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Parsons the New School for Design: Innovation Final Group Project Spring 2014


Today, the words “innovation” and “technology” often go hand in hand. But can we understand a fashion trend - the camouflage print - as just as ground-breaking?


• Connecting subcultural systems in one legacy map. • Applying concepts from Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations.

The assignment challenged us to pick an innovation and define its significance from a historical standpoint - in short, tell its story. This meant including a rich cast of characters - its early adopters - and plotline - how its meaning and use have transformed over time. Final deliverables included a dossier and a visual legacy map.


Crypsis and mimesis. NATURAL SELECTION.


Gestalt, optics, cognition. BIOMIMICRY.

New Users

From military and hunters to musicians and artists. REINVENTORS.

New Uses

From concealment to brazen self-expression. REINVENTION.

In the System

Interplay between subcultures. DIFFUSION: SUSTAINED.

In Fashion

Commerce v. art form. DIFFUSION: WIDESPREAD.

Fashion - Less about dress, more as meaning maker. Reveals what’s happening.

Culture - As a system that changes over time. The ongoing rapport between subcultural groups and the innovations that result.

This was NOT just about the business of fashion.

It required seeing it besides as a form of consumption. Fashion as a social process. Fashion as how we activley negotiate social boundaries.

To tell the full story of camouflage, its Origins were categorized into its two broadest user genres: Animals and Humans. By starting with its birthplace - in nature - I can better revealhow camo’s next group of adopters - people - reinvented it over time.

According to author Jude Stewart, camouflage as a print “arose from a perfect intellectual storm in the early 20th century, drawing on theories of natural selection, Gestalt psychology, optics and cognition.”8 But of course, before the concept was adopted by human beings, it already had a long history of being used by Animals.

Camo Originators

The three main methods of camouflage: crypsis, or blending in with one’s surroundings; mimesis, defined as making an object look like something else; and motion dazzle, which employs bold patterns to allow an object to be difficult to perceive when it is moving.

Camo as a Print

Adopting the concept of perceptual gameplay from the natural world - how humans have borrowed the idea of patterned disorder.

Who were the next “camo participants”? Humans - with earliest patrons including a group of WWI French artists, dubbed “camoufleurs”, who replaced the brightly colored uniforms of soldiers with less conspicuous designs in duller palates. Already, we can see the overlaps between subcultural systems - in this case, that of science and art.

The Military

The use of the print by the military was an innovation of its own - it gave birth to the term “military camouflage�. The canvas: Army uniforms and equipment. Use value: Invisibility and stealth.


Famous artists like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso turned to the print for creative stimulus, and their colorful results continue to inspire others. The canvas: Anything, everything. Use value: Aesthetic marvels.

The story of camouflage’s Evolution extends well beyond the fashion world - in terms of its New Uses (concealment v. self-expression), its canvas (people v. things), and its mode of production (hand-made v. computer generated). At the heart of all these variations, of course, are the New Users who developed them.

It’s important to note that the subcultural groups who’ve shaped and been shaped by the innovation are not limited to the five categories of New Users discussed to the right.

The Reinventors

From student protesters and musicians, to zoologists and huntsmen - an exploration of the main camo culture participants outside of fashion.

The Reinventions

From pure visual enthrallment and commercial paraphernalia, to combat subterfuge and pop culture - past and present cultural proof of the print’s universal appeal.

Given camo’s persistent use by the aforementioned subcultures, who knows what New Uses groups it has not yet touched will come up with..?

Performance Art

In his renowned 2008 “Hiding in the City” series, inventive artist Liu Bolin brings the camo concept to the concrete jungle.

Nautical Optics

Mariam Bantjes’ stunning “Laser Sailboat” for Wallpaper Magazine’s 2010 Salon del Mobile exhibition.

By confirming the diffusion principles theorized by Everett Rogers9, the camouflage print can serve as a basic framework for understanding innovations in general. Its Implications, both In the System and In Fashion, can therefore be utilized by researchers and change agencies.

To portray how the innovation works In the System, three main subsystem timelines were framed side-by-side in a single legacy map. The central one focuses on its evolution in the fashion industry; the top dives into its transformation in the military world; and finally, the bottom line investigates how its been harnessed by other cultural stakeholders.

The Legacy Map

Taking this treble-line approach to mapping the pattern’s story illuminates how its reinventive quality is a key reason behind its rapid rate of diffusion. Viewers can also easily see how it, as a fashion innovation, influences and is influenced by the outer world.

Now: A Wardrobe Necessity

Unleased from localite channels, the print has undeniably reached the mass consumer. Through camo-covered pieces, anyone can emulate a favorite celebrity, participate in fashion-fowardness, and become reinventors themselves.

What emerged as a life-saving strategy for militia squadrons has since conquered the mass consumer marketplace. Seen on products ranging from prom dresses, childrenswear, sunglasses, etc., the camouflageprint is also a regular feature In Fashion trend reports from various publications.

How Fashion Made the Print Its Own

No longer limited to mottled mosaics of olive, forest greens, and muddy browns, nor simple textiles - the print gets a much needed rejuvenation from fashion’s elite.

Camo Immortal  

"Camo Immortal." Process. Date completed: Spring 2014. Brief: Innovation - Final Group Project. Summary of the project - the process behind...

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