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Jeff Griffin, 51, is a British fashion designer, alternative farmer and collector of all things camouflaged. He studied at the prestigious Central Saint Martins College in London, worked for Valentino and Gianfranco Ferré in Milan, once shared an apartment with the late fashion genius Alexander McQueen, and in 1996 founded the Griffin label with his wife Karina in London. At the same time, he started designing for global brands such as Boss and Kenzo. Eight years ago, he and his wife moved to Loveland Farm on the North Devon coast in south-west England, with their three sons (lovelandfarmcamping.co.uk). Here he runs a small eco retreat, keeping pigs and water buffalo, and his own design studio. He is currently working on collections for the likes of Converse, Woolrich, Diesel and Element. His hallmark pattern in every collection? Camouflage. Griffin collects vintage military clothing, and his signature style is military wear.

 

Jeff Griffin in his Loveland Farm in the south west of England

 

What do you find so fascinating about the camouflage pattern?

It looks cool, tells stories and like us, is a product of nature. You can play with it, break up lines, enlarge the patterns and create structures with it. To me it’s art.

You use camouflage patterns to create clothing that is fashionable, in other words which is designed to stand out, to get noticed. Why is a camouflage design so good at doing that?

Because it’s a statement. The artist duo Gilbert & George once wore suits with a camouflage pattern and it caused quite a stir because it looked so incongruous. It needs a subversive element to stop it looking too military. On our farm we have a military tent with a pink heart on it; I like contradictions like that. I love the military style and I love peace, and the two really do go together. The pattern tells the story, and you then use design ideas to make it stylistically interesting. Years ago I was a punk rocker and I wanted to shake up the establishment with my outfits. In conventional fashion, camouflage is still a bit punk rock.

Your father worked at the British Ministry of Defence and for several years your family was stationed in Germany. That sounds like early childhood impression rather than rebellion.

Perhaps, but as a teenager I was very anti and never comfortable in the presence of the military. It’s a love-hate relationship. These days I even design for a special forces elite unite. I wasn’t too keen on the idea at first, but they aren’t your run-of-the-mill soldiers, they’re more like athletes; one of them is a former pro footballer. These people push their bodies to the limit. I myself have run an ultramarathon and make high-performance sports- and outer wear. Our stuff is put through its paces by the boys at the North Pole and on parachute jumps. That makes life more interesting.

Do you get bored otherwise?

Yes, very quickly. That’s why I need stories. I buy a lot of old stuff at military markets. My archive contains at least 1,000 pieces from the First World War to today, including an old combat diving suit, a shark-proof life jacket for pilots, a parachute, and countless vintage tunics and trousers. Each of these items does something, protects. These original military items act like a springboard for new ideas. For example, I’m currently working on the parachute for a collection. Recycling materials is very important to me; we are environmentally friendly here.

Pieces of Griffin’s camouflage collection

 

The designer on his love for camouflage.

 

You always have the fabrics for your collections made in the factories that originally produced the military fabrics. Why?

I like to know where things come from. Authenticity is important to me, and details. I love originals. If the textile factory no longer exists, I have to get creative. I’ve even come up with patterns inspired by vintage pieces. For me, camouflage is not a trend, it’s my brand’s DNA, a signature.

A signature used by a lot of others. Camouflage has been a big trend in fashion for years!

Of course; everyone wants to look cool. But with me you get the original aspect too. For example, we work with a Belgian spinning mill that was operating during the First World War. They are currently manufacturing a camouflage pattern for me. I love that kind of thing. That was also where the dazzle pattern was developed. It looks nothing like camouflage but was used effectively to camouflage ships. It’s a Cubist invention. It breaks up lines and as a result it’s deceptive to the eye. It made it impossible to tell where the middle of the ship was. These days, people like to mix and match different colours to create an optical sense of movement. 

In fashion, camouflage first cropped up in the Vietnam protest movement, and later punks used it to decry middle class society. Since Andy Warhol brought it into popular culture, it has mostly been used in design apolitically. But isn’t camouflage cool partly because it’s historical?

Before, at the height of the IRA campaign or the Vietnam War, camouflage was hard to get hold of. That has changed now of course. That’s why it’s not as provocative as it once was, but when you add a bit of colour to it you soon get noticed. It has lost its political overtones and taken on more of an adventure feel.

Adventure for both men and women?

Yes, it works for both, even though originally it was more masculine because of its military associations. I do a lot of work for men’s fashion labels. If they are after a print, I can be sure of one thing: camouflage will always go down well; it appeals to men. Of course, what I do then in my collections is push it to the limit of what is possible. I’m fanatical when it comes to the pattern!

Is that it?

No. Everything I do, I do with a passion. Whether it’s the vegetables I grow, the livestock I farm or the food I cook. And now I have to go and prune my roses. I’m already three weeks late!

 

Edited by Bianca Lang, May 2018

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