What's next, a designer accordion? The humble French beret has gone upscale, with one of the oldest makers of the classic French hat opening a chic boutique in Paris, the Guardian reports. Laulhère, which has been making berets for 170 years, has hung a shingle on swanky rue Faubourg Saint Honore in the heart of Paris' triangle d'or (Golden Triangle) shopping district, alongside top designers such as Givenchy and Hermes. The plate-sized woolen hats come plain ($90) or made of velvet and bedecked with beads, netting, brooches, and other finery. Top models sell for more than $1,000 (a stylish box is included). Some cling to the hair pillbox style, others come with a smart band of leather like the French army model.
The beret is one of the most well-known symbols of France. But among the French, the humble hat is rather old-fashioned, the stuff of medieval peasants and painters. The word first appeared in French in 1835, much later than the actual article, which is believed to have originated elsewhere, perhaps in Spain or 1600s Scotland, per the Guardian. "Thirty years ago there were 22 beret factories in the [Pyrénées-Atlantiques] region, now Laulhère is the last," a rep says. Now Laulhère has breathed new life into the beret, selling 200,000 of them annually, only a few years after fearing for the future. One employee is quite clear about who is buying them: "tourists looking for elegance and luxury à la française." (Read more France stories.)