Left: Elaborate camouflage smocks created for snipers in World War 1 [Imperial War Museum]
‘Camouflage for personnel was not introduced until the Second World War,’ writes John Windsor.’ The "brushstroke" patterns of Second World War personnel camouflage show artist-designers still to the fore. Brushstrokes were standard issue in Britain, France and Thailand until the 1980s. It is modern collectors who have given patterns nicknames, not the army. There are probably 100 serious camouflage uniform collectors in the world, mostly in the US and Canada.’ Mass produced infantry camouflage had to wait until advances in textile printing,
"In Britain the army quite likes to see camouflage being used in fashion because at the end of the day it doesn't want to be different from the people it is fighting for and likes to be understood and appreciated by them. At one stage, the British Army thought of making their own street wear which they could sell and which would encourage interest in the military."
The crossover from military camouflage wear to street fashion is one that Tim explores in his book but the man who has done to most to not only investigate the subject but also manufacture and design camouflage fashion through his label maharishi is Hardy Blechman.
According to his website: Hardy Blechman is head designer of maharishi, the company he founded in 1994. Blechman, whose former experience lay in the international military and industrial clothing surplus trade, started maharishi by producing hemp and other natural fibre clothing as well as recycling workwear and military surplus.
In 2000, Blechman was named Streetwear Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council. A second line, MHI,was launched by Blechman in 2001. In 2003, Blechman also set up a company producing non-violent toys. His flagship MHI store, DPMHI, opened in 2004.
In his first book published the same year, Blechman explored the subject of camouflage in great depth. ‘DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material’
An extensive review of the book - ‘Cubist Slugs’ by Patrick Wright - appeared in the London Review of Books/23rd June 2005. If you have enjoyed reading these posts there is a great deal more historical information to be found here, particularly about Solomon J. Solomon and the American pioneer Abbott Thayer.
Here is some extracts:
‘It was only after 1945 that camouflage leaked into civilian society in the form of printed fabrics and army surplus garments. Far from being dissolved back into its ‘natural’ or ‘artistic’ constituents, camouflage carried military symbolism into civilian life. It was favoured by the hunter, the code-scrambling hippy, the survivalist, the anti-federalist fantasist. It became the unofficial uniform of diverse malcontents who went off to build shelters, real or symbolic, in the woods of the late 20th century.’
As the founder and ‘creative director’ of a company called Maharishi, he associates wearing ‘camo’ with conscientious objection and looks forward to ‘nullifying’ the military associations of the many camouflage designs illustrated in his book. Encouraged by the extent to which other items of clothing – he mentions the tie, the T-shirt and the cardigan – have made the journey from military to civilian use, he would like to convert the beauty of camouflage patterns by ‘taking them out of their practical context of concealment in battle’. Across many cultures, as he explains, green is felt to be ‘an inherently “good” colour’. It can reduce stress and ‘engender calm’ among psychiatric patients, and it comes with a long history dating ‘back to mythical figures such as the Green Man’.
Blechman, who started trading from a friend’s floor in Chelsea Harbour but soon moved east to establish his headquarters on Hackney’s Kingsland Road, acquired stocks of surplus utility clothing from the military and British Telecom. To begin with he bought and adjusted stuff he liked – changing the cut, adding screenprints or computerised embroidery – but soon he started to design his own clothes, using synthetic microfibre fabrics to create the ‘combat chic’ on which his success as a seller of streetwear is based. He feels, most ardently, that the military should not be allowed to ‘maintain its dominion over these patterns that were originally influenced by artists’ interpretations of the natural world’. He argues that the more camouflage is used outside the military, the less likely it is that camo-clad civilians like himself will continue to attract abuse.
See the website for ‘DPM: Disruptive Pattern Material: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage’ here.
Hardy Blechman continues his researches and writing on this subject on his excellent blog Camoupedia