Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel knew a good thing when she saw it. In late 1923, Chanel dined with the 2nd Duke of Westminster on the Duke’s yacht, the Flying Cloud, then moored off the coast of Monte Carlo. The Duke’s title, strapping good looks, charm and immense wealth—he was the richest man in Britain—would have turned the head of any ordinary gal, but Chanel’s approbation instead focused on the uniforms worn by the Duke’s 40-man yacht crew. “Navy and white are the only possible colours,” Chanel remarked after the dinner, because they were “[t]he Navy’s colours” (Justine Picardie, Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 2010).
A few months later, Chanel incorporated blue and white horizontal stripes in the costumes she designed for Le Train bleu, a ballet performed by the Ballet Russe in Paris in June 1924. Chanel’s costumes, and the stage curtain painted by Picasso, perfectly captured the French Riviera before the Second World War and the intended scene for the ballet—“a popular beach where wealthy people paraded around, having a good time, sunbathing, and mincing about”.
Chanel’s biographer, Justine Picardie, notes that Chanel had already captured Riviera chic, later epitomized in the blue-and-white horizontal stripe pattern known as the Breton Stripe, in “the sports clothes that [Chanel] popularized in the resorts of Cannes, Deauville and Biarritz: striped tricots and bathing suits, beach sandals and golf shoes, tennis dresses and shorts” (Picardie, Coco Chanel.)
While Gabrielle Chanel is often given full credit for popularizing this style, she was not the only non-sailor to adopt the breton stripe as a resort staple in the 1920s.
The origin of the Breton Stripe, the bright, clean, classic and jazzy pattern used in Sailor Stripe, the newest print in Hanky Panky’s Summer 2014 collection, is in fact French and nautical.
The marinière, a striped, long-sleeved knit top in cotton jersey, became a mandatory part of the French Naval uniform in March 1858. The adopting decree provided that “the body of the shirt should have 21 white stripes, each twice as wide as the [ten millimeter wide] 20-21 indigo blue stripes.” Some say that the marinière’s white-and-blue stripes were easier to see under water, therefore increasing the odds for a sailor who had fallen overboard. Others say that the 21 white stripes represented Napoleon’s naval victories.