Take Me Home: A Brush with Bordeaux

Wandering home after oysters and a few glasses of wine one evening in Bordeaux, I noticed, on the otherwise bland Cours Alsace et Lorraine, the original 19th-century signage of the curiously named Au Sanglier de Russie. I was already enamoured with Bordeaux’s lavish food emporiums, staggeringly well-stocked wine merchants and surprisingly youthful, ultra-cool  fashion retailers, but it was the potent singularity of this shop that made my heart skip a beat. Here was an unwavering retail mission: we sell brushes.

I returned the next day to discover just what this meant, finding shelves stuffed with implements that described and met every brushing need, both contemporary and historical. The domestic included toilet brushes, clothes brushes, shoe brushes, brushes to clean espresso machines, mushroom dusting brushes, computer monitor brushes, bottle brushes and pot scrubbers, some of them in the shape of a rotund little men. Personal care? Hairbrushes, of course, but also teeth and nail brushes, makeup brushes, sea sponges and combs of horn or wood or resin. To accompany the brushes, there are shaving bowls, soaps and balsams, razors and knives.

Each brush is made of a material claimed to best fit its purpose. The hairs and bristles of badgers, pony, mongoose, sable, wild boar, calf’s ear, squirrel, whether absorbent, abrasive or feather-like, are matched to handles of lemon or olive tree, ebony, purple wood, thuja, yew and bois de rose. Most are of French manufacture, with some specialist pieces also imported from Germany and Scandinavia.

It came as no surprise to learn that Au Sanglier de Russie, along with its name, dates back to 1814, when Catherine II’s Russia was á la mode, not to mention the centre of the wild boar bristle trade. The shop has been in its present location since 1873, in a street once flush with rope makers and shipwrights, leading, as it still does, to the docks of the wide River Garonne. The business was, for a century or so, focussed on keeping France’s colonial interests in bristled goods – I imagine an ageing post-poetry Arthur Rimbaud in the port of Harar, tallying boxes stamped with the distinctive Au Sanglier de Russie logo, then back to counting guns and francs – but now survives in supplying local art schools, factories, dentists and a large number of dedicated retail customers. The affable owner finds the attention his shop generates amusing; his family has been in the brush trade for four generations.

I came away with the small treasure that you see above. It is a German-made Redecker book brush of oiled pear-wood, pink in hue, and both goat hair and bristles. The wiry triangle that juts off at the edge is to loosen stubborn dirt, while the softer tufts wipes the ambient dust away in its wake. It seemed the perfect object to buy from such a venerable merchant, one that will tend to something else – books – that have also begun to feel like relics from a time past.

Au Sanglier de Russie
67 Cours Alsace et Lorraine, Bordeaux
05 56 81 33 36