Milan Fashion Week: Woolrich Woolen Mills goes on a psychedelic safari

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The starting point for Mark McNairy’s sophomore collection with Woolrich Woolen Mills was a favorite childhood TV show, and the ending point was Ernest Hemingway tripping out on the African sveldt.

‘I used to watch this show called ‘The Rat Patrol’ that was on in the late ‘60s,’ McNairy explained. ‘It had three American soldiers and one British soldier driving around the desert wearing these crazy ascots and helmets.’ (‘The Rat Patrol’ live-action TV series, which ran from 1967 to 1969, also spawned a short-lived 1967 comic book by the same name.)

By the time McNairy’s inspiration was grafted to the Woolrich Woolen Mills rootstock, it had morphed into something more akin to a psychedelic safari.

‘I imagined what it would have been like if Hemingway had gone safari in 1974 instead of 1954,’ McNairy said.

The result is a couple of batik-meets-African-kente-cloth designs with pops of vivid yellow that appears on neckties, scarves, and camp shirts. Also in the collection: khaki safari jackets, trousers, shorts and shirts, camouflage espadrilles, woven pith helmets and an odd hybrid of a lightweight hat that combines the cloth brim of a bucket hat with a domed crown of trucker hat mesh. The resulting ‘trucket’ looked a bit like an athletic version of a bowler. (McNairy said it’s a replication of a hat he found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena.)

If that’s not Sid and Marty Krofft enough for you, there were also some seriously ‘70s-style screen-printed T-shirts in the collection. (Think hyenas -- in silhouette -- fighting over a piece of meat, or gazelles locking horns.)

My favorite piece -- and mind you this is coming from a guy who ends up at the European runway shows wearing a highly functional but hardly stylish Magellan travel vest -- was the multiple-pocket utility vests, McNairy’s update of an L.L. Bean photographer’s vest, in cotton twill with a tripod holder on the back of the vest replaced by a drawstring-closure pocket big enough to store an iPad or laptop with room to spare.

McNairy’s quirky take might not be everyone’s cup of peyote tea, but I, for one, can’t wait to see where his trip takes me next.

-- Adam Tschorn, reporting from Milan


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