Armor-Lux is a French company specializing in the design and manufacture of clothing. Famous for its marinière and hosiery products, its main production facilities are located in Quimper, in the Brittany region. Founded in 1938 by Swiss engineer Walter Hubacher, the company was bought out in 1993 by former Bolloré Group executives Jean-Guy Le Floch and Michel Gueguen. Since then, the Finistère-based company has diversified by expanding its activities, notably in the professional clothing sector, but also by acquiring textile subsidiaries. In this article, we take a look at the history of this Breton brand, its evolution, and its influence in France as a symbol of Made in France.
Birth of the Armor-Lux brand
In 1938, Swiss engineer Walter Hubacher founded “La bonneterie d’Armor”, a local company specializing in the manufacture of lingerie and underwear. Very quickly, the Quimper-based company, which was keen to expand, diversified, manufacturing quality clothing for sailors and fishermen. The hallmark of “La bonneterie d’Armor” is the use of raw materials such as cotton and wool. His clothing collections are easily identifiable thanks to the colors and stripes that evoke the sea. In 1940, the Breton company purchased its first knitting machine, and in 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it bought a plot of land to build a workshop for fifty seamstresses. In 1965, the head of the company acquired a dyeing plant. A visionary, Walter Hubacher also wanted to develop the company by entering the ready-to-wear market as early as 1970, while maintaining its manufacturing quality. He created Armor-Lux, a brand synonymous with quality and whose name evokes the sea and light. Armor-Lux, initially specialized in the manufacture of marine underwear and sweaters, began to diversify its production, and 1982 marked the opening of the company’s first boutique. At the time, the Breton company employed almost 600 people, but strong competition in the ready-to-wear sector and low labor costs from foreign countries forced the manufacturer to reduce its workforce. In 1993, Armor-Lux was bought by two Breton entrepreneurs: Jean-Guy le Floch and Michel Gueguen.
The purchase of the Breton company in 1993
The main objectives of the two Breton buyers remain the diversification of Armor-Lux brand products, while maintaining jobs in Brittany. In less than 10 years, the company grew rapidly, increasing its sales from 19 million euros (1993) to 50 million euros (2004)! New brands were also introduced within the group, such as “Terre et Mer” in 1994, a brand aimed at female customers, and “Armor Kids” (1997) and “Armor Baby” (1999), two new brands aimed at children. Before the takeover, the brand’s catalog offered 300 to 400 new products a year. Ten years later, 1,500 products are offered to customers every year. To ensure its development and diversification, the Quimper-based company bought “Guy de Bérac” in 1993, a knitwear and sweater specialist from Troyes. Two years later, “Britain Stock”, a Celtic sweater manufacturer, was taken over by the group. In 2002, Armor-Lux acquired “Bermudes”, a company specializing in the manufacture of technical protective clothing. Finally, in 2004, the Breton group acquired “La compagnie angevine de la maille” and “Diftex”, a Troyes-based group which owns the “Tricomer”, “Lepoutre” and “Chairman” brands. At the same time, Armor-Lux is stepping up its production capacity in Brittany by building a new plant on its 60-hectare site.
The development of Armor-Lux in the 2000s
In the early 2000s, the Breton group relocated 40% of its production abroad, with the remainder concentrated on its 2 factories in Quimper (395 employees) and the Troyes site (60 employees), enabling the brand to control all its French manufacturing. The company outsources almost half of its production to the Maghreb, 10% to Eastern Europe and 5% to India. As early as 2004, the Breton brand launched its fair trade activities by purchasing cotton, and in 2009, it began purchasing organically-farmed materials in accordance with the Ecocert standard. In 2011, it invested in sustainable development with ISO 26000 certification. Armor-Lux also wants to develop its brand through the public sector, offering professional clothing to major French companies. In 2004, La Poste entrusted the company with the manufacture of uniforms for its agents, a contract worth almost 17 million euros over five years. In 2007, SCNF and Aéroports de Paris entrusted the company with the task of dressing employees and agents, and in 2008, Armor-Lux began dressing national police officers. As a result, the company will be entrusted with some fifteen public-sector contracts, which now account for over a third of its sales. RATP, JC Decaux, Renault, Monoprix and Carrefour all call on Armor-Lux to dress their employees.
The history of the marinière
A decree dated March 27, 1858 officially lists the marinière, the new French naval uniform to be worn by sailors and petty officers under their vareuse (sailor’s jacket). It’s an indigo blue and white striped knit. The body of the shirt should have 21 white stripes, twice as wide as the 20 to 21 indigo blue stripes. An authentic marinière therefore features 20 indigo blue stripes 10 mm wide, spaced 20 mm apart in white. Long 3/4-length sleeves must not extend beyond the jacket and must feature 14 blue stripes spaced 20 mm apart. The flared neckline of the marinière should rise to the neckline. Formerly manufactured by the French navy’s workshops, it was later transferred to the Armor-Lux workshops in Finistère and to those in Saint-James, a commune near Mont Saint-Michel, when the army became a professional army. An emblem of the Breton brand, the marinière, originally a military item, has also become an essential fashion accessory. During the Second World War, Coco Chanel even launched a boutique in Deauville, promoting the sailor style and short sailboats. Other fashion designers such as Jean-Paul Gaulthier will be wearing the iconic garment. At the end of the 1950s, the famous knitwear became an indispensable part of women’s wardrobes. In 2012, the marinière also became a political symbol when the Minister for Productive Recovery Arnaud Montebourg, a fervent defender of “Made in France”, posed in an Armor-Lux marinière on the cover of Parisien magazine. This “front page” illustrating a ten-page dossier on “French know-how” will provide excellent publicity for the Breton brand.
In parallel with its public contracts, the company opens several stores in France to distribute its products. The first superstore was opened in Quimper in 2004, followed by 6 other stores in Brittany’s main towns, including Lorient and Concarneau. In 2011, Armor-Lux opens a store in Plaisir, Yvelines, on the outskirts of Paris. In 2012, the Breton company opened its first boutique in New York, as well as some forty points of sale in France. Armor-Lux also continues to diversify, offering cultural and other tableware products. At that time, former Miss France Laury Thillemann, from Brest, became the brand’s muse. In 2017, the textile chain opened a store in Hamburg and continued its international expansion, particularly in Europe and North America. By 2021, the company will have achieved sales of over 100 million euros via its sales outlets and website www.armorlux.com. which alone generates sales of 10 million euros. In April 2022, an Armor-Lux boutique opened in Tokyo.