Camouflage is everywhere around us – a cuttlefish fades into rocks, just as stick insects vanish on branches and Arctic foxes blend in with the snow
Always one to know a good idea when he saw one, Julius Caesar (100BC to 44BC) painted his ships and their crew blue to blend in with the sea while they scouted the coast of Britain. Philostratus, who was born in 170, also wrote of ships being painted in shades of blue-grey to blend with the waves.
During the First Maroon War of Jamaica (1731 to 1739), escaped slaves – the Maroons – used to ambush British troops by wrapping themselves in foliage (called bushing up). They became so adept at this that the British called the island the Land of Look Behind, because they had to keep looking over their shoulders. Around the same time, Native American Indians applied body pigments, such as dappled greens, to match a forest, or browns and reds for autumnal leaves.
In the mid-1800s, the first troops, German Jager (light infantry) dressed in drab colours to make themselves harder to spot, while the first camouflage uniform was introduced in 1914 by the French – for the Section de Camouflage, which gave us an official name for the khaki-and-brown pattern. During the Second World War, many countries created their own combinations, but the 1942 American Frog Skin pattern is probably the best known today.
In 1987, artist Andy Warhol made camo high art with his Camouflage Series, and in 1994 fashion designer Maharishi merged yoga symbols with the pattern to create Cannaflage, starting a fascination for camo in fashion that continues.
Today, camo in fashion is much softer and less contrived. While it crops up regularly on the runway, the best recent example was from Louis Vuitton, who for autumn/winter 2018 delivered a patterned jumper with a design so digitised it became an abstract drift of hazy-edged blues and umbers – ideal for a concrete jungle.