This year, Alpha Industries celebrates its 60th Anniversary. As part of our celebration, we’re looking to those who wear Alpha Industries with pride, ensuring we’re not just part of their wardrobe, but part of their identity. These people are our Everyday Heroes and we’re excited to share their stories. Today we hear from Fashion and Culture writer Rosie Higham-Stainton. A recurring contributor to publications such as Dazed Digital, LOVE magazine, and SSENSE, Rosie writes about the history and culture of fashion and art, and how aesthetic style changes with social movements.
How is military outerwear influencing fashion today?
Rosie- “Military outerwear is so much about function and survival, which seems apt for right now: we’re facing environmental uncertainty while technology is enabling us to ‘do more’ with our minds and bodies in our daily lives. Fashion always responds in some way to this kind of social shift in order to stay fresh and relevant, so now it's about high function and survival even in the luxury and fashion markets. Take the bomber jacket: since its birth in the forties, it has been altered, remade and updated to reflect the needs of its wearer. Small alterations to the shape, size and weight of it were made during its military life, but it has retained other aspects – the functional pocket details and weatherproof nylon finish. It is this sense of adaptability and durability that makes military outerwear so appealing and has led to its deconstruction and reconstruction by the likes of Helmut Lang in the 90s, and its reinvention in oversized proportions by Vetements in 2017. Martine Rose’s AW15 inside-out Bomber Jacket featured the original orange lining for visibility in emergencies but placed it on the outside. This attention to detail has really trickled down into fashion – how can a pocket or fastening become a design feature.”
Why do you think military fashion stays always in style?
Rosie- “Military fashion seems sort of timeless. It has long been the backbone of menswear and has endured the fashion world flux because of our nostalgia for certain garments that remind us of the past: of the flying jacket our grandfather wore in the air force, or the parka jacket donned by our favourite Britpop band front man. These pieces are ever present in our subconscious, and in this way, have become ‘classics’, reinvented by fashion, yes, but through the prism of the familiar so that they speak to us on a deeper level.
Military will also continue to be cool because of its affiliation with counterculture. From the Mods of the 60s to the dub loving skinheads of 80s Britain, dressing in military was a complex social signifier, a two fingers up at the establishment. Its implied rebellion, edginess. It was a statement, and fashion loves a statement.”
Why do you think heritage military apparel is so attractive to fashion today?
Rosie- “In a throwaway culture, trust in brands in super important. People want to buy from someone who specializes in a thing and does it well – think of Burberry’s classic trench, an officer’s raincoat popularized by Humphrey Bogart in the 40s – this is still a popular and practical option and can be re-imagined through the creative lens of Riccardo Tisci. That is why you see such a resurgence in worker wear and military apparel – our busy lives are demanding on our time and our bodies, so durability and longevity have become crucial and fashion brands have cottoned on to this.
Hand in hand with this, is fashion’s investment in technology. Military apparel manufacturers have always invested in technology to optimize fabric and design and fashion sees the creative potential in technology, which makes it an appealing union and by taking a classic design that works leaves so much room for experimentation.”
When do you think military apparel started to be appreciated or accepted as fashion pieces?
Rosie- “Military apparel has been bound up with fashion for as long as wars have existed – both are about ceremony and pride in appearance, in the same way that someone takes pride in their nation. But military apparel was consciously adapted for fashion as early as the 15th century, when during the Thirty Year War, the Parisian people adopted the neck scarves worn by the Croatian mercenaries and called them 'La Croate' and later ‘La cravate’ and this was the forerunner to the tie. Military fashion really came to the fore, though, during the French Revolution of the 18th century when showmanship was everything and this trickled down through society. After a hiatus during the post-war period, the 60s and 70s saw military apparel made fashionable and reach the mainstream thanks to the likes of the Beatles, who sported admiral jackets with military frogging, and Hendrix who donned a Hussars. Later, napoleonic jackets became synonymous with Vivienne Westwood, and Jean Paul Gaultier and designers continue to riff on military cuts.”
What was Alpha’s role in turning military outerwear into fashion pieces?
Rosie- “Alpha, in Knoxville, went from military clothing manufacturer to commercial producer of the MA-1, bringing the military-use outwear to the general public, who sought its warmth and durability. In doing so, Alpha instilled the idea that military outerwear could be for the people. And so, the bomber jacket, along with the parka and flying jacket, has become a design classic and reshaped into something beautiful and exclusive through fashion, by Raf Simmons, Vetements and many more. Alpha was one of the early brands to work with Parisian design house Vetements, whose disruptive and anarchistic take on fashion reignited the bomber jacket’s early associations with subculture, and has continued to collaborate with cool brands, whose design philosophy aligns with theirs.
Menswear today is nearly all taken from military designs – proof that Alpha’s influence and legacy in shaping a product’s transition from military to fashion lives on”