The development of modern wars in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant the emergence of new combat techniques as well as the demand for new technological advances in armament and transport. One of the new necessities that were presented was to incorporate a type of uniform that hid the presence of the soldiers or that deceived the eye of the enemy. The medium and long-range weapons relegated the hand to hand battles to a marginal role, the tactic of evasion and surprise, hiding from the enemy, became fundamental. This way is how camouflage patterns in military uniforms began to be used. The first to make extensive use of camouflage in their uniforms were the French in World War I who hired artists, known as camoufleurs, to make camouflage patterns based on nature. The use of long-range artillery and air observation in the battlefield was soon copied by other armies, who began to create their own patterns.
From the 1950s onwards, military clothing began to exert its influence on the world of textile fashion. Used or disused military garments appeared in clothing markets, often with some sort of camouflage pattern, and fashion designers began to use them as influences on their creations. With just mentioning two garments we can remember, for example, the mods wearing their parkas M-51, or the great commercial success of the M-65, which obtained a cult status from being worn by Robert De Niro in ‘Taxi Driver’.
Taking advantage of my stay for a few days in England, together with my great host North Harbour and good man Jack Napier, I had the opportunity to go to an exhibition. Located in London Gallery West of the University of Westminster in northwest London, The Vanishing Art of Camouflage offered a small sample of the impact and influence of military clothing and camouflage patterns in the world of fashion, Art and design.
The people responsible and co-curators are Andrew Groves, course director of BA Fashion Design in Westminster, and Robert Leach, principal lecturer at the University of Westminster, both of whom have extensive experience in the world of fashion and design. Groves is remembered for his controversial and eye-catching shows at London Fashion Week in the 1990s, he worked for Alexander McQueen before starting his own brand. Well-known for his designs, he has dressed people like Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Suede and the Spice Girls. Leach has been in the fashion business for more than 30 years, working as a designer and later, as a stylist and journalist in press such as i-D Magazine. He has also worked in films, television and advertising campaigns.
The exhibition includes camouflage garments belonging to military uniforms ranging from the First World War to the present day. Also in the exhibition are high-end jackets that include camouflage patterns in their design. We find clothing from well-known brands such as Adidas Originals, Ashish, Coach, Griffin, Jeremy Scott, MA.Strum, Maharishi, Nanamica, One True Saxon, Penfield, Plurimus, Ralph Lauren and Stone Island. Below is a selection of the most outstanding pieces of the collection, the most curious and some that I would not mind having in my wardrobe.
I will start with a selection of the military clothing with my favourite from the exhibition. It is a rare 50s german sniper jacket of which there is not much information to be found. An extraordinary design that I love with a rather unusual camouflage pattern. Its buttoned fastening and front accessory pocket catch the eye.
Bundeswehr Tropical Desert Camouflage Parka. That is the name of this parka created in Germany towards 2002, with a camouflage pattern called Flecktarn, according to its creators it works well in the British oak forests.
1968 Pattern Camouflage Combat Smock. Combat jacket belonging to the British Army, manufactured in England towards 1970 by H.Lottery. In its 1968 version it presents a forest camouflage pattern called DPM (disruptive pattern material). It was developed by the British in the 60s from the brushstroke pattern. This piece belonged to Captain J.C. Pollock, who served in the parachute regiment.
2015.22. Camouflage Rain Jacket. It is a summer warrior jacket of the extinct German Democratic Republic, used by its armed forces, the NVA (Nationale Volkarmee, National People’s Army). This pattern of camouflage is known as Strichmuster (line pattern), or in English as Rain Drop by its similarity drops of rain, was introduced in 1968 and used until German unified. The simplicity is incorporated by brown rain lines on a green grey background. It was also used used by Warsaw Pact (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria) and by some African insurgent groups in Angola and the former South West Africa.
Czech desert pattern combat jacket. This camouflage is a mystery since nobody really knows what was its purpose. Most collectors agree that it was designed to be employed during the First Gulf War (1991). But nevertheless, the war ended before they adopted the new uniform and with the talks on the separation of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the army had more important things than to develop a desert camouflage for use in the middle of Europe. Over time, both countries created their own uniforms, so this is a one off unique piece. The Ambleside Parka Tan Camo by Garbstore, is also a very similar pattern. Although Garbstore have always maintained that it originated from a Japanese camouflage (Shibaya).
Finishing this selection of military garments, we move onto the fashion brands. Plurimus NO_S02_1A_X1. Fishtail parka 2015 in waxed cotton with protection against rain and wind. This parka is inspired by the American M 1951, specifically by the model that was designed for the Korean War, which includes a known camouflage pattern, Mimetico, which gathers its inspiration from the first handmade patterns that were created by painting the fabrics with spray.
Griffin Bladecut Parachute Khaki Jacket. Developed this same year at the Griffin factory in Italy. The khaki jacket is cut by a computerised laser cutter. This creates a pattern very similar to a camouflage net.
Stone Island Flowing Camo Reflex Mat (Italy, 2015). Reflex Mat is a reflective opaque material with a coating made of thousands of glass microspheres. The jacket also incorporates an exclusive camouflage pattern so it is only reflective in non-printed areas, thus improving the contrast of the design.
Stone Island Reflective Camouflage (Italy, 2012/13). A Jacket made with a highly reflective fabric, due to the coating of glass microspheres, with a camouflage print in three different colours.
Plurimus NO_S04_1A_X2 (Italy, 2016). This Plurimus “all terrain smock” is made of waxed cotton and features a snow camouflage pattern specially developed for the brand. The design is very similar to that of a German parka of the 2000s, dark splashes on a white background. You can compare both designs in photo 6.
Stone Island Shallow Gommato Reverse Color Process (Italy, 2015). Manufactured with Raso Gomato using a technique known as Reverse Colour Process, through which a different and unique effect is obtained.
MA.Strum Field Shirt Jacket (Italy, 2014).
Stone Island Flektarn Camo Blazer (Italy, 2013/14). Jacket made of Raso Gomato with a Flecktarn camouflage design in five different colours achieving a very colourful design.
Stone Island Doppio Reps HT Camo-OVD Concelead Identity (Italy, 2012/13). A jacket made of HT Rep, a material used for the military and developed in Japan. It is made of a double layer of cotton and nylon Rep which gives the garment a high durability. The camouflage is a pixelated design in four different colours.
Stone Island Shallow Hand Painted Tortoise Shell (Italy, 2014/15). Raincoat made of cotton cloth used in the military. In some areas the fabric is dyed, then bleached and after hand painted in a design similar to a shell of a turtle. Since it is made by hand, each garment is a unique and unrepeatable piece.
Camouflage is essential and functional in the battlefield. It is used for evading the enemy by making more difficult to see the person who wears it. However, The Vanishing Art of Camouflage exhibition teaches us how, in fashion, it takes a completely different role by becoming a striking and distinctive element.
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