Cool camouflage comes out in the open

Camouflage’s latest edgy iterations are for urban warriors who like to be seen, says Tom Stubbs

Nigel Cabourn cotton drill Army Smock jacket, £395
Nigel Cabourn cotton drill Army Smock jacket, £395 | Image: Ben Benoliel

Camouflage has come a long way from its early-19th-century origins – from a military uniform designed to hide soldiers from newly developed long‑range weapons to quite the opposite. It is now worn by civilians to be seen – and often to make a strong style statement by leveraging camo’s cultural potency and singular edgy aesthetic.

Clockwise from left: Hugo virgin wool suit, £630. Woolrich technical fabric shirt jacket, £495. Polo Ralph Lauren wool Letterman cardigan, £375
Clockwise from left: Hugo virgin wool suit, £630. Woolrich technical fabric shirt jacket, £495. Polo Ralph Lauren wool Letterman cardigan, £375

One such designer is Hardy Blechman, whose cult brand Maharishi helped define 1990s style with its utilitarian designs with street‑style attitude – and a major use of camouflage. This season, Maharishi has a new camo called DPM: British Haze, named after its cloudlike forms that evoke spray painting. I’m rather taken with the smock jacket (£425) and cargo pants (£175) in a striking sky-blue and pistachio print, a dark cotton overshirt (£295) and a kimono-esque wool GI coat (£595) in black and grey, while its new hoodies (£220) and puffas (£580) are strong Maharishi camo staples that work well in the city. 

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Urban cachet is also the watchword of CP Company’s signature “goggle” jackets, and the brand’s new Camotage mini-collection includes the goggle-hood Explorer jacket (£525) in camo, which is digitally printed on the outer shell of the waterproof, three-layer fabric. Another camouflage fabric sees a fil coupé jacquard printed with a pixellated “night-vision” pattern, which is used for the fishtail parka jacket (£1,125). Stone Island also does some cool things with printing technology. I remember its Ice jackets coming out in the late 1980s. They were printed with a thermo-sensitive resin that was only visible at lower temperatures, and lads obsessed over them, standing about in the cold trying to get them to change colour. For this season, the brand delivers a new grid-based camouflage for the Ice trench (£1,125) and Ice bomber (£725) which come in white and light grey that turns all-white when heat is generated. 

From left: Maharishi cotton canvas smock jacket, £425. Nemen cotton T-shirt, £170
From left: Maharishi cotton canvas smock jacket, £425. Nemen cotton T-shirt, £170

At the other end of the printing spectrum, Nemen, the Italian company known for its distinctive hand-rendered fabrics, has turned to early first world war camouflage handpainted in 1914 by Eugène Corbin (now exhibited at London’s Imperial War Museum) for inspiration. “All our jackets are treated by hand with special acid dyes,” creative director Leonardo Fasolo tells me. The Nemen Imperial Camouflage multipocket field jacket (£690) is a one‑of-a-kind piece, but the brand has also applied the method to tees (£170) and polos (£192).

Balmain silk jersey embroidered jacket, price on request
Balmain silk jersey embroidered jacket, price on request

Camouflage has a very different treatment in the hands of vintage-style veteran Nigel Cabourn. A navy camo from the brand’s archive featuring vibrant, graphic shapes that bring to mind cubist paintings is used for the Army Smock (£395), based on those worn by British paratroopers in the second world war; an overall (£450), with leather cross strap and “watch” pocket, that’s modelled on US navy kit; and a mechanic’s cap (£57) of the sort worn by baseball players in the early 1900s and later adopted by the US military. 

Clockwise from top left: Christopher Raeburn wool duffel coat, £1,195. Tom Ford velvet smoking jacket, £2,750. Stone Island cotton tela Ice trench coat, £1,125
Clockwise from top left: Christopher Raeburn wool duffel coat, £1,195. Tom Ford velvet smoking jacket, £2,750. Stone Island cotton tela Ice trench coat, £1,125

More esoteric thinking is happening at Ralph Lauren where a camo wool Letterman cardigan (£375) has sleeve stripes, elbow patches and the brand’s iconic tiger’s head adorning the back. It’s busy, but somehow it works. And Christopher Raeburn looked to American artist Ellsworth Kelly who, during the second world war, was a member of the so-called Ghost Army (a decoy unit comprising artists, designers, actors and others recruited by the US army and deployed in France to create installations, camouflage, fake tanks and the like to distract Nazi forces). Kelly’s colour field influence can be felt in the bright-yellow fleece camo patches on both the charcoal wool duffel coat (£1,195) and the biker jacket (£745). The duffel uses military surplus blanket, and Raeburn’s ethos of reusing old military textiles also plays out in the Cut ’n’ Shut camo quilted bomber (£595), made from recycled polyester and original British MTP camouflage smocks. 

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For something more classic, top marks this season go to Woolrich and Polo Ralph Lauren for their field jackets. Polo’s camo cotton version (£245) is easy to wear, but my favourite is Woolrich’s camo tech mountain jacket (£730) and the simple shirt jacket (£495). An update from Alessandro Dell’Acqua’s label No 21 sees a quilted nylon jacket (£700) modernised with contrast panels and elasticated bomber-style cuffs. 

Hugo contemporises camouflage by taking it into smart attire with its virgin-wool dark-olive suit (£630). Tom Ford’s peak lapel, printed-velvet smoking jacket (£2,750) takes camo further into “glamou-flage” territory, as do the four‑pocket patrol jacket (£3,750) in dark-grey cotton/satin, and blouson (£6,390) in green cashmere nubuck.

But the ultimate combination of camo and finery comes from Balmain, whose creative director Olivier Rousteing was inspired by “rebellious musicians and ’80s hard rockers – men who paired hyper-masculinity with eye-catching looks”. This season the house has produced its signature cavalry officer’s cropped dress coat (price on request) in a classic woodland camo print – replete with embroidered and stone-embellished sleeves and beaded front panels. Other great camouflage pieces include a double-breasted peacoat (£2,370) with gold buttons, leather biker jacket (£4,555), hoodies (£930), sweatpants (£635) and distressed-denim biker jeans (£925), all of which, like so much else this season, co-opt camo perfectly for today’s urban warrior.

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