Patta Vol. 2: Ready for War: an Exploration of Camouflage in Music, Style, and Art
Words: Chris Danforth
Alexander McQueen once said, “There is no better designer than nature.”Although nothing in nature is truly designed, the late British designer inadvertently referred to a design philosophy called biomimicry, which humans employ to imitate nature’s perfect systems.
Camouflage is one such example of biomimicry.
The purpose of camouflage is to cover, mask, and conceal by imitating one's surroundings, thereby blending in and avoiding detection. In nature, animals like big cats, birds of prey, and reptiles use their camouflage patterns to conceal, disrupt, disguise, and mimic. In ecology and biology, cryptic coloration refers to the way a bottom-dwelling fish will blend in to look like the ocean floor. But likely, the best-known example of active camouflage in nature is the chameleon, which can change the color of its
Camouflage: Origins and First Uses
Historically, one of the first-ever mentions of military camouflage was reported by Roman official and writer Publius Vegetius Renatus, who penned an account of Julius Caesar’s fleet in 56-54 B.C. Caesar’s ships were supposedly painted in what came to be known as “Venetian blue,” a blueish-greenish color that imitated the sea and was also the same color as the uniforms of his troops.
Starting in 1848, British soldiers in India adopted khaki uniforms to better blend into desert environments. This practice was later adopted by other armies around the world, like the Italian army, who donned grigio-verde ("grey-green"), or the Germans, who preferred feldgrau ("field grey"). Over time, a shift toward naturally colored or camouflage uniforms was made as guerilla tactics started to define modern warfare.
The term camouflage is French slang dating back to World War I when the French army enlisted a painter and soldier named Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola to create screens to obscure guns. Interestingly enough, de Scévola first turned to the 20th-century avant-garde art movement Cubism for inspiration. A rejection of traditional perspective, Cubism favors a fragmented and patterned view of its subjects while using a limited color palette. Cubism inspiration can be most clearly seen in early dazzle camouflage which was used on World War I-era ships.
The term camouflage itself is thought to have evolved from the French camoufler, which is slang for “to cover up”, “to mask,” or “to conceal,” or even camouflet, meaning “smoke blown in one's face.” The term camoufler evolved to refer to a person who designed military camouflage in one of the world wars of the twentieth century. Notable camouflers or camouflage officers included artist Colin Moss, camouflage advocate John Graham Kerr, and author of Adaptive Coloration in Animals, Hugh Cott.
In 1948, the United States Engineer Research & Development Laboratories (ERDL) created a seminal camouflage pattern called Woodland. Today, most armed forces utilize one of two camouflage varities: one for woodland or jungle and one for desert and other arrid terrain, in addition to urban or greyscale camouflage made specifically for cities. Digital camouflage later emerged around the turn of the millennium as a versatile solution for multiple environments.
Camouflage face paint also has a specialized use in the military, as a way to interfere with the human brain’s pattern-seeking behavior. When applied properly, asymmetrical face paint can conceal the contours of the eyes, nose, and mouth, making the human face much more difficult for the brain to recognize.
One particularly fascinating application of camouflage is used by elite snipers in armies around the world, who are known for their ghillie suits. During sniper school, it’s considered a rite of passage for a sniper to make one’s own ghillie suit, which could be based around burlap or utility fabrics, with the addition of found items like twigs and branches, which are threaded and fastened to a fishnet fabric covering parts of the body. This DIY process means no two ghillie suits are ever the same
Camouflage has also been utilized in the modern day to disrupt facial recognition or “trick” AI-based biometric tracking. These anti-surveillance garments could look like a patterned hoodie, T-shirt, or dress that neutralizes AI’s ability to pick up or read biometric data and even impairs machine learning abilities.
Camouflage in Art and Fashion
The fashion industry didn’t take long to notice camo. In 1943, fashion bible Vogue came out with an article titled Camouflage: The Science of Disguise, A Great Defensive War Weapon, which provided an elementary explanation of the function of camouflage. Later in 1971, Vogue published a full fashion editorial with models clad in tactical gear, alongside an accompanying blurb that wrote about camouflage uniforms, stating, “Just like blue jeans, they’re functional, practical, good looking…”
Arguably the first widespread use of camouflage outside its intended use in a non-military context was in the late 1960s when anti-Vietnam protestors wore camouflage garb as a symbol of pacifism and anti-militarism, ultimately expressing the sentiment “Make love, not war.” These protestors reversed camouflage's meaning, subverting it and establishing camouflage as a symbol of political protest. Adjacent to this, members of the Black Panther Party presented solidarity by wearing a militaristic uniform of their own, which included another military-uniform staple, a black beret.
Although the origins of camouflage are entwined with the Cubism movement, the end of the 20th century saw camouflage reinterpreted through pop art. In 1987, the same year of his passing, Andy Warhol’s “Camouflage” series took the popular Woodland camouflage pattern and portrayed it in vivid pinks, oranges, and blues. Warhol’s last major work, the series comprises eight screen prints, which had a massive impact on the perception of camouflage in mainstream popular culture. Warhol’s camouflage pattern motifs also appeared in a clothing collection created by fashion designer Stephen Sprouse in
Another noteworthy moment in the history of camouflage was Takashi Murakami’s creative partnership with Louis Vuitton in 2007, which fused the French fashion house’s Monogram pattern with a classic camouflage pattern, creating what Murakami and Louis Vuitton called “Monogramouflage,” used across a spectrum of accessories and luggage. While camouflage has become a widely popular theme in mainstream fashion as well as couture, camo patterns have become a signature motif for certain designers like Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Marc Jacobs, COMME des GARÇONS’ Rei Kawakubo, and of cours, Alexander McQueen. Alongside camouflage patterns, military cuts like the M-65 jacket and fishtail parka have also become menswear staples, reinterpreted by fashion designers from Ralph Lauren to Raf Simons.
In the world of hip-hop, if the ‘70s were defined by leather and a dose of theatricality, and tracksuits defined the ‘80s, it was camouflage that shaped the style codes of the ‘90s. In hip-hop, camouflage became an anti-establishment statement in its own right, as the baggy fits of military surplus gear perfectly suited the oversized tastes of the time, considered to be the golden era of the genre. Artists like Notorious B.I.G., Nas, and 2Pac, plus Wu-Tang Clan members like RZA, Raekwon, and Method Man famously favored XXL cargo pants and camouflage jackets, in the same way that Carhartt’s workwear silhouettes were also adopted into hip-hop culture.
Look no further than the artwork for Capone-N-Noreaga’s 1997 debut album, The War Report, which features the duo clad head to toe in camouflage uniforms: desert camo safari hats, oversized field jackets, et
Our understanding of camouflage wouldn’t be the same without designers like McQueen, who reminded us of the infinite inspiration found in nature, artists like Warhol, who showed us the artistic potential of camouflage, and musicians like Capone and N.O.R.E. who proved the inexplicable reassurance of ones own convictions that come from wearing a camo jacket. Today, camouflage has gained an entirely new meaning thanks to subcultural roots that have connected it to pop culture, art, music, fashion, and streetwear.
For AW23, Patta has utilized a range of camouflage patterns, used across the _____, _____, and _____. In addition to woodland and digital-style camouflage patterns, Patta also introduces an original repeating spraypaint-style camouflage created in-house.