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a finer feather

Down clusters, the finest quality.
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Bundle of down, the raw material that is sold throughout the world.
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Éric Bacheré, managing director of Pyrenex
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Jean-Marc Lajus raises ducks in the Landes
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Jean-Marc Lajus’s duck farm in the Landes.
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Filtering machines for sorting feathers by size and quality.

Velvety fleeces and silky feathers hold the secrets of a kind winter. A journey to the heart of the warmest materials, from Organica’s Patagonia to Pyrenex’s rural Landes.

A trip can sometimes take you by surprisearound a bend, in a shady corner, down a hidden alley. Here, a skyscraper, between gridded streets; there, a shaft of sunlight, like a glimpse of Mediterranean sky. In Saint-Sever, a wafting feather conjures movie-set images in the mind’s eye. Firstly, a pastoral scene: the rolling Landes hills dotted with huts over which muscular ducks clamber, belting out their chorus of quacking. Today we’re with Jean-Marc Lajus, a farmer from the Chalosse, who’s telling us about the acreage he has to cover, one field after another, checking for signs of foxes and deer, taking care not to slip on the clayey slopes when the soil is gorged with rainwater. Monsieur Lajus’s heart belongs to his land and his 2,500 ducks: he is not thrilled at the prospect of his approaching retirement. He has spent his whole life here, with his father, cut from the same cloth as the independent farmers of southwest France, pampering their ducklings to obtain the best duck breast and foie gras, and, hopefully, the sought-after Label Rouge certification.

Sorting and selecting

That label is a mark of quality for foodies; but a few miles away, at Pyrenex, they mention it for other reasons: “Our finest feather supplies come from Label Rouge producers, because the quality of down is directly related to the birds’ well-being, care and age,” says company director Éric Bacheré. So these feathers arrive in Saint-Sever, still muddy and glossy with fat, entangled with leaves, and are placed in the huge washing tanks at the Pyrenex factory. People have heard of the Pyrenex name, without necessarily being familiar with it; most people think they make down jackets; others are certain it’s duvets and pillows. In fact, nobody’s wrong, because Pyrenex makes both. This Landais manufacturer works with feathers as the stuff of dreams, just as others fashion marvels out of fine leather. The employees have to grade them, sort the wheat from the chaff, you might say, gather the down clusters, collect the feathers, sort them by size. The machinery for this is like something out of a film set, too: standing in the huge hall where the feathers are sorted is like stepping behind the scenes of a New York avenue. On either side of the aisle, high buildings clad in woodan old trick to avoid static electricityhave openings that reveal amazing scenes: inside these chambers are feathers flying around, whirling and spinning, darting hither and thither, blowing away. A storm of snowflakes, glimpsed through a window. Thanks to an ingenious series of filters, the feathers are sorted by size and quality, ending their flight in bundles concealed in tall cubicles. These bags, packed tightly together like bales of cotton, are then dispatched all over the world, bought up by ready-to-wear and bedding labels to fill their creations.

Dream factory

Much of this raw material, however, also goes into Pyrenex’s own products. This is what makes the company special: down feathers are its business, and the brand is its own supplier. And here begins a second journey, that of the sleeper curled up in bed, back supported by their pillows. The brand devotes half of its activities to the accoutrements of sleep. Air is blown into the duvets, which are filled compartment by compartment. Their pillows swell like balloons on tubes as they are injected with the ideal weight of down, like puff pastries filled with cream. Everything is white, as if true rest requires non-color. Even the hair of the women working in the atelier gradually whitens with snowflakes as they work. We learn that the light spring of down feathers filling a mattress topper provides remarkable support for the body. We experience the magical sensation of dipping our hand into a cloud of down clusters and feeling a soft warmth immediately envelop our fingers and palm, insulating us from everything, even from sound, almost. We discover that the shape of pillows has changed over time from square to rectangle, as people have grown taller, and that the bolsters we used to see on our grandmothers’ beds are making a spectacular comeback.

Wings of desire

Given their passion for creating nighttime cocoons, it was only natural that Pyrenex should move into cocoons for the daytime: for chilly days, and for blizzards; for cool English autumns and damp Japanese winters; for snowy days out on the slopes, and for explorers out exploring. In a studio adjacent to the ateliers, they work on designing the ideal companion for every situation: a poncho wrap for relaxing at home; a sturdy parka for gray days in town; a sleeveless vest as a thermal underlayer; high-tech clothing for skiing; a soft down romper suit with hood and mittens for babies; a beautifully light and compressible jacket rolled up in a drawstring pouch for when you’re hopping over to the other side of the world. In the Pyrenean foothills, night plumage lends itself easily to waking dreams.

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