The Poitou Charentes region of France is home to some of the country’s biggest exports, Cognac, Grey Goose Vodka, Foie Gras de Canard and more surpisingly, traditional handmade French slippers. Like the classic French Beret or a the stripy Mariniere Breton top, the Charentais slipper has become something of an emblem for France and the Poitou Charentes region.
Charentais to the Core
The story of the pantoufle is an interesting one; they’ve been worn by house staff in Chateaux for centuries to limit noise and buff the high sheen polished floors with the soft felt soles. They may be one of the Charente’s most prized exports today, the birth of the Charentais slipper was actually by chance discovery many moons ago.
The vast Charente river that runs through many villages and towns in the department of the Charente is peppered with papermills which have played a huge part of the region’s rural economy throughout history. Back in the days of paper making in mills across the region, it was discovered that the felt used to soak up the water from the sheets of paper during the paper making process could be reused as the soles for shoes. It was from here that the idea of a soft soled shoe was born…
Above – The large tongue on the front of the slipper was to ensure that when the slippers were worn inside a clog to go outdoors that the wood wouldn’t rub against the skin.
Stripes, checks, tweeds and sassy sequins!
The original Charentais slipper designs used the old checked naval jackets from the nearby coast at Rochefort but today Laubuge Charentais handmade slippers create the most comfortable slippers from a wide variety of fabrics including a luxury range crafted from premium leather.
From their atelier here in Poitou Charentes, close to the beautiful ancient town of Angouleme, Laubuge design and handmake all their slippers from scratch. It’s an interesting tale that in the early days the slippers were created using upcycled materials in times of hardship because today the firm are busy putting together an exciting new range using 100% recycled materials.
Above – A wide range of fabrics from the Laubuge Slipper factory near Angouleme including their premium leather range. Below – The workshop is based in one large room filled with various types of machine for creating the slippers from the initial design to the shop shelf.
A Family Affair
The Laubuge family business was started by Leopold Laubuge in the basement of the family home. Having worked as a shoemaker all his life, he soon began repairing shoes for family and friends which lead to the eventual launch of a medical range of slipper shoes approved by the French authorities for the housebound, elderly or infirm, many of which are still available on prescription.
Below – The original shoe size stamps printed onto the soles of the slippers
Today the family business is going from strength with Leopold’s daughter Christine Meyrignac at the helm. Christine’s passion for manufacturing is infectious and her love of recreating these iconic French products shines through every aspect of her business. While many of the original methods remain the same there are new pieces of machinery that are used to speed up the processes. Christine is also keen to reinvent the “granny” slipper in more fashionable designs to appeal to a younger market including a brand new range for children with the help of a local designer – I LOVE these!
Below, Christine shoes an original mould for a Charentais slipper made from wood and the newer plastic form used today.
All The Ladies
You’d be wrong to assume that in the French countryside, in a culture renowned for male and female divides that a manufacturing business would be a man’s domain. At Laubuge, from machinists to technicians, designers and marketeers, there is but one man among 6 women currently employed by the company. The ladies ( and one gent ) make up to 9000 pairs of slippers by hand every year.
Handmade Slippers From Heel to Toe
Christine walked me through the manufacturing story from initial design to the finished article and at each step the slippers are lovingly created by hand. The slippers are then sold to shoe shops, pharmacies and in tourist offices across the region, some are even shipped as far afield as the USA.
The classic Charentais slipper has a felt sole and sheepskin interior so keep feet toasty in the winter months. Christine has also launched a summer range of Raffia Slippers which are proving very popular in luxury holiday resorts. The creative process is one which requires technicians to have many years machine experience and that includes the woman behind this successful business too. Christine’s knowledge of her market is admirable and her pride at continuing in her father’s footsteps truly heartwarming.
Above – Christine demonstrates the adhesive and machine used to seal the soles of the shoes – once the slippers pass through this stage they are then chilled in refrigerators to set before being packaged and sent out to sale.
La Chaleur Charentais is the strapline that appears on each box of Laubuge slippers and it’s a warmth that is radiated through the happy team that handmake each one.
Merci pour la visite Christine! x
Have you ever owned a pair of traditional French Charentais slippers?
Laubuge Mornac is holding open days on 25th, 26th and 27th of November – just in time to shop a beautiful pair of handmade French Charentais slippers just in time for Christmas! You can also visit the shop to buy every day fro 9am – 12pm or shop handmade French slippers online at their website.
ETS LAUBUGE, Zi de La Braconne, 5 route des chênes, 16600 MORNAC