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Jaques Cousteau — A Deep Dive

Written by Benjamin Antoni Andersen Published on October 6, 2020 in Essentials Designer and instigator of Red Hat Factory, constantly hungry for mountainous adventures.

He gets a lot of mention on Red Hat Factory. The legend, the sea farer — or more accurately, below-sea farer — the style guru for Red Hatters across the world, and diving equipment development pioneer. But was he also a megalomaniac? Let’s find out.

Born 1910 in France, his career first pointed him towards the air. He had completed mostly every step on the way to become a naval pilot, when luck struck him.

He broke both his arms in a car accident.

Jaques and his son Philippe Cousteau
Jaques and his son Philippe Cousteau.

It broke him out of his current career path, and maybe it made him think twice. After that accident, he chose to pursue his passion for the ocean, for which he would devote his whole life.

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Cousteau the documentary film maker

At the beginning of WWII, Jaques-Yves Cousteau and his wife Simone took refuge in Megève, a small village near the French Alps — not far from Mont Blanc. Here he met Marcel Ichac.

Cousteau and Ichac had one thing in common — documentary films. Ichac’s passion for showing inaccessible mountains to the public, and Cousteau’s passion for the depths, made for an interesting duo.

Jaques Cousteau filming under water.
Jaques Cousteau filming under water.

It began a long line of documentary releases, some of which made film history.

“Every explorer I have met has been driven—not coincidentally but quintessentially—by curiosity, by a single-minded, insatiable, and even jubilant need to know.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau — The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus

In 1943, they won their first prize for a co-made documentary called Par dix-huit mètres de fond, or in English, 18 meters deep. It was filmed on the French Embiez Islands with no breathing equipment.

The camera was always with Cousteau, and his two main interests remained diving and film making through his life.

His most significant release was without a doubt The Silent World, which won an Academy Award for best Documentary Feature, and was the first ever documentary film to win an Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was cut from 25 kilometer of film reel, filmed over 2 years, and brought the depths to the public like never before.

The Silent World, by Jaques Cousteau movie poster.
The Silent World movie poster.

Cousteau, inventor of the Aqua-Lung

The desire to go ever deeper and unveil hidden depths to the public, drove Cousteau and his crew to ever greater lengths. The next film Épaves, or Shipwrecks, was filmed using the first ever Aqua-Lung prototype.

The Aqua-Lung is the invention that brought air-tank based diving equipment to the general public, and Émile Gagnan, a French engineer, together with our man Cousteau are credited with its creation.

Jaques Costeau dressed up in diving equipment
Jaques Costeau dressed up in diving equipment.

The Aqua-Lung was not a completely new idea — few inventions are — but it came from a couple of other genius contraptions combined to maximize the time one could spend underwater.

Once again it was Cousteau’s desire to go deeper that drove the innovation forward. And it would be far from the last time.

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Cousteau, Captain of the Calypso

For some years Cousteau worked with the brand new Underwater Research Group, which was created by the French navy to add force behind his endeavors to explore the depths.

His time within the group led him on everything from mine-clearing missions, to rescue operations, to spying endeavors across the entire world. All along, he pioneered underwater technology and explored further possibilities.

The Calypso, Jaques Cousteau's ship
The Calypso, the iconic home base of Jaques Cousteau.

After a few years he left the navy and leased his now infamous ship, the Calypso. The lease was one franc per year — a mere symbolic sum — and the ship became his home base. A research vessel fitted for diving and documentary film making.

“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Cousteau, maker of the diving saucer

It was during his time on Calypso, after years of experience and clout generation, that he teamed up with Jean Mollard, and they built the commonly dubbed “diving saucer.”

It was exactly what it sounds like — a flying saucer that could go to 350 meters of depth. The official name was SP-350 and the nickname, Denise. It could handle a crew of two, laying down, and was famously used by Cousteau to explore the wreck of HMHS Britannic.

Jaques Costeau's diving saucer, SP-350, or "Denise."
The diving saucer, SP-350, or “Denise.”

Actually, the search for Britannic, which is a sister ship of the Titanic and the Olympic, began under quite interesting circumstance.

Jaques Cousteau was in Greece looking for Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis — the legendary city, sunken in the sea.

He didn’t find the city, but during his time there, he was contacted by the Titanic Historical Society, who wanted him to search for Titanic’s lost sister. The Britannic had sunk at some unknown location while serving as a hospital ship during WWI. This one he did find, and its discovery began what would mount up to 68 manned dives to the wreck by Jaques and his team.

One of these dives, in Denise, happened when Jaques was 67 years old, and it became one of Cousteau’s deepest dives ever.

Cousteau, creator of the Conshelf underwater colony

Astronauts actually owe a lot to Cousteau. He was among the first to spearhead a humane habitat in an atmosphere not fit for human life. Under the sea, he built a village, where him and his crew could spend months at a time.

The Conshelf II.

There has been a Conshelf I, II, and III built and launched.

The Conshelf I.

One of the shelfs even had a docking station for Denise.

Obviously, the adventurers were studying ocean life while they lived down below, but also, their living situation provided insight into how a different air pressure affected humans. Their hair and beards grew slower, but cuts healed quicker. It was an alien world, and they made it habitable in a whole new way.

The Conshelves are covered in much more detail in this brilliant Medium article.

“The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.”

Jacques Yves Cousteau

Cousteau the megalomaniac

There is a Jaques Cousteau quote that’s circulating the internet. It’s pretty shocking, and after some research, it turns out it’s completely genuine.

“In order to save the planet it would be necessary to kill 350,000 people per day.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

The quote in its context is just as bad as it sounds. Talking to UNESCO about what we could do to eliminate human suffering and disease, he replied that it was probably not a great idea to do, since for the planet to survive we would have to eliminate 350,000 people a day. (My understanding of the quote is that we should let nature run its course on the sick, and don’t interfere.)

Lightly perusing Jaques Cousteau’s life, you see an otherworldly, almost painting-esque adventurer, but if you dig a bit deeper, his humanity shines through, in all its imperfection. And as you’ll see, he was a man willing to admit to his shortcomings.

I am not a fan of holding a man to his mistakes, but this is a side of the picture that needs painting as well, if we’re doing the deep dive.

Costeau the environmentalist

Many connect Jaques with a fiery engagement for nature — as we saw on the earlier quote — but for him to become the spokesman for mother nature that he became, a complete u-turn was required.

During the filming of The Silent World, Cousteau and his crew famously injured a whale on purpose, thus attracting sharks who ate the poor fellow — all for the movie shots.

At another time they used dynamite near a coral reef to study the species that come floating to the surface — something that to your modern ears may sound worse than the filthiest swearword.

Jaques Cousteau diving with flares.
Revealing the world below.

However, later in Cousteau’s life he did a 180, and began speaking up for the ocean big time.

To such a point was his turnaround that he is said to have insisted on sharing the clips where him and his crew mistreats oceanic life to create great shots — instead of attempting a cover up.

Though he tried to dive ever deeper, he was willing to let his humanity float to the surface.

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.”

Jacques Yves Cousteau

In the beginning of his career, movie making seems to have taken the front seat, and the ocean was only a tool to be manipulated in ways to get the best shot. However, as his understanding of the ocean, and its relationship to humankind deepened, the focus turned.

His turnaround engagement resulted in the founding of the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life, which still is actively teaching people across the globe about the ocean and its ecosystems.

Costeau the Red Hatter

Here at Red Hat Factory, of course, we connect with Jaques not only as fellow adventurers with a passion for creating wilderness-related media, but also through our namesake red hat.

The Undersea World of Jaques Cousteau
Jaques becomes a tv-series host.

The red knit cap that Jaques Cousteau wore became an icon, very much because of the man himself (and his crew, who also wore them). (Wes Anderson also had a role in bringing it to the next generation.)

After having spent most his life on sea, he slowly became a tv-personality and a household name. Through both film and tv he made his way into people’s living rooms, thus connecting the red hat with adventure forever and after.

The red hat has a whole story in itself, running back through the navy, but that’s a subject for another article. All we need to cap this article off (pun not intended), is a fantastic quote from one of Cousteau’s tv-appearances.

“The Calypso crew and I will be undertaking a series of voyages of exploration and discovery in all the seas of the world. We have few rules and no uniforms, only the right cap.” 

Jaques-Yves Cousteau

And so do we. The world is at our feet, and we have few rules — only the right cap.

Cousteau continues to inspire, not only for his hunger for the deeps, and skill in the craft of film making, but for his willingness to change as he went along in life, and to not attempt a perfect fasade.

The Shaping of Our Beanie Models

Written by Benjamin Antoni Andersen Published on September 4, 2020 in Essentials Designer and instigator of Red Hat Factory, constantly hungry for mountainous adventures.

When we set out to design the first ever Red Hat Factory model, we didn’t go looking for the spectacular. Quite the contrary.

Looking at products and heritage items we consider absolute classics, we noticed one commonality. The classic yellow rain jacket, rough worn oak tables, faded leather belts, the knives that my dad has hanging on his wall, that we have used on all my childhood adventures — they all share one trait.

Simplicity.

From the outset, we knew we were making a product the old way — the way it’s been done from generation to generation. And wanting to also create a product that would be appreciated for generations, I let my mom take me back in time, showing me an array of basic simple knitting methods and their aesthetics.

Red beanie on Norwegian traditional wool sweater.
What we in Norway call ribbestrikk. It’s one of the basic tools of the craft. Here a Southlander is laying on a Norwegian Setesdalsgenser — a regional traditional sweater pattern.

Following the red thread

I’ve learned through both design and writing, that the creative process often starts with a more bloated product, and then is slimmed down through the cutting off of unnecessary features.

I am sure a lot of you can relate that to your own work. We often over-design — then cut back.

For the first Red Hat Factory cap, we went through 5–10 different models, and model by model we dropped things. First the unique knit pattern along the edge, then the shaped panels that gave an approximate head shape to the product.

Four red beanie styles
An extremely rare photo of some of the pre-production experimental models. My wife right there in the middle. Most, if not all these beanies are given away a long time ago.

Finally, after hours upon hours of work, I dropped a final idea on my mother. “What if we just make the hat a tube, and let the owner shape it by wearing it.”

It sounds boring, but in all its simplicity, it actually worked best.

And the people loved it.

“The quality is amazing, and I know I’ll be able to use it for years to come!”

Morten Furre, Australia

“Fantastic quality, durable and stylish. Each Red Hat has been hand crafted with love and attention to detail.”

Greg Burkin, Canada
Red beanie on Norwegian traditional sweater.
The final beanie is just a tube sown together on the top. You create the fold yourself.

“[The Southlander] is by far my favorite – it’s quality top notch and unlike my other beanies it feels just perfect. Whether you’re dressed up and going out on the town or just heading to the store this is a must for any occasion.”

Nathan Pearson, USA

“I am using the Southlander pretty much every day.”

Asbjørn Østreim, Norway

“Like a good wine, this gets better with age.”

Billy Chester, USA

We knew we had hit something.

First model down

Finally the first of what was to become the Southlander was off the needles, knit using the technique called ribbestrikk in Norwegian, and sowed together in an x on the top. Nothing more nothing less.

Red beanie in Stockholm
Me randomly snatching brand photos while hanging out with friends in Stockholm. This is the first Southlander ever made (at the time called “the Rounded”) and I still have it at home.

The tube shape makes it look small when you get it, but once it’s had some time to shape itself to your head, it becomes better fitted to you than any pre-formed shape could bring.

Also, since the cap is a simple tube with no defined edge, you control how you fold it. We have another article that dives deeper into possible folding styles.

From fishermen to carpenters, the simple, yet gritty style of a workman’s beanie has been a hallmark of the hard working craftsman.

Simple is classic.

Simple hats, simple brand

When we first released the beanies to the webshop, the Southlander was simply named the Rounded. And paired with the simple design and the simple name, came a very simple sketched icon.

First brand of the rounded red beanie.
The first Red Hat Factory product — the Rounded.

The whole brand was built and centered from the historic notion of the old beanie, knit by a wife before she sent her husband out on the sea to haul fish nets in the pouring rain.

While he is out fishing, the woman gets a business idea, and hastily she sketches down a few beanies with her pen. Then she sighs and peers out the window, wondering whether he will return today or not.

Little did that proverbial woman know she was planting the seed of Red Hat Factory to come.

That is the story behind the type of assets we use in the brand to this day. They have evolved a lot, but the style remains. Mom-made. Home made. Simple lines.

Three red beanies.
The three beanie models we have today, with the overhauled brand names.

A Point to the Round

The North Cap was at first a failed attempt to cap off the beanie in a round fashion. It became pointier than it was supposed to.

When my quirky brother in law saw it, however, he loved it more than what I considered the final product. I soon realized we needed a second model. Based on the first, but with a touch of different, for the more explorative soul.

In line with the simple brand, we just named it the Pointy Tip.

Red beanie.
The second model’s initial branding.

Its base was, and still is, exactly the same as the Southlander, but it caps off in a peak rather than a half circle, making it the first choice of the ones who wants a basic cap, but with a slight edge to it.

Red beanie brand
The simple branding process. In the first round of branding material, not much changed from final sketch to digitalized asset.

It still is a classic though, and draws much of its inspiration back to the movie The Life Aquatic, which itself draws on the real life character Jacques Costeau.

Children Invade the Brand

A long time we only had two models, one color. And I refused every suggestion for additional colors and other products — very purposefully. I felt like if we were going to be the Red Hat Factory, we need to have at least a year, where we are just that — a factory of Red Hats.

As a side note, we aren’t really using a factory — it is true hand knit. But that is a different story.

The third beanie model, the Bay Bee, has a boringly simple history. When a friend, in our early days, asked if we had one for children, we said yes, and made a smaller version of the Southlander.

Not much more to say on that.

There is an interesting feature to the baby model, however. You know how I told you that the wool beanies are very small, and stretches a lot to fit your head. This is just how wool needs to be to properly fit you. On the Bay Bee, this makes the beanie fit from babyhood to 3-4 years old, but look very different at each stage.

You can see we stuck with the simple names, but you’ll notice, the following drawing is a little more polished around the edges than its predecessors. This actually inspired me to rebrand and rename all the beanies in turn.

First branding of the red beanie for babies.
The first Baby model.

Talking of that stretchiness

Most our customers express surprise when they see the size of the new beanie. It is small.

Your average cotton beanie doesn’t stretch a lot, so what you see is what you get. A wollen knit cap will grow with you, and take its shape from your head. In the beginning, the hat can even be a bit slippy for some people, especially when your hair is newly shampooed.

Like a good pair of selvedge jeans, or a new set of leather boots, it needs to be worn in. After that, it will be your most trusty friend.

No brand for a reason

Many also express surprise at the lack of any brand assets on the cap. You get a Certificate of Authenticity upon purchase, and there will be stickers in the box — but the beanie itself is completely bare.

Red beanies in a stack.
The branding is found separately on the box and on stickers — but the beanie itself is bare bone.

We chose this because of the history of the brand. Taking the experience of growing up with a knitting mother and bringing it to you. When she knit me a piece, there was no brand. It was pure, just a gift of love from a parent to a child, and therefore we keep the beanies pure.

Washing instructions are found on the web.

With the lack of brand, the texture of the beanie needs to stand out even more, and so it does. We chose wool partly for its features (isolates even when wet), but also a lot because of its look. Gritty and rough, connecting you with the hard worker on the seas a hundred years ago, the construction workers balancing the beams of Empire State Building when it came up, and the kind hands that knit it — stitch by stitch, with care.

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