From Helmut Lang to Maharishi, we take a closer look at the inspirations driving tactical fashion into the mainstream and its impact on modern clothing trends.
Season on season, the fashion world has been obsessed with everything tactical, from high-tech trainers and military cross-body bags to strappy bomber jackets and even the recent resurgence of cargo pants. The collection transcends generations; provoking utilitarian trends and fresh ideas which shouldn’t work in the mainstream where colourful apparel is king, yet somehow continues to thrive unrivalled.
The best examples of this expression arrive from brands which strike a distinctive vibe, such as C.P. company and its Goggle Lens Vest Jacket; offering coordinated pockets to the chest and built around a solid soft shell fabrication for exceptional fit, comfort and battlefield styling. Jackets like this, selling as quickly as they are stocked, is practical and a great layering piece.
Other iconic pieces on the market today are more robust in their design, such as the Black Holster Bag by Maharishi. Equipped with up to four multi-functional zippered pockets and featuring adjustable shoulder straps, the bag imbues a distinctive military aesthetic.
The rise of this luxe-tactical buzz is cresting the wave of fevered conversation surrounding street violence and the presence of guns looms large in modern society. Fashion has never been shy about highlighting the very real social or ethical fears in our lives, and tactical apparel provides us with the opportunity to live out this surrealist fantasy in relative safety, albeit while reminding us of a stark reality which lies mere feet from our own front doors.
However, crediting headline news reports for tactical fashion’s irresistible rise is not quite accurate. It has, in fact, been around much longer than that.
Coined by one of the world’s foremost fashion designers, Helmut Lang, whose utilitarian minimalism in the late 1990s drove a stake through the heart of what was deemed fashionable at that time, it was here that military-esque wearables first hit the shelves, and the collections sold in droves.
Founded in 1986 by its eponymous Austrian designer, Helmut Lang has originated nearly every notable streetwear trend in contemporary fashion. Whether it’s luxury bomber jackets, zippers and straps as design motifs, or ergonomic biker pants, most if not all can be traced back to Lang and his uncanny ability to elevate ready-to-wear clothing into something that feels avant-garde. In 1997 and 1998, collections that featured paint-splattered jeans, mesh tank tops and ballistic-styled vests that Vogue described as “modern armour” put Helmut Lang collections on the map and showed that utility could be reinterpreted as something beautiful.
For some, catching a glimpse of a person walking down the street clad in a bullet-proof vest, military harness and a pair of sleek Replica trainers by Maison Margiela might cause tenseness in the chest or a feeling of sudden dread brought on by the news being abundant with stories of maniacs wearing similar garbs to terrorise innocent people. But there is another side to this fashion statement, a side which is overlooked in favour of juggling negative connotations rather than listening to divisive opinion. Perhaps some people wear these pieces, not in pride of what they represent, but in a way to abstain from it and turn what could be perceived as bad apparel into something positive. Something to be loved. The message seems to be that “This is our glamorous modern armour in a society where bullets seem to fly freely.” Whatever the impetus, dressing in luxe-tactical gear stretches the limits of what we perceive as stylish and, in tandem, romanticises an aesthetic that some would probably rather steer away from.