First the saga of the French beret. The Laulhere company recently purchased its sole French competitor, a 200-year old company called Blancq-Olibet, in an attempt to keep beret manufacture in France, where it is reported to have begun several centuries ago. The beret was developed by the local shepherds as headwear particularly suitable for the region’s damp, dank climate. Round and flat in design, the traditional French beret is made out of one-half mile in length of merino wool with a leather ring inside to keep the hat securely on one’s head. From a Pyrenees cottage industry in the 19th century, the beret became a fashion statement for women in the 1930s, a symbol of the Resistance during World War II, and a staple for many armed services around the world in more recent times. But lower-priced competition from manufacturers in countries such as China, Pakistan, India and the Czech Republic has ravaged the domestic French beret industry. It may be, as claimed, that ‘[i]f you don’t want to smell like a sock wearing a wet beret, only our traditional French beret doesn’t retain odors.” As such, the Laulhere website proclaims—“”To us, ‘Made in France’ still means something.” But such claims do not seem to have arrested the decline of the French beret industry.
|Cat's ears beret|
And so the question: does the message—“Made in France”—have any significant branding traction? This Kat, a while ago, considered the “Made in Switzerland” designation for watches and considered Swiss legislation intended to regulate the use of such a description on watches of mixed Swiss and non-Swiss provenance, here. It can reasonably be argued that Swiss manufacture qua manufacture has a sufficiently good reputation such that the “Made in Switzerland” designation, at least as applied to specific products, is a valuable branding tool. This Kat is not certain whether French manufacture (as opposed to French “style” or “design”) enjoys the same reputational status. For sure, there are world-class French products whose name is not merely recognized as a well-known brand, but also that the name and brand is associated with France. But there is no general perception of French manufacturing excellence in the way that “Made in Switzerland’ is perceived.