Artists creating a new design for spring

Beauville Linens: How a Small French Manufacturer Thrives in the Age of Globalization

In our age of cheap imports, it’s easy to think that France is just a place of cute castles and fine wines.  After all, who could resist the charms of little towns like Ribeauville, in the heart of France’s Alsace region, where the ruins of three medieval castles overlook gingerbread houses?
Ribeauville in Alsace region of France

Ribeauville in Alsace region of France (image Office de Tourisme du Pays de Ribeaville-Riquewihr)

This little town, which has been in existence since the 8th century, was known as a protector of wandering minstrels (yes, the singing kind) since the Middle Ages.  It’s also home to the Cave de Ribeauvillé, one of France’s oldest wine-making cooperatives, which has been making Alsatian wine since 1895.

But one of the town’s best-kept secrets is a little family-owned factory called Beauville, which has been producing linens for over 200 years.  Their clients include Hermes, Pierre Frey, Cowtan & Tout, Ralph Lauren, Catherine Deneuve, the Royal Court of Sweden, and the White House, and they’ve been a favorite amongst our customers for several years now.

Recently, I spent some time finding out just what their secret was.  I was amazed by what I saw — it’s not what they make, but how they do it.

Located in the Alsace region of France, the Beauville factory is a small firm where traditional woodblock and screenprinting skills are passed from generation to generation.
Aerial view of Beauville in France.

Aerial view of Beauville in France (image Beauville)

The colors used on each Beauville fabric are prepared in the factory’s color kitchen; a total of 25 base colors are used to create an infinite range of shades.

Beauville fabric colors

Beauville fabric pigments (image Beauville)

Using these colors, Beauville’s designers and colorists create two new collections of linens each year.  Many of the more traditional patterns are inspired by 18th and 19th century French woodblock designs, while the newer styles are created in-house.

Here is a rendering of a spring design:

Artists creating a new design for spring

Artists creating a new design for spring (image Beauville)

At work on the ever-popular Coral collection (found on yachts and beach houses around the world):

At work on the ever-popular Coral collection

Beauville  Coral collection (image Beauville)

And here, gouache paints and brushes are used to create a holiday collection:

Beauville Christmas collection

Beauville Christmas collection (image Beauville)

Once the designs have been created, a screen is created for each color used.  Below, two printers carefully lift up a printing screen to place on the fabric.  This must be done very precisely, or the design won’t be produced correctly.  Using a squeegee, color is then evenly spread across the screen onto the cloth.  Each application of color requires the use of a new screen.

Two printers carefully lift up a printing screen to place it one the fabric. Using a squeegee, color is spread evenly across the screen onto the cloth. Each application of color requires the use of a new screen.

Beauville printers at work; each application of color requires the use of a new screen  (image Beauville)

Up to 20 colors are used on each collection, so the company’s designs are noted for their vibrancy.

Up to 20 colors are used in each design

Up to 20 colors are used in each design

Once the fabrics are printed, they are steamed to set the dyes in the fibers, thus making them colorfast.

Fabrics being steamed to set the dyes in the fibers

Fabrics being steamed to set the dyes in the fibers (image Beauville)

During production, quality is checked six times to ensure the prints are carefully made and colors are correctly applied.

Beauville linens

Beauville linens (image Beauville)

And for easy care, many of Beauville’s newest collections are stain-repellent, so spills can easily be wiped off:

Many Beauville collections are stain-repellent for easy care

Many Beauville collections are stain-repellent for easy care

Every piece is singed, bleached, designed, printed, sewn, and finished in-house.

Every item is sewn and ironed by hand

Every item is made in-house at the Beauville factory in Alsace (image Beauville)

And here they are, ready to be packed:

 

Ready to be packaged!

Ready to be wrapped up! (image Beauville)

Although Beauville is known for more traditional French and floral designs, here’s something unique: a woodblock printed panel which won First prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris.  This panel is part of a series of four panels purchased by the Emperor of Japan to decorate the dining room of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.  In the midst of this sumptuous garden you can see six women dressed in majestic traditional costumes.

This woodblock printed panel won First Prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris; it was later purchased for the Imperial Palace of Tokyo

This woodblock printed panel won First Prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris; it was later purchased for the Imperial Palace of Tokyo (image Beauville)

Beauville was awarded the “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant” label in 2009, given to French firms for their excellence in their traditional and industrial skills.  There are currently fewer than ten firms throughout France with similar printing skills.  Bravo!

To see all of Beauville’s collections, click here.

 

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