In Military Fashion, by Xavier Landrit


Xavier Landrit

The Fashion/Military couple reveal their relationship with a history of crossed styles at the Château Borély in Marseilles and the Foreign Legion Museum at Aubagne. A fashion mission with 4 themes, the military style, the colour khaki, camouflage print fabrics and the "Saharienne" safari jacket, put together by Xavier Landrit, a Contemporary Fashion and Art Historian who currently works for the Courrèges fashion house in the key position in charge of Heritage. He talks to the MMMM about his action plan.

The "Mission Mode, Styles croisées" [Fashion Mission, Crossed Styles], Exhibition is from 16 September 2016 to 15 January 2017 at the Foreign Legion Museum at Aubagne and the Museum of Decorative Arts, Fashion and Ceramics in Marseilles.

What is at the origin of this Mission Mode exhibition project?

The theme of this exhibition is somewhat of a paradox. In fact, there is nothing more antinomic than the terms fashion and military. The former is usually about the evanescent, the intangible, a taste brought about from a desire for change, for a new form for a dress, a new  silhouette or figure, or simply accessories; the latter is a symbol of something that is long-standing and has traditions. Nevertheless, the two have a history of interlinking. Both Men's and Women's fashion regularly take inspiration from the military. A trend which cyclically invades the catwalks, with a mix of inspirations, from combat dress to parade uniforms.

Uniforms are regularly present in the imaginations and representations of our society, in the cinema, in literature, painting and fashion. An endless number of military coats, trench coats, parkas, and combat and camouflage clothing are worn by the non-military society. This exhibition looks at the mechanisms used by couturiers getting their inspiration from the military world, and explains the origins and history of this style. 

The uniform, therefore, becomes the object of daily representations, a standard item that anyone can buy without any attached specific conditions of strength or honour. It combines the functional and symbolic elements which oppose the decorative and ceremonial elements. But this monopolisation by the non-military recalls another element, the prestige and bearing of someone who wears a uniform. In fact the act of wearing such an item of clothing, allows the wearer to imagine they are participating in some form of important military operation.


What do you think started this military influence in general public fashion?

In France, from the 19th century military campaigns of the Napoleonic era, to the World Wars of the 20th century, women's wardrobes have "borrowed" numerous fashion details inspired by military clothing. Military braid and stripes, knots, accoutrement and regalia were at that time regularly found decorating women's clothing. During the 19th century, therefore, the uniform became an influential feature of fashion.

The 20th century was full of social upheaval and warlike events, which logically led to the military leaving its mark on the fashion world. During the Second World War, between actually creating and recuperating, recycling and reusing, the differences between military and civil clothing became less clear-cut. The "Officer" look appeared in the fashion world with the safari jacket with four patch pockets and gold buttons, which, without its usual ornaments, became adopted as an everyday jacket. 

The 70s provided a time for imagination, contestation and protest, particularly with the phenomenon of “army surplus" stores, with military clothing being seen regularly in the streets and in youth fashion. Camouflage wear, battle dress, and khaki coloured army shirts and trousers were popular with the young generations because they were cheap to buy, and were also seen as a way of peacefully protesting against social structures.

After this period it was not just the military details but the garments themselves which became part of the stylistic vocabulary of fashion designers. Not only the literal versions, but also the more sophisticated versions, which were offbeat and unconventional, in order to become a recurring trend and marker in contemporary fashion for both men and women.


How have you defined the stylistic themes of this Military/Civil stylistic dialogue? And the way they are shared between the two museums? 

The exhibition is based on two sites, the Foreign Legion Museum at Aubagne and the Château Borély, which houses the Marseilles Museum of Decorative Arts, Fashion and Ceramics. Two institutions, two spheres of influence, which create a dialogue and intertwine with one another. The visitors' route through the exhibition space helps them understand how the relationships between the military uniform and the fashion world came about. Is the fashion world always synonymous with fleeting creativity? Is fantasy inevitably absent from military clothing? Absolutely not... Numerous examples of garments and accessories are subjected to the sagacity of the visitor to make their own opinion, in a number of different stages: the military style, the colour khaki, the "Saharienne" safari jacket, and contemporary jewellery creations.

I wanted to create a series of counterpoints on each site, as well as dialogues between the Foreign Legion pieces and Fashion pieces. Aubagne presents an exhibition on the style of the uniform of the Foreign Legion since its creation in the 19th century, up to the 1950s, based on transformations which are technical, practical, aesthetic and functional. At the Château Borély the exhibition starts with the 1960s, and covers the styles appropriated by different couturiers and fashion designers up to the present day.


There are many pieces on show, what were your criteria for selection?

During my preparatory research work for the project, I noted an unsuspected and unexpected number of collections which resonated with the military style. So the selection process was difficult. I decided to concentrate more on the present fashion scene. In fact, of the 70 Fashion pieces presented, 1/3 are contemporary. This choice highlights the importance, even today, of this phenomenon with fashion designers. I had a good relationship with all the fashion houses I worked with and chose, among others, creations by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, Marc Jacob at Louis Vuitton, Serge Bensimon, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Humberto Léon and Carol Lim at Kenzo. Some of them even claimed to be directly inspired by the military universe.

During the recent runway shows for the 2016/2017 Autumn-Winter collections, the military style was very present. There were the long khaki coloured coats with wide belts structuring the look of Burberry, Prada and Maison Margiela. As well as the reworked versions of the "high ranking" officer jacket by Givenchy and Gucci, decorated with pompoms, jewellery and decorative brandenburg braiding on the bodice. And, of course, military khaki coloured knitwear.

It's a trend which never really disappears !

You have chosen as your flagship piece, the "Saharienne" safari jacket, what does it symbolise for you?

The "Saharienne" highlights in a very original way all of the problematics raised by the exhibition; the influence and interaction between the two spheres of the military and fashion. Because, before it was seen in the jungle of city life, this fashion icon earned its exploring stripes on safaris and with colonial armies. The canvas jacket first appeared in the '30s. The "Saharienne" is in fact an avatar of the bush jacket, or the tropical jacket, the short sleeved safari jacket worn by globe-trotters on safari in Africa; itself a successor to colonial military dress.

It is a very contemporary piece of clothing, yet it played an important role in the history of fashion. It also played a part in other domains, such as the cinema, where it was worn by Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner in the film Mogambo by John Ford in 1953, or with the Yves Saint-Laurent version worn by Catherine Deneuve in the François Truffaut film "La Sirène du Mississippi" in 1969. It has now become a standard, like the "marinière" Breton striped cotton T-shirt, the "caban” pea coat or reefer jacket, or the trench coat. It is fascinating to dissect and analyse its history.

An item which is omnipresent in the collections of the Foreign Legion, the "Saharienne" relates its history and tradition since its origins, with African and Asian colonial expeditions.

For me it also brings to mind Yves Saint-Laurent and his universe, where he plays with the established masculine-feminine fashion codes, and military and ethnic inspirations. He was able to create a new garment, the "Saharienne", first shown in his 1967 Summer Collection, and worn by the model Veruschka in Vogue magazine in 1968. Immortalised and sensualised, a new fashion icon was born. The "Saharienne" has been reworked, reinterpreted and redrawn by Yves Saint- Laurent throughout his career.

In reality it has become a standard of the feminine wardrobe, constantly changed to make it attractive again, but timeless and mysterious in its origins, like all myths.

What are your next projects? 

I presently work for the Courrèges fashion house where I am in charge of Heritage. This already provides me with a lot of work covering a variety of activities and projects. It takes up most of my time. However, this exhibition has allowed me to meet different people who work in museums and the fashion world. My other propositions for collaborations are presently dormant, but that's another story.

Exhibition from September 16th to January 15th at Marseille / Château Borély - Musée des Arts Décoratifs et de la Mode & at Aubagne / Musée de la Légion étrangère.

Mission Mode exhibition is created in partnership with the Maison Méditerranéenne des Métiers de la Mode (MMMM)

More informations here 

Xavier Landrit