Evac Jak, Experimental Camouflage
Mister Freedom® “Saigon Cowboy” Spring 2015
After an Homeric attempt at an introduction of both our intentions and the background of our Spring 2015 “Saigon Cowboy” concept collection, here comes the time to actually unleash its first chapter. Straight off the steamy jungles where the panthera tigris, majestic beast of the night, roamed free. Until…
(skies fill with green UH-1s above the canopy, “Ride Of The Valkyries” plays)
It’s show time… sit back and cringe.
It is a documented ancient tradition for warriors to adorn themselves with the furry hides of ferocious hunted creatures, in order to appropriate and hog specific powers from the animal kingdom.
This practice seems to have extended to modern warriors by way of printed cloth known as camo. From the leopard-print cowboy hats of some US advisors in Vietnam to the flashy cheetah-print fatigues of the General Mobutu’s Armed Forces of Zaire in the 1970’s, it can be said that there is no end to human creativity in the concealment business.
To quote the New York Times in a camouflage-related piece back in 1917, “It is a wonderful opportunity, this game of hokus-pokus“.
Nothing spells human ingenuity like painted zebra stripes on a donkey or battleship to fool the enemy.
Animal Coloration, Frank Evers (1892)
Dazzle camo HMS Argus (1918)
Camo pony, British Cavalry WW1 East Africa
Hessian Frogskin (1943?)
Chili Williams (1943) Ewing Krainin
Armed Forces of Zaire camouflage (1977)
Mobutu (1974) Cheetah camo
Leopard Camo (1964) David Williams. Courtesy Paul W. Miraldi, Schiffer Books
101st Airborne ROK and ERDL camo (1969)
American advisor cowboy hat in Vietnam (1959) Courtesy Paul W. Miraldi, Schiffer Books
Panthera tigris, courtesy Ivan Vdovin
Camo coma at MF® (2015)
For the past 100 years or so, commercial or military camouflage has continued to appear in all kinds of shapes, colors, forms, at various levels of justification. See the “Disruptive Pattern Material” brick (ISBN-13: 978-1554070114) for a potential camo coma.
In the printed camouflage family, the military ‘Experimental’ group is of particular interest to me. It features patterns painstakingly designed by boards of experts that never made it to standard issue status, from either lack of interest, failure of the field tests, budget issues, fluctuations in theater of deployment according to where the evil enemy of the month hides, etc…
Specimens of obscure patterns are sporadically unearthed and sometimes shared by collectors, such as this handsome “MacLaren” for instance. Some patterns are only known to be in existence from a brief feature on an official publication or rare field test photo set. Whether one-of-a-kind individually hand-painted for a specific mission, or produced in small batch/tested in combat/pulled as inconclusive, there’s gotta be some interesting stories about these experimental camouflage pattern in the Fort Belvoir archives (US military’s headquarters for camouflage R&D in Virginia), or the Natick Labs file cabinets…
Soldier-Artist sketching at Fort Belvoir (1942)
Experimental MacLaren Camo (1943)
MacLaren Camo (1944) Courtesy US Militaria Forum (Hzamar)
Infantry Journal (1944) featuring Exp Camo
Combat Photographer WW2
Experimental Camo (1970s)
In an effort by the Clothing Division of the Office of the Military Planning Division to financially recover part of the cost of R&D, it is plausible to imagine that rolls of obsolete experimental camouflage fabric ended up being sold to jobbers or Army/Navy surplus stores, eventually cut & sewn into tarps, hunting clothes and civvy fatigues. Obscure sample runs and seconds from the stock pile of a fabric-printing mil-specs contractor could also surface out of nowhere after liquidation…
For the Mister Freedom® Spring 2015 “Saigon Cowboy” collection, I thought of temporarily playing camoufleur. But how does one ‘invent’ a camouflage? Relieved of the overwhelming pressure of having to help save or take lives, I was still shooting for something that would look more legit than foofoo. Besides the early realization that most assignments are better left to professionals, off we were on our merry way to come up with the first ever ‘original’ MF® ‘flage! Oh boy…
As most camouflage patterns are an interpretation of a predecessor (the 1980’s Woodland is an evolution of the 1960’s ERDL leaf pattern), I felt less shame borrowing the famous amoeba shapes of the P1942 “Frog Skin” we had used for the Map Shirt of our Sea Hunt days . We opted for the same sturdy 100% cotton HBT white base fabric however, the same painstaking rotary-print technique (not computer printed or over-dyed), and the same concept of a reversible fabric.
The fun part was selecting the colors… and determining where exactly the MacLaren-inspired sparse lime green amoebas looked best.
After going back for weeeeeks to the drafting table, with color swatches and unsatisfying protos, going bananas and obsessing about visual contrasts & blends, face & reverse, we managed to settle on ONE pattern, in several options.
If our approach is an obvious nod to the Beach & Jungle sides of 40’s USMC reversible Frog Skin gear, the MF® Exp. camo combines camouflage with a simple solid side. The solid side cachou color is a reference to the caramel-like color typical of 1930’s French military canvas gear. Please note that if our fabric is technically reversible, the resulting garments are not.
For confusion sake, and to make sure everyone feels as in-the-fog as we do, here is a list of MF® Experimental ‘flage options available this season (please note that, depending on distribution in a specific Country, not all options are available). The face/reverse options are:
A) LoLand out (jungle, darker)/cachou in.
B) HiLand out (arid terrain, lighter)/cachou in.
C) Cachou out/HiLand in.
Wearing an early proto jacket of the MF® LoLand camo the other day at the Rosebowl flea market, it was quite satisfying to be asked by a puzzled seasoned militaria collector “What Country is that?”… Made my day.
The MF® Exp. camo is featured on two pieces of our “Saigon Cowboy” Spring 2015 collection.
* The Evac Jak.
* The Utes.
MF® Experimental Camouflage Spring 2015
First to hit the LZ this season is the “Evac Jak”, a snap closure cotton jacket.
For the inclined, a bit of approximative History and semantics follows. Read or fast-forward, but as always make sure not to quote me on anything that requires exactitude…
The name we picked is a reference to MEDEVAC, the call sign for helicopter ambulance and crew in charge of medical evacuation during the Vietnam conflict. For the 1st CAV who forged its own, a MEDEVAC crew consisted of an Aircraft Commander, Co-Pilot, Crew Chief, Door Gunner and a Medic. Defying the odds of survival by most likely landing in a hot zone, these men gave their lives to save others’. Statistics have it that, among the ranks of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam, “nearly 98% of those wounded in action were evacuated from the battlefield alive.“
That courage qualified the dustoff crews as a trooper’s best friend on the battlefield. For the wounded soldier, the sound of that Huey coming to the rescue was sweet & sour music, the sight of that flying Red Cross meant a ticket back ‘in the world’.
In a war that dragged over a decade, in-the-field gallantry could only be sustained by the relative reassurance of knowing someone was coming to lift you out of the muck on time. Countless accounts of courage and sacrifices from those MEDEVAC and DUSTOFF crews have been published.
Similarly, the NVA (=the communist North Vietnamese Army, China’s protégé opposing the South Vietnamese Army, aka ARVN, America’s protégé… just look it up) went through great length to carry their fallen away from the battlefield for proper burial ceremonies. Faced with fighting the most powerful Nation on Earth, NVA and VC troops needed the guarantee of a better afterlife to accomplish the impossible…
USAF pilots Bruce Holmes, Will Koenitzer, William Barthelmas (circa 1965)
Vietnam Marine Squadron (1963) Courtesy Jack Ubel
VNAF pilots and USAF instructor (1960s)
Back to our fiction…
Because a specific helo pilot-issued jacket didn’t seem to happen during the Vietnam conflict, we decided to come up with one. The style of our “Saigon Cowboy” Evac Jak is inspired by 1960’s US Air Force flight suits, 1950’s French army field jackets and Vietnam era flyboy gear, with an in country-made flair. Pilots and flight crews occasionally had custom local-made gear to replace the standard Gov’t issued garb, as period photography hints. Camouflage appealed to some airmen, should they themselves get to experience waiting for a dustoff… The one-piece flight suit also proved unpractical and some pilots, fixed wing or rotary, opted for the jacket (shirt)/pants combo.
To accentuate the local-made meets custom Saigon tailor ‘vibe’, we have ink-stamped sizing in a manner reminiscent of CISO-supplied military garments. The “US” stood for sizing following American standards, as opposed to the “A” stamp differentiating Asian standards garments. See the book “Tiger Patterns” (ISBN-10: 0764307568) for more on that.
For the anecdote-oriented few, the idea behind our MF® “mfsc Tailleur” woven label being somewhat concealed on this jacket (bottom of the inside front panel, and not in its expected back yoke position), is to highlight the contrast between name-branding and the signature of a local tailor. Oddly enough, in the past, legit tailors tended to sign their works in a conspicuous spot. Famous Brands today do it on the outside, with voluminous logos.
The Evac Jak is designed in California by Mister Freedom® and manufactured in Japan by Sugar Cane Co.
Somewhat original Mister Freedom® camo pattern, double-side rotary screen printed (one side solid, one side camo), white 100% cotton Herringbone Twill (HBT) fabric base.
Fabric milled and printed in Japan.
* Inspired by vintage USAF flight suits and French military field jackets.
* Un-lined, no overlock seams.
* ‘Bat sleeves’ arm pattern.
* Flight suit typical slanted chest pockets with mil-specs replica 1950’s US Air Force metal “CROWN” zippers.
* Large lower cargo-type pocket.
* Concealed snap front closure.
* Arm pen pockets.
* Wrist snap cinch tabs.
* Round collar with removable chin-strap
* Underarm mesh screen eyelets.
* Intricate front/rear shoulder yoke.
* Flat felled seam construction, 100% cotton thread.
* Made in Japan.
This garment comes raw/unwashed and will shrink to tagged size after an original cold soak/line dry. Further shrinkage to be expected with the use of hot water and heat dryer.
All MF® Exp. Camo fabric options will shrink the same.
If you are a Medium (38) in mfsc jackets, you are a Medium in the Evac Jak.
Please refer to sizing chart for measurements reflecting a 30mn cold soak no agitation/light machine dry.
Launder when hygiene dictates and common sense prevails.
Machine wash. Cold water, gentle cycle, eco-friendly mild detergent and line dry. We recommend turning garments inside out to avoid marbling of the fabric during the washing cycles.
Because the base HBT fabric is white before being printed, toning down of colors will naturally occur. This fading should not be considered a quest nor a defect, only the natural consequence of the wash/wear process over the years.
Available from www.misterfreedom.com, fine retailers around the World, and our dusty Los Angeles brick & mortar store.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 323-653-2014 with any questions unanswered above, like what happened to D) Cachou out/LoLand in???!
Thank you for your support
(Photo Tim Page ©1983, Bob Hope Show, Long Binh amphitheater, 1966)
Considered offensive material removed 01/08/2015
Considered offensive material removed 01/08/2015
Spring 2015 mfsc Collection
The obscure title “Saigon Cowboy” could mean many things (camera snatchers on cyclos, flamboyant pimps…) but in our case refers to a colorful Vietnam War era US military slang expression. According to several period accounts, it was a derogatory term used to describe ‘in-country’ personnel, along with freshly flown-in reporters from the eager international press, stationed away from the front line. Saigon was safer than the boonies. The real danger, ‘where the metal meets the meat‘, was beyond the tree line, in the elephant grass, in the jungle, in the rice paddies… Garrisoned in the Vietnamese southern capital, a “Saigon Cowboy” looked the part, sipped drinks at the Continental, all clad in custom-made jungle fatigues or safari gear, pockets everywhere, but never saw real combat. 1960’s military expressions like chairborne commando or garitrooper carry a similar, easier to visualize meaning.
“Vietnam War Slang” Tom Dalzell (2014) courtesy Routledge
“In The Field” Linda Reinberg (1991)
But let’s rewind a bit…
Some of you are by now familiar with how I use slices of approximative History as backdrops of the Mister Freedom® capsule collections. Trends are of no interest to me, fads not inspiring, and that market well cornered anyways.
I also have an urge, at times, to rationalize my involvement with the fashion circus by mentioning, to who chooses to hear it, issues pertaining to the garment industry and rarely addressed by fashion media thriving on advertisers.
You know my broken record: “Think more, buy less“, impact of fashion consumerism, absurdity of garment factory distressing, cost of goods vs. bargains, Country Of Origin, ethics in garment manufacturing, payola in some product-reviewing media, etc…
I do know my limits however, and stick to the occasional whining. The real task of changing things on the ground is better left handled by professionals who, hopefully, know what they’re doing: sincere volunteers, no-nonsense environmental activists, local labor laws authorities, apolitical humanitarian organizations (MSF, Red Cross, Clean Clothes Campaign…)
In mentioning serious issues, I usually strive to ‘keep it light’, PC or not. The International news feed is depressing enough. Sugar coating comes in handy as you don’t catch flies with vinegar. At the risk of aggravating mobs of righteous keyboard cowboys, I believe goofing around about grave issues tends to wake up lethargic brains, and ultimately does more good than harm.
Looks like another mission for Super Zero…
Sometime in 2013, while doing research on our “Sea Hunt” venture, I felt the need to, go figure, highlight the absurdity of war. Specifically the avoidable kind. Much of the Mister Freedom® catalog shows all the respect I have towards the Men and Women of the Armed Forces. This respect will remain unchanged, family heritage and personal views. But like most thinking adults I know, I also hate the reality of war and find the term cannon fodder physically sickening.
I wanted to talk about that duality via a clothing collection…
World War II (1939-1945, if you ask the French), a source of inspiration for designers for years, was too remote. It was in black & white, had ‘glamour’ attached to it, had celebrated heroes, and benefited from a somewhat simple ‘good guys vs. bad guys’ scenario.
Ask the person next to you about the Korean War (1950-1953) and you’ll realize that, unless you fought it, it pretty much went under the radar.
By contrast, the Vietnam War (1965-1975… officially) was a showstopper. Along with its harbinger the Guerre d’Indochine (1946-1954), both felt harder to rationalize, comprehend and legitimize as they dragged on. Whether actively involved or remotely witnessing it uncensored on live TV, everyone had an opinion about it. From the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 to the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Vietnam War (known as the American War to the Vietnamese) was to split public opinion worldwide, and still confuses people to this day.
“No event in American History is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.”, reflected Richard Nixon in 1985.
It seems there is no easy way to summarize that conflict without falling into stereotypes, or getting in trouble with either of the “1,2,3,4 WDWYFW” crowd or the “Zip it hippie” bunch.
Whichever side of the fence you stand on, high command learned to mix the following ingredients, in random order, to guarantee the perfect ‘soup sandwich’, aka ‘goat rope‘:
Cold war, defunct dynasties, obsolete colonial hierarchy, religious rivalries, SOG recon teams, Uncle Sam, Uncle Ho, Chairman “uproar in the East, strike in the West” Mao, 17th parallel, 317ème section, 1st Lady Madame “barbecue” Nhu, crooked political chess board, puppet regime, coups and counter-coups, quiet American spooks, corruption, Russian advisors in black fatigues, American advisors in black pajamas, Laos and Cambodia black ops, red scare, the Corsican mafia, Air America, Victor Charlie, the Big Red One, Peace signs, Kim Phuc, monsoons, burning monks, stringers, “Five O’Clock follies“, jungle cadres, Search & Destroy, Bob Hope, Hanoi Jane, tunnel rats, freedom birds, punji sticks, B-52’s, montagnards, green berets, bouncing bettys, go-go dancers, Jimmy Hendrix, sappers, imperialism, gallantry, ranch hands, hippies, napalm, Pax Americana, General Giap, Rolling Thunder, Martin Luther King, war groupies, draft dodgers, grafters, incompetence, attrition, Pacification, Vietnamisation, patriotism, fragging, profiteering, agent orange, purple haze, television, heroism, utter confusion, Saigon tea, bennies and Rock’n’Roll, five consecutive US Presidencies…
A winning recipe for a ten-season HBO show today, but a sure promise to not reconcile the interests of diametrically-opposed cultures back then, losing many hearts and minds in the process.
What truly went on in South East Asia during those tragic somber years relies on who lived to tell, but will mostly depend on who you ask (or read). Some will replay each battle, from Ap Bac to Khe Sanh and explain how things could have turned. But that’s not the point.
What most agree on is that the quagmire resulted in well over 3 million casualties globally. And more PTSD than medical knowledge could handle. Lucky enough to not be one of the 58,002 American casualties or that war, returning Namvets realized how ‘popular’ they were back ‘in the World’. In Vietnam, ghosts of victims are still haunting the living today, as it is believed that violent death condemns the soul to endless wanderings.
No one will ever forget, some never forgive…
Well, the topic hardly sounded like a good idea for a conversation at a Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, American, French or Chinese family dinner table. Let alone a sound choice as the backdrop for a 2015 clothing collection.
All the signs flashed Charlie Foxtrot… KEEP OUT!!! Better stay safe, focus instead on fashionable dilemmas such as length of chin straps, facial hair grooming, perfect denim washes, ultimate length for selfie sticks, etc… I did consider backtracking last year, go PC, drawing unicorns and rainbows instead of experimental camouflage.
But I was too far gone, somewhat hypnotized by what went on in Vietnam, how and why, mesmerized by the subculture it created, then and now. The thing about the past is that it did happen, right or wrong, and whether we like it or not. It seems more constructive to me to learn from it, rather than sweeping it under the rug. Studying the past might not prevent History from repeating itself, but could help anticipate what’s incoming after choosing to invade distant countries, eventually putting the old adage ‘only the dead have seen the end of war‘ to rest.
Yes. You do that.
So Nam it was, and I’ll let the US Department of Defense handle the complaints for those whose ON/OFF switch malfunctions.
I had to dig deeper. Looked up obscure-sounding acronyms, ARVN, MACV-SOG, CISO, LRRPs, PSYOP… each opening squeaky doors leading to a disturbing fairly recent past. For a well-documented background, there were the 7000 page-long “Pentagon Papers“, declassified since 2011. In order to not completely lose my mind in the R&D process, I passed. I limited my research to countless radio show podcasts, period photos, recorded interviews, books such as Neil Sheehan “A Bright Shining Lie” (1988), Tim O’Brien “The Things They Carry” (1990), and Michael Herr cultish “Dispatches” (1977) to name a few. Several film documentaries also helped me get a perspective, and provided plenty material for insomnia and confusion. Some were just pure chronological footage, some took different perspectives. “Sir No Sir” (2005), “FTA” (1972), “In The Year of the Pig” (1968), “La Section Anderson” (1966), “Vietnam’s Unseen War – Pictures from the Other Side” (2002), “The Quiet Mutiny” (1970), “Hearts and Minds” (1974),… all the way to the recent “Unclaimed” (2013). Besides the famous usual suspects, I kind of avoided Hollywood on this one, although I did take a break with, beware, joke in-coming, “Tropic Thunder”.
It quickly became clear to me after a few pages of Tim Page or Larry Burrows photography books that the Vietnam war was no John Wayne’s “Green Berets” borderline-glamorous depiction. Interestingly, vets accounts have even blamed that movie for getting grunts shot in Vietnam. Eager boots in starched fatigues dropped ‘in country’ would go Hollywood-style gung-ho at times, flak jacket off, especially when an AP camera was filming… But there was just no take two with live rounds, sorry ’bout that.
I realized I was just making civvy clothes here, not Kurtz’ wardrobe, no GI gear replicas either. The essence of the period, place and events felt complicated to interpret into wearable pieces. The gruesome reality of that war didn’t help, so I had to go somewhat of the “M*A*S*H” route rather than the “Hamburger Hill” end of the spectrum. To put the collection together, I opted for gallows humor and its risks, crude 1960’s war slang lexicon, high doses of fiction and lots of imagination, as I was never there…
Magically, the concept appeared all summed up in this quote from Michael Herr, seasoned war correspondent for Esquire Magazine in Vietnam (1967-1969) depicting a newbie reporter eager for some in-country scoops:
“... he was dressed in one of those jungle-hell leisure suits that the tailors on Tu Do were getting rich cranking out, with enough flaps and slots and cargo pockets to carry supplies for a squad…“
War corespondants Michael Herr (left) and Sean Flynn (circa 1968)
Michael Herr (right) was NOT talking about Larry Burrows (left) in that quote.
Dispatches Michael Herr (1977)
This Mister Freedom® “Saigon Cowboy” capsule collection is not a mere fashion statement. It is not intended to be controversial for the sake of it. It is not shocking for the show. It is not an attempt at offending war veterans, communities, the People of Vietnam or any nationals of countries involved or affected by that conflict. It is not meant to revive bygone or dormant animosities, nor to create new ones. It is not made to raise eyebrows but rather open a few eyes. The historical backdrop of the Vietnam war is used as the premise for an individual reflection about the absurdity of war and the age-old well-documented duality of Man.
When released, around April 2015, each piece of the collection will come with a ‘manual’, ie. a brief introduction post with a few links to click on, for those who have the patience.
Our “Saigon Cowboy” experience will be out of the comfort zone for some. But if it plants just one thought-provoking seed out there, then the risk was worth taking.
There it is.
Peace, get some.
Mercedes-Benz or Peace sign? Photo courtesy Rich “Jonesy” Jones 1969-70