[Photos from Style.com]
This of course begged the question, what the heck is dazzle camouflage? And why has it taken so long to hit the fashion world? As Vogue puts it, it's like "Chanel on acid" (in a good way!) and to me that is fabulous.
During WWI, the success of German U-boats against British ships demanded more effective camouflage since it's basically impossible to blend in with the ocean and the sky simultaneously. British artist Norman Wilkinson decided that rather than blend in, a better tactic would be to paint the ships in a way that would break up their form.
This would make it more difficult to determine the ship's speed and direction from a distance, and since U-boats had to fire torpedoes well ahead of the ship's trajectory in order to make contact, any uncertainty would put a real hitch in knowing when and where to fire the weapon.
The paintings on the ships were either black and white or vibrant and colorful, with bold lines going every which way to disguise the ship's movement (in that top right photo, for example, the painting's angle towards the right makes it seem the ship is headed in that same direction, but it is clearly the boat's stern). Photos from WWI unfortunately only come in black and white, and while many of the ships were done in this color scheme (which is used throughout the Libertine collection), others were spectacularly colorful, using yellows, oranges, blues, and purples (all of which appear in the Libertine collection as well) and you can get a sense of this from these plans:
There are a number of artistic renderings from the time period as well. Even cruise ships like the Mauritania were painted in this fashion, capturing the public's interest and giving us the popular phrase "razzle dazzle".
Dazzle Ship in Drydock (1919) by Edward Wadsworth
Painting of the Mauritania (1919) by Burnett Poole
Now what sort of repercussions did this type of camouflage have in the art world, considering that it was developed by an artist? Sadly, not many. The war meant that many artists were forced to enlist and by the war's end, the horrors of trench warfare and general disillusionment sent art spiraling off in a completely different direction. However, before the war's onset, this type of art style had been in the infant stages of taking off as a real movement.
Many see ties to cubism, in the way the camouflage attempts to break up the ship's form, but a closer relationship can be seen in the more aggressive style of vorticism, a purely British movement which lasted only a couple of years early in the 20th century.
The Mud Bath (1914) by David Mumberg
Slow Attack by Wyndham Lewis
Cover of vorticist art and literary magazine "Blast"
The movement was originally referred to as the Rebel Art Centre, but Ezra Pound soon coined the term "vorticism" for the drama and movement of the lines which spin out from a center of high energy. You can see how the lines spin out every which way, giving a sense of constant motion without a providing a sense of direction. It can be very disorienting, and was certainly an inspiration for Norman Wilkinson's dazzle camouflage concept.
Getting back to Libertine's collection, how then do the dazzle prints affect the overall design of the looks, aside from the fact that they are spectacularly vibrant and just incredibly cool? To me, the prints create a distinct sense of movement which plays off the very structured and tailored pieces. Your eye is drawn to unexpected places and it's hard to take in each look as a whole, like you might in Jason Wu's spectacular collection.
Libertine Fall 2011 RTW Jason Wu Fall 2011 RTW
Both looks make bold statements, but Libertine's leaves you slightly unsettled. Your eyes want to move with the lines and you begin to focus on the pieces rather than the whole, at which point you realize that Johnson Hartig (Libertine's designer) has completely broken up the form of the overall look, just as the dazzle paint broke up the warships. It gives the classic silhouettes of the collection a completely new form, without altering their basic structure in any way.
Overall, it's a clever way to redesign timeless classics without actually redesigning them. We get something fabulously wearable and incredibly edgy, that's just a little tongue-in-cheek. And to me, those are the best qualities of any look!
GET THE LOOK: DAZZLE PAINT
Here's a collection of some particularly striking items that share aesthetic characteristics with dazzle camouflage and vorticism. Above all, it is about breaking up the form and creating a deceptive sense of movement. So here you are, hope you enjoy!