Created in 1893 by Pierre Valton, the company was the first to manufacture cotton undergarments for WWI soldiers. Legend suggests that right after the war, while taking care of his son, Valton was inspired by a different children’s song (en Anglais): “Mummy, the little boats sailing on water, do they have legs?” The name of the brand and its icon product were born: Petit Bateau (little boat) and the petite culotte, an undergarment with cut-off legs for children. Prior to this date, children’s underwear was merely a miniature copy of their senior fellows’. The original name still defines the universe of the brand: the sailboat recalls a toy, the water allegory reflects hygiene, and the adjective “little” gives it a playful, tender angle.
By 1920, Petit Bateau became a well-established brand. The company launched its first ad campaign featuring “Marinette,” a chubby, mischievous-looking and half-naked little girl simply wearing a petite culotte, who would embody the brand’s irreverent spirit for years. In 1937, the brand was awarded the Grand Prize of the Paris Universal Exhibition in recognition for its innovation.
After WWII, Petit Bateau continued to sail ahead and rely on product innovation to fight competition: white “whiter than white,” armholes inspired by GIs’ underwear to allow a baby’s head to slip in and out easily of clothes, wool and cotton blend, etc.
Photos Eleonora Carisi