fashion book review

Khaki: Cut From the Original Cloth Preface by Sir Elton John Essay by Richard Martin Edited by David Fahey Tondo, New Mexico; 1999; 155 pages. Price: $50.00 ($35.00 on Amazon.com)

"In the hot, oppressive climate of Punjab, India, British Lieutenant Henry Lumsden traded in his red felt uniform for his cool and comfortable 100% cotton pajamas which, on the advice of the Punjabi natives, he dyed using a tawny-colored plant extract called mazari. This made the P.J.'s a khaki color which helped him blend in with the dust-colored sands of India. From that day on, Henry Lumsden was known as the inventor of khakis." -- From Khaki: Cut From the Original Cloth.

Reviewed by Damion Matthews

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The Rise and Fall of the House of Barneys: A Family Tale of Chutzpah, Glory and Greed. By Joshua Levine.
Fashion Algebra by Anna Piaggi
The Designing Life

Donna Karan NewYork
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DV by Diane Vreeland
Hollywood Dressed and Undressed
Fashion: An Introduction." By Joanne Finkelstein. and
Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture,
Edited by Dr. Valerie Steele.

Copyrightę 2000 The Look On-Line
A New York Fashion Industry E-Zine

People who wear khaki pants are the coolest people in the world! That's the conclusion I reached as I perused Khaki: Cut From the Original Cloth, a new book featuring photographs of prominent people in the ubiquitous cotton pant.

In a book such as this, the selection of photographs is the most important thing, and the selection here is excellent. Though I had a million things going on when I noticed this book in the day's mail, I put them all on hold so I could flip through it. I was so captivated by the beautiful cover image of Dirk Bogarde that I simply had to see what was inside. It's hard to imagine that there could be a greater advertisement for khakis than the photo of Bogarde in his, but this book does offer several possibilities.

We see, for instance, the Hepburn women in khakis; Audrey, in her shorts, looking fresh and perky, Katharine, in her pants, appearing smart and sophisticated. Katharine Hepburn, the queen of khaki, demonstrates that one can be as chic in cotton pants as in a designer suit. Well, at least she was. I don't know about you.

We see Amelia Earhart, looking positively angelic as she stands near an airplane, wearing her khakis with a leather jacket, white shirt and tie. Like Bogarde, her pants are pristinely fitted. What style. And such a charming photograph too, it lightens one's heart to see it.

We see Kim Novak tearing the shirt off William Holden, leaving just his khaki pants to cover him. It doesn't look like they will stay on for long, which is good since they're wrinkled and fit poorly. Holden was no Dirk Bogarde, but again, the photo does show the versatility of khaki. It's a garment that can be worn with refinement by a cultured man, or with rugged indifference by a boor.

We see three photos of Clark Gable, the first taken when he was young, thin and pretty, the last two when he was old, beefy and haggard. I think he looks ridiculous in all of them but I've never really liked him anyway. Not even the khaki can save him, I'm afraid.

There are several photos of writers and painters wearing khakis. I guess the point is to convey that intellectuals wear them too, but I'm unimpressed as they tend to look rather dull. I am amused by the photo of Andy Warhol, looking sick and ill-at-ease on a boat in Massachusetts. Now there's someone who shouldn't have worn khaki pants! Is he nauseous because he's on a boat or because he looks so funny? Picasso, on the other hand, is also shown near the sea, but he looks quite comfortable in his khakis.

An odd fact about book is that it contains several photos of the Kennedy's, but none of John F. Kennedy, Jr. If you're talking about the Kennedy's, how can you not include him? Did he not wear khakis? If that Adonis, that fine prince, that god among men didn't wear them then maybe they're not so cool after all.

The final image in the book is one of Bert Stern's photographs featuring him and Marilyn Monroe. It's Stern who wears the pants in this picture. We can't see what Marilyn is wearing, but she appears to be nude. What's the message, then, wear khaki or nothing at all?

In addition to the 110 photographs, Khaki: Cut From the Original Cloth contains a short essay by Richard Martin. That he was able to produce a three-page appreciation of pants surely entitles him to some special recognition from the CFDA, if not the Noble prize in literature. I found his piece a pleasure to read and was fascinated by his juxtaposition of the khaki pant and the denim jean. He does get a tad silly near the end, however, where he asserts that "khakis intrigue us in their Macbethean complexity and conundrum". Not even I would go so far as to compare a pair of pants to one of the great achievements of Western literature, but I guess Martin just loves khakis so darned much he lost his head for a moment.

This is a nice book and would make a great gift for someone who thinks the world begins and ends with Levi Strauss. Proceeds from the sale of Khaki go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which is ironic since Elton John is hardly a khaki-kinda-guy. Maybe this book will bring about a kinder, gentler, less purple-suited Elton John. If so, then khakis really do posses the powers of a Macbeth, and I owe Richard Martin an apology.

This book can be purchased online from Amazon.com through the Look On- Line's fashion bookstore. Click here to order
"Khaki: Cut From the Original Cloth"

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