Aircraft camouflage on the catwalk
For a fresh look at aircraft camouflage schemes, Hush-Kit got in touch with colour expert and accessories designer Fred Butler. Famed for her love and understanding of the relationships between strong colours, her accessories have been worn by the great and the good, including Lady Gaga.
Fred will be accompanied on her mission by Thomas Newdick. Thomas has almost twenty years of experience in aviation journalism, and is one of the UK’s leading experts on Soviet & Russian aircraft. Today, he is the Assistant Editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly.
- Mikoyan MiG-29A Slovakian air force (Vzdušné sily Slovenskej republiky) in digital camouflage twinned with Preen’s pastel prints
Fred says: “Preen’s digitised geometric square pastel prints came from an extreme close-up of a vase of peonies and lace in reference to looking at Virginia Wolfe and her lifestyle with the Bloomsbury set: ‘We loved various aspects from that period but felt to replicate them would be too retro, so we tried to take it to a new level by computerising everything. We took the lace from that period and digitised it so it became very geometric and black and white, almost to the point where it didn’t feel like lace any more.’ ”
Thomas says: “Part of a recent trend for digital camouflage patterns that also extends to uniforms and land systems, the Slovakian scheme was once intended to adorn the entire fleet of these Soviet-built fighters. Known as Cloudcam, it was applied two single-seat MiG-29s (serials 0619 and 0921) as part of their part of the modernisation in 2008. The scheme was devised by HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. of Canada. This scheme is a follow-on to the company’s Digital Thunder scheme previously painted on serial 0921. The use of Blue, Medium Gray and Light Blue Gray is intended to conceal the aircraft against the ground, sea, overcast and blue sky.”
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2. Prototype Sukhoi Su-32FN with bright ‘pop’ colour camo twinned with the Dior bag with camo print by Berlin artist Anselm Reyle.
Fred says: “The Parisian House gave free reign to Berlin fine artist Anselm Reyle to shake up the codes of Couture, with his signature style inspired by the agitprop of eighties punk graphics. His prints for accessories reworked camo in bright, saturated hues & fluorescent colour ways. or as he puts it ‘I am interested in irritating the viewer’s eye’. ”
Thomas says: “The three-tone camouflage scheme worn by this prototype Su-32FN maritime strike aircraft was likely intended to provide the aircraft with improved concealment over water, or at least in a littoral environment. The pattern is classic ‘Flanker’, but differs in its use of a deeper shade of blue and a blue-green color. Interestingly, the first Su-34s delivered to the Russian Air Force retained a very similar (if not the same) scheme, although this now seems to have given way to an unusual dark grey over pale blue scheme, presumably better adapted for use over land, or perhaps more suited to nocturnal operations.”
3. Sukhoi Su-35BM in splinter camouflage twinned with PRINGLE S/S 2012 designed by Alistair Carr
Fred says: “Geometric design knitted in the PRINGLE S/S 2012 designed by Alistair Carr; Carr’s first collection designing for the British heritage brand updated their traditional argyle and jacquard patterns, playing on the function of knit as a brilliant tool for colour, texture, and pattern. The opening look of the show was this gray crewneck sweater with multi-coloured intarsia bands based on the patterned upholstery of London Underground tube seating.”
Thomas says: “For some time now, Sukhoi has been applying splinter camouflage schemes as an alternative to the more traditional patterns. In particular, they have been associated with advanced single-seat Su-35 fighters (including the latest Su-35BM model, as seen here). As well as two-tone blue/grey air defence schemes and a sand/brown/green ‘desert’ pattern, the latest offering is this, employing three shades of grey, and with the pattern extending to the undersides of the aircraft. Although it has yet to appear on in-service aircraft, this latest scheme has already been aped by the US Navy Aggressors of VFC-12 ‘Fighting Omars’ (adapted to the F/A-18). A similar (albeit somewhat less complex) scheme has also been used for Sukhoi’s next-generation T-50 fighter project. Up to now, however, the Russian Air Force has proven resistant to adopting the splinter scheme, with refurbished ‘Flankers’ instead receiving new variations on the traditional ‘wavy’ scheme.”
4. Sukhoi Su-30MKM twinned with Aqua colour camo print like Tommy Hilfiger S/S 2012
Fred says: “Hilfiger’s collections are always preppy, but this season he made preppy more modern, inspired by contemporary art. He chose the artists he collects himself and focused on Andy Warhol and Basquiat for this Warholesque camo print. He applied the pattern onto jackets and shorts in a red/purple/pink mix and a cropped jacket and sweater in blues and blacks seen here.”
Thomas says: “Classic camo print like Kenzo S/S 2010. Similar to the scheme above in terms of palette, this pattern substitutes a complex wavy pattern for the splinter scheme. Interestingly, the aircraft in question is a prototype Su-30MKM (previously a prototype Su-30MKI), a type developed for use by Malaysia (and India, in the case of the MKI). However, the Royal Malaysian Air Force operates the aircraft in a subdued overall dark grey scheme, while India also uses an overall grey scheme, although somewhat lighter. Clearly, the three-tone scheme is more eye-catching and therefore better suited for marketing purposes and air displays.”
5. Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7/Trop twinned with Givenchy S/S 2011 jacket.
Fred says: “It’s the Couture shows this week, but back in 2007 the newly appointed designer at Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci made top-to-toe looks in dégradé cheetah check pattern. The way the dot print fades into the sand camel section really looks like this plane’s paintwork- like the body of a leopard print gecko.”
At this point Hush-Kit wheeled in another expert, Ed Ward. Ed is an aviation illustrator and has studied the history of aircraft for over twenty five years. He has given up smoking and plays the ukulele.
Ed says: “Any study of warplane camouflage is likely to feature the aircraft of the Luftwaffe’s Jagdgeschwader 27 in the Western Desert. Flown by Franz Elles, this Messerschmitt Bf 109E-7/Trop of 8./JG 27 was active in North Africa in summer 1941. Naturally, flying over the Mediterranean makes a mockery of this ingenious camouflage pattern, consisting of RLM 79 Sandgelb over RLM 78 Lichtblau, with patches of RLM 80 Olivgrün. The result provided a near-perfect match to the desert scrub encountered in North Africa.”
6. Northrop P-61 Black Widow twinned with Black patent sheen with spherical form like Giles PacMan Headwear by Stephen Jones from S/S 2009
Fred says: “Black patent sheen with spherical form like Giles Pac-Man Headwear from S/S 2009. To accessorise this 80’s theme collection Giles worked with milliner Stephen Jones on enormous Pac-Man metal helmets to complete a sci-fi sadomasochism scheme.
‘I was just looking at the graphic designers of the late eighties and early nineties who I grew up admiring: Ben Kelly, Peter Saville, Mark Farrow. Pet Shop Boys videos, The Hacienda club. What they did was ridiculously simple but incredibly graphic.’ Pac-Man dates from the same era”
Ed says: “A gloss finish replaced the matt black paint originally applied to the Northrop P-61 after it was discovered that gloss black rendered the aircraft less visible in a searchlight beam.”
8. The SK-37 Viggen is twinned with Pattern like Jeremy Scott x Adidas Originals A/W 2011 camouflage sneakers………. with wings!
Fred says: “These military-inspired high top basketball JS Wings sneakers for the Adidas Originals by Original line, have dark woodland camo print and lined inside with a “Aviation” orange inner. He has added to his signature wing motif with the finishing touch of a dog tag including all his own essential information and even his blood type B+ !”
Ed says: “The splinter scheme applied to the Saab Viggen is a remarkable instance of camouflage standardisation. It had been used since the mid 1970s for aircraft, vehicles and ships. In scaled-down form the same pattern is used for Swedish field uniforms.”
As we have seen, fashion is quick to jump on the stylings of the military’s disruptive camouflage patterns. Today, the latest digital schemes are echoed in the work of many fashion designers. Sadly, it appears that the golden era of aircraft camouflage, with bold contrasting colours may be over. But, as the fighters of the world become a washed-out tribute to the colour grey, with low-visibility markings, the fashion world is far from finished with what was described in the 1910’s as ‘the razzle-dazzle of camouflage’.
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Have a look at 10 worst British military aircraft, Su-35 versus Typhoon, 10 Best fighters of World War II , top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humorous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes or the Ten most boring aircraft. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians.
See Fred Butler’s work here.
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Wow – fashion and aircraft camouflage schemes, whatever next Iris Van Herpen designing 3D printed LPT blades for General Electric?
Swedish splinter cammo has many other names beginning with ‘F’, mostly awarded by model makers who’ve been trying to mask it for spraying on a 1/72nd scale model….