Bleu de Lectoure

Henri and Denise Lambert were intrigued by the blue of the shutters on the 18th-century tannery they bought in Lectoure, France. In fact, so curious was Henri that he set out to rediscover the process by which the blue pigment was extracted from the woad plant.

Woad is often considered the shadow shade to its more famous blue sibling, indigo. Yet in medieval Europe woad was a preeminent dye known as the blue of kings – and it was the only available source for blue. It was extremely popular in southern France where the climate favoured its production. Long used to dye textiles and as a pigment for everything from pastel crayons to exterior paints, its revival has been engineered by the dynamic partnership of Henri and Denise Lambert.

In this lecture Denise Lambert will guide the audience through the history of this colourant and relate how a simple curiosity led to the rediscovery of ancient extraction techniques. The popularity of the colour motivated the Lamberts to found their company Bleu de Lectoure. Through collaboration and enterprise the Lamberts have been able to incorporate natural woad into everything from traditional art supplies and textiles to industrial colourants for plastics, cosmetics, and car paints.

Denise and Henri Lambert

Inspired by both the colour and the plant, the Lamberts created Bleu de Lectoure in 1994. Soon their lives were given up to woad. It took more than two years working with chemists from the University of Toulouse to uncover the original fermentation, extraction, and dyeing processes. In an antiques store one day, fate helped them out. They stumbled upon a notebook that belonged to Napoleon’s chemist.

The couple, driven equally by curiosity and a desire to collaborate, has big plans for woad. Today they partner for research and for farming of the woad and have an industrial unit able to process up to 20 tons of leaves per day.

The farmhouse contains a gallery and store. In the historic hill town of Lectoure and in the larger centre of Toulouse, exclusive shops sell Bleu de Lectoure fashion designs, scarves, hats, decorative items, creams, and soaps. Together with their partners they have developed quality essential oils for use in cosmetics and skin care products, plastics, and a wide range of paints.

Editor's Note: Henri Lambert passed away unexpectedly on February 22, 2010. We would like to dedicate this podcast to his memory. Our memorial post is here.

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