Meet the Grandmas
Published December 18, 2008
My grandmother—who I know only by the customary Chinese term of endearment, which sounds something like “Nye-Nye”—cooks wonderfully, sings enthusiastically, and gambles heroically. But she does not knit or, specifically, crochet. To my chagrin, I missed out on those woolly, reliably irregular holiday hats and mittens.
It’s uncertain whether Jérémy Emsellem’s grandmother knows how to crochet. But Emsellem, a 23-year-old Parisian, full-time communications student at ESPEME, and part-time club kid—is pretty accomplished with a crochet hook himself. He started out making hats for himself, then moved on to 50 of his closest friends. Eventually, the demand grew so that the supply side became impossible. But staying in on a Saturday night to get a little crocheting in is not for youth.
Which is where the grandmothers come in. “The idea to work with grandmas came to me when I visited my great-aunt at her nursing home,” he said. “I saw all these ladies who were bored to death.” So he asked them if they would like to make crocheted hats, as a way to occupy their time—and to make a little cash on the side. Soon he had his very own syndicate of grandmothers, and launched his online brand, the mildly nefarious-sounding Golden Hook (which is actually a benign reference to the tool used in crocheting). The English website launched last week. He employs eight grandmothers currently, and is vetting five more for consideration. (It is actually a prerequisite that they be grandmothers in the technical sense—they need to have grandchildren—and not merely of the grandmothering demographic, i.e., old women.)
Upon entering to the Golden Hook website, you encounter a variety of options. There are style choices (classic, long, and “Peruvian”) and more color combinations than can be listed here. You can choose between angora, cashmere, or alpaca wool, all of which are sourced from the merry herds of sheep in the French Alps. “I can assure you that the sheep are more than happy in their pasture,” Emsellem said. (See evidence below.)
Emsellem and happy sheep.
After choosing your style, color, and material, the order goes to the grandmothers. “Between my classes I check the orders that come in,” said Emsellem. “That’s also when I call the grandmothers.” I think we can safely say that’s not what any of us used to do between classes.
What you get via post is a fine, hand-crocheted hat made of wool from humanely-treated sheep. On the border of the hat, above the arch of the left eyebrow, is a subtle hook of golden thread, the lone identifying mark. On the inside is a label with the name of the customer and the grandmother who knitted—sorry, crocheted—the hat, along with the edition number. For example: Fait par Colette pour Capucine, no. 57—”Made by Colette for Capucine, no. 57.” (That’s the grandmother Colette, not the boutique). Or, sniff, inside the hat of my unrealized, unfulfilled childhood: Fait par Nye-Nye pour Fan, no. 1.