see why the village has attracted so many artists over time, from Poussin to Jacques Prévert without forgetting Raoul Dufy and the composer Joseph Kosma.

It’s advisable to leave your car in one of the parking lots below Saint-Jeannet and visit this village on foot. Alternatively, do as I do on two wheels. Like many similar villages in the area, it’s laid out in the shape of a snail’s shell and its roads are very narrow.

First up is the Place Saint Barbe which has a great view out to sea. But the view is even better if you take a walk up to the top of the Baou. There’s a handily placed café-terrace, should you require fortification before tackling the climb.

But before you start your hike, take the time to explore the village. Built of stone polished by the centuries, its houses are high and narrow and form superimposed rows. With several small sun-filled squares, the washhouse and the fountains  – one dating from 1875 – from which flow a cool and pure water from springs on high  – great for filling my water bottle/bidon. It’s an absolute delight to stroll along its peaceful and authentic narrow streets. Duck through the low arched passage to admire a view of the surrounding countryside all the way to the Mediterranean from the little overhanging terrace.

Village de Saint Jeannet - Site officiel de l'office de tourisme Provence  Alpes Digne les Bains

Fontaines de Saint-Jeannet

Saint-Jeannet is not lacking in religious buildings. On the main square in the village centre is the renovated parish church of Saint John the Baptist, built in 1666 with a bell tower from 1670. Next to it is the Saint-Bernardin chapel (the former White Penitents’ chapel) with a beautiful altarpiece from 1652. At the western end of the village stands the Chapel of Saint John the Baptiste, built in 1753. Light and airy with its apse and barrel vault ceiling, it hosts different cultural events, fêtes and exhibitions. heading away from the old village, in its own garden with a fountain is 15th century Notre Dame des Baous Chapel and the nearby 12th century Sainte-Petronille Chapel.

Le Baou de Saint-Jeannet, 802 m - Sentiers de randonnée en pleine Nature

Now head upwards. The climb to the top takes about 2 hours and is accessible to people with little training or fitness. On the ascent you’ll pass hidden caves where the villagers sought refuge during troubled times and the ruins of a very large and very old sheepfold. At the very top, 800 metres (2,625 feet) above sea level, is an orientation table and amazing panoramic views that stretch from the alpine peaks of the Mercantour to Antibes, the Lérins islands and the Esterel mountains.

I understand the Baous are famous for slacklining, similar to tightrope walking but frankly I’ve no intention of trying it!

Discovery centre of the Vignoble de Saint-Jeannet - Leisure centre in Saint- Jeannet

Saint-Jeannet is also renowned for its wines. In the past, grapevines covered the terraced land, before making way for flowers and orange trees to supply the perfume industry in Grasse. Today, the land below the village is occupied by real estate but one wine-maker, the Rasse family, is carrying on the tradition and producing quality wines, including famous dry fragrant tuilé wine of Saint-Jeannet. When driving up to the village take the right hand turn to the Route des Sausses leading to the Domaine des Hautes Collines, recognisable by the huge flasks full of rosé, for a cheeky degustation

 

 

All images courtesy of Saint-Jeannet Tourist Office

 

Cee’s Flower of the Day #166

I much enjoy showcasing beautiful flora – flowers, shrubs, trees, bushes and leaves – throughout the year, and from around the world.

Cee’s FOTD Challenge rules, why not join in?

1.Feel free to post every day or whenever you you feel like it.  You can either post new flower photos or dig back into your archives.

2. Depending on the time of year, you can post any of these types of things for your FOTD.

  • Single flowers
  • Buds
  • Multiple flowers
  • Bouquet
  • Flower fields
  • Wildflowers
  • Tree or bush blossoms
  • Autumn leaves
  • Spring leaves
  • Decorative Cabbage
  • Berries
  • Still life
  • Fake or Silk Flowers

Wordless Wednesday #98

Here’s another photo from one of our many #adventuredownunder. Goodness knows when we’ll next be able to visit……but I have plans…….big plans……….