Workwear and the Making of the Palava Walter Jacket

May 24, 2024
Workwear and the Making of the Palava Walter Jacket
Guest Author: Gavin, our Production Manager

Gavin is our brilliant production manager. He's been at Palava for 5 years, helping out on lots of different projects and he now takes care of our production process. We start at the beginning with the designs which he will often help Bryony with, through to sampling, production planning and delivery! He works really closely with our suppliers Julie and Guray and visits as often as he can. Basically if Gavin wasn't around, we wouldn't have any new dresses for you!

Some things last a long time 

The French workwear jacket came about near the end of the 19th century, as a hardy item of clothing for the rural workers. Prior to its popularity - blue dyes were expensive and often reserved for military uniforms or Royalty. But as chemists worked out new and cheaper ways to produce dyes (like Prussian Blue and Hydron Blue) these were quickly adopted, and a classic was born.

The ‘bleu de travail’ as they are also known, were often made from a tightly woven cotton moleskin, making them almost waterproof as well as protecting the wearer from the cold winds in the fields. A few French companies from the early 20th century still produce these jackets to this day, each laying claim to the strong, classic heritage. The modern take-up is said to have been partly popularised by Paul Newman in ‘Cool Hand Luke’, and the New York photographer Bill Cunningham who always wore one whilst cycling around the city with his camera.

My First Workwear Designs

My first pieces of workwear were an LL Bean Barn Jacket and a blue French workwear jacket - both of which I still own and have almost worn out. My foray into clothes-making began when I tried to haphazardly copy the French workwear jacket, with the help of my mother, about 12 years ago. My method was to lay some tracing paper over the flat garment and draw the outline of each pattern piece. It didn’t turn out too badly considering, and while I wasn’t looking I think she took out and redid the sleeves so they fit and worked a bit better. 

About this time I began to realise how drawn I was to old clothing and interesting or simple shapes, and great colours! But also to good feeling and quality fabric. I love a light jacket for summertime - when you just need something over a t-shirt.

Inspiring the Workwear at Palava

So a few of my purchases inspired the Walter Jacket from Palava. 

One was from about a decade ago - the description said “French workwear jacket - probably handmade - smells of cigarette smoke” Which in all honesty it did. I was amazed when I got it - at the simplicity of the cuff: just a spaced button and buttonhole to reduce the size. I found it very exciting, in the way that simplicity can be surprising and also elegant - especially to someone starting to sew. Simplicity in design I think can also communicate to other humans - you could make this too - it’s really simple. And so a small feature becomes a call to action. 

The other jacket I bought in Italy a year ago. I think it is from the 70s and still had its little cardboard label attached to the well starched fabric. In fact I wasn’t sure I liked it at first because the collar looked awful with its stiff shape. But now it’s been washed a few times and has softened. I take it everywhere. It’s a combination of the colour and the cut of it, I think. It ends with a waistband and just has two breast pockets - so isn’t the traditional workwear format. 

Making Palava’s Workwear: The Walter Jacket

After making the first Walter sample - we thought there needed to be an additional twist to make the design our own, and a bit more Palava. And having seen a photo of a Japanese military jacket with a striped half lining in a book by The Vintage Showroom, I thought we should add some colourful Palava fabric to the inside, just to give it a little pop. 

So altogether these experiences informed the Palava Workwear jacket: Walter. The super simple cuffs were inspired by my grey “French” workwear jacket and the waistband and lack of waist-level patch pockets, from the Italian jacket. 

Why did I want only a breast pocket? Well, when old clothes have few pockets, my reaction now is to create the narrative that life was simpler back then and we didn’t need as many pockets (also I think it slightly spoils the look - especially on a cropped jacket). So what am I saying - one pocket is a nudge to live simpler - go out without the phone. And the clothing market is so saturated with the classic chore jacket, why not make something a little bit different? 

Our SS24 Walter jackets are made in London from 100% organic cotton, and feature custom-dyed Corozo Nut buttons as well as a unique Palava lining so you don’t get your ‘Bleu de Travail' mixed up with anyone else’s when you’re out on an adventure!

 Shop our Walter Jackets Here

1 comment

This is so interesting! I had no idea workwear was originally from France. Very interesting to see where the design for the Walter came from, thanks Gavin :)


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