PARIS — At first glance, it seems like a perfectly normal blue cotton worker’s jacket, identical to the many iterations found in vintage stores. Look a little closer, and one notices a few subtle innovations.
“We wanted to bring a bit of originality to traditional workwear,” said designer Louis-Marie de Castelbajac, gesturing to the 11-piece collection he created in collaboration with historical workwear manufacturer Lafont, which was founded in Lyon in 1844.
Castelbajac pointed to the collar of a jacket which, once upturned, revealed a flash of reflective fabric allowing for high-visibility once night falls. (He demonstrated by taking a picture on his phone, adding that it made for perfect cycling gear.) He then moved on to the wrist area: a clever buttoned flap opened up to unveil the wearer’s watch.
The creative, the son of fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, approached Lafont with the idea of giving a modern spin to the company’s durable pieces — the Lafont moleskin jackets, made of tightly woven cotton, used to come with a 100-year guarantee they were so resistant — delving into the manufacturer’s archives to unearth some of its classic pieces, found completely intact.
Lafont 1844 is the manufacturer’s first official fashion collection, after dabbling with consumer pieces when it was under previous ownership. (Lafont is owned by a family of French industrialists who bought the company in 2016.) It is made up of two lines for both men and women: One is a classical take on worker’s jackets, overalls and coveralls, the other features a slew of more creative pieces like bi-colored overalls and army jackets with bright orange pockets.
“Lafont has a real knowledge in creating technical clothing,” said Alexandra Avram, managing director of the manufacturer, which is known for making gear for the French and Italian army as well as high-resistance pieces for factory work, construction, transport, protection and medical use. “But we realized that some of our pieces were loved by non-professionals as well, such as our blue coveralls. So we decided to add a diffusion line to our distribution.”
Functional and sturdy, the Lafont 1844 pieces are laden with pockets, including a secret one for valuables located on the inside of jackets, on the higher part of the back. The colors riff on Lafont’s original palette: jackets, coveralls, but also T-shirts and shirts are available in black, blue, cream and red.
“Louis-Marie’s collection integrates the basics of professional clothing,” explained Avram. “An item has to be safe, comfortable, durable and allow for protection. It needs to accompany the professional in all his movements, becoming something like a second skin.”
The full collection, including accessories such as leather satchels and a belt created to resemble an articulated ruler, is available to purchase on the new Lafont 1844 web site as well as at the label’s pop-up store located at 30 Rue de Vertbois, open until March 20.
The pop-up also enables visitors to take a look at archival Lafont pieces, including a pair of trousers that was made in the Thirties. All of them are still in one piece, albeit a little worn.
“You could stand this jacket up on the ground and it would hold on its own,” laughed Castelbajac, holding a worker’s jacket from the 1940s. “These clothes are made to last.”