I recently caught up with Isla Heller, co-founder and creative director of Mon Breton, a new brand that sources authentic Breton Stripe tops from France and offers a unique embroidery service to personalise your purchase.
First of all, I have to say – what a great name. I feel like we are kindred spirits in our love for the Breton stripe!
Thanks for having us! We love that you are flying the flag for Breton boys!
What is it about the Breton stripe that is so appealing and makes it a wardrobe staple?
I think the Breton top is synonymous with timeless style. We know that the Breton top has been worn as a style item (as opposed to a piece of uniform) since Coco Chanel incorporated into her nautical inspired collection in 1917. Over the decades it has endured as a consistent and unchanging piece. We adapt how we wear it – but it essentially remains the same. It transcends seasonal trends – so it an economical purchase. Plus – it just looks really great!
How do you feel about a sea of Stripes in High Street stores in Jan/Feb cruise collections every year – predictable or practical?
I am all for stripes popping up in high street stores, it’s great to see – but unless it’s from Brittany, it’s not a Breton top. One very popular Breton top maker has a diffusion line made in China – it’s much cheaper because it’s not the real deal. We are really proud to be sustaining an authentic and heritage craft, with our tops coming from a family-run business in Brittany where artisanal workmanship is being nurtured. There are always going to be stripes on the high street no matter what time of the year and I think it’s delightfully predictable and thoroughly practical. At Mon Breton we have a winter weight and a summer weight so you can get an authentic look and feel whatever the season.
Why did you choose to start up a company with the Breton top as a focus as opposed to a polka dot?
During my time at Harper’s Bazaar, the expectations were high every day to bring your A-game in the style stakes. As a normal person who doesn’t have an unlimited supply of clothes, I felt it was important to develop a work wardrobe of sorts that was smart, stylish and adaptable. Stripes allow for this – they are timeless. Polka dots are a little more flash-in-the-pan trend – but never say never…
How many Breton tops do you each own?
I probably have 10 Breton tops – mainly Mon Breton, some embroidered some not. I also own quite a few vintage Bretons, which I bought during the research process. I have a fabulous Picasso-style one in white with Royal blue stripes, it’s a bit different from the norm and the stripes start under the neckline. Charles owns fewer tops than me but his collection is growing now that we do Mon Breton for men!
What’s your favourite way to style a Breton top?
Breton with black skinny jeans, kitten heels and a trench or boucle jacket is a classic Parisienne look. It’s super easy to wear but tres elegant! At the moment however, I am enjoying wearing mine with a chic pencil skirt, perhaps in lace or metallic with embellishments and jazzy silk scarf wrapped neatly around the neck so it creates a polo-neck effect. By tucking the top in to the skirt it creates a sleek silhouette, but if that’s not for you, you can tuck in at the front and leave it out at the back. Charles will generally pair with a navy wool blazer, slim-fit jeans and a pair of New Balance trainers but on holiday it’s a free-for-all – multi-coloured chinos/ shorts but there’s one ever-present and that’s his Persol sunnies!
Who is your Breton-wearing Icon?
I love how Alexa Chung wears a boxier, over-sized Breton. She rolled up the sleeves and pairs with cut-off denim or leather shorts, she just looks so effortless – it’s brilliant. I couldn’t get away with that look (I have to make more than a little effort) so J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons is my person style hero. Whether she wears it with nautical whites for a relaxed Hamptons look or with floral silk pyjama trousers and a denim jacket – she always nails it.
Where did you get the idea to customise and embroider your products?
When I was thinking about the Breton as my work uniform, I wanted to be able to differentiate what I would be wearing – after all you don’t want to look like you are wearing the same clothes for five days in a row. The first samples I made were with panda, gun and present emojis (inspired by an episode of Lena Dunham’s Girls) and then a koala, ampersand and tree – as a love note to Charles (he is my tree, who I love to hug). A little sentimental, but that’s the beauty of personalising something – it’s what it means to you that counts.
Is there a best-selling emoji from your wearers?
When we first started we had a commission for the beauty brand Lipstick Queen – so I am very good at embroidering the lipstick kiss emoji, and it looks great perfectly framed between stripes. Initials are very popular too – it’s an instant win when you are ordering for a loved one.
You must have a few emoji embroidered tops of your own, is there a favourite go-to?
At the moment, I have been wearing my ‘heart-on-sleeve’ top a lot. Charles and I are newly-weds so we have that loved-up feeling! It was also very appropriate on Valentines and it showcases that we can embroider more or less anywhere on a top, not just the breast pocket area.
We live in an age of fast-paced, disposable fashion. This is obviously a concern to you and I love that you ethically source your garments – have you visited the factory in Brittany? Can you tell me about the construction behind each top?
We haven’t been to the factory yet, but it’s on the list. We are building up quite the rapport with the family that run the factory so hopefully they might treat us to a tour – we just need to polish up on our french! The stripes are woven – it ensures the highest possible quality of fabric, which is really important to us.
What are your thoughts on a red Breton Stripe, must-have or faux-pas?
I actually rather like it but we don’t currently stock one. I had one as a child with little wooden buttons along the shoulder, so perhaps I have an inflated sentimental attachment! There is a fabulous picture of Brigitte Bardot in a red and white top by the sea in the south of France – and if it’s ok by Bardot, it’s ok by me!
What can we expect to next from Mon Breton?
We are just beginning our adventure – we are less than a year old, so we have a lot to learn. Charles and I are excited to be offering a new colour option for men soon too, a navy with a white stripe for another wardrobe classic. We want to master our USP of bespoke Bretons but we would love to branch out to other French-inspired classics – accessories perhaps, I am obsessed with French-silk scaves. I would love to open a lifestyle-inspired boutique with onsite embroidery workshop that was filled with beautiful clothes, homeware and art but we aren’t there just yet – a girl can dream!
Head over to Mon Breton now to learn more about Isla, Charles and the brand. Whilst you’re there why not treat yourself or a loved one to a personalised Breton top? The make fantastic gifts for all ages.