We are starting a series of fur classics and the first is the parka. That it's  versatile was demonstrated last week at Christian Dior, when Raf Simons sent pretty summer parkas in bold stripes down the runway for Spring/Summer 2016. They bear little resemblance to the original 'parka', a hooded fur garment that reaches to the thighs or knees and goes back to time immemorial (earliest representation c. 500 AD,) but the first mention of this 'Nenet' word, meaning 'animal skin' was in 1625, recorded in writing by one Samuel Purchas.

'Reinvention' is the name of the game in fashion. Classic clothes are a finite resource and they undergo many transitions.  The 'parka' is traditionally worn and made by the indigenous Inuit ('the people') of the Arctic coast of America, from Greenland to Alaska, and made from caribou (called reindeer by the Lapps and indigenous Siberians) and adult seal, the hood trimmed with an aureole of fur. In the twentieth century, it became a cult item.

There was a fascination with indigenous dress that really blossomed in the early twentieth century, aided by the camera. When Arctic and Antarctic explorers Scott and Amundsen were photographed setting off on their expeditions they wore the local parkas: an inner and outer jacket, put on over the head, with a hood and furred collar. Chronicler of Native Americans, Edward S. Curtis, photographed the Inuit peoples. Volume II of 'The Living Races of Mankind' (1902) shows the peoples of Prince Edward Island and beyond; boys and girls at school in unisex parkas.

In 1922, a documentary about an Inuit family,  Nanook of the North, gave the parka international publicity. It was cannily sponsored by the leading skin merchant and furrier Revillon Freres, but it went beyond merely promoting the fur trade; that was a side issue. Captivating, engaging, mostly unstaged, it brought an awareness of 'Eskimos' into mass culture. 'The Eskimos dress entirely in skins,' says Encyclopedia Brittanica in a long essay, 1926.

The jacket caught the imagination and it became a garment specifically for men, macho, practical, its roots in the language and practicalities of hunting dress. In the 1950s the American army developed a green flight silk nylon version with Dupont, the N-3B, padded with warm material, with its 'snorkel' hood, trimmed with fake or real fur, a zipped, padded jacket that protected the troops from bad weather, particularly in the Vietnam wars and worn by Steve McQueen in this selection of pictures. Sage green became the defining colour of a services parka, intended to provide camouflage. It became a streetstyle definer, for mods and later, for followers of Indie and hip-hop cultures.

Mod is arguably the parka-as-cult-item's finest hour and the fishtail parka its apotheosis. The fishtail parka has just that - a drooping tail with a drawstring and pressstuds that is, of course, exactly like the 'tail' of an 'amauti', the woman's traditional jacket. So far, so androgynous. That this is a theme continuing today with 'unisex' parkas is indicative of the garments historic and versatile qualities. It first manifested itself during the Korean War in the 1950s to fight off the elements. The pattern for the lightweight M-48was standardised on 24th December 1948. In the 1960s they were perfect wear for riding a Vespa and protecting your mohair suit underneath. The Pop art Parka, with its appliquéd Union Jack was closely affiliated to the great mod-and-beyond band The Who and was immortalised in the film, The Who's Pete Townsend's score and film Quadrophenia, 1979. Fur was optional, but for Mods, style was not.

The exist today as a luxury product and designer label, as high fashion or streetstyle.  Its classic detail is the fur trim, but it is essentially a garment that goes back to ancient times, that talks of an era when man lived in harmony with the environment, killing only what he could eat and use, whether it be the leather, the sinews for thread and the fur for warmth. It is always best therefore when it is not uber-luxury, but a practical material with a fabulous sunburst of fur on the collar.

New Look Parka
The parka is an ancient piece of clothing, crafted out of skins and sewn with thread of sinews. It has been crafted over centuries to keep the aboriginal peoples of the Canadian , Siberian and Russian Arctic alive and well … a masterpiece of engineering. The parka seen in the ‘West’ is a pale imitation by comparison, but has entered the language of ‘fashion’ and can be seen in many manifestations. Some beautiful, some tatty in the extreme. It does not get better than this: ‘Nowadluk in a fur parka, Nome, Alaska c. 1910’ as the real thing …. Or Mr Jagger in a ‘fashion’ version …
The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger in sealskin parka and fox hood, 1963 by Terry O’Neill ….
The impact of a face trimmed with a fur hood: Mick Jagger in fox trimmed sealskin parka by David Bailey, Box of Pin-Ups, 1964
Paris Fashion Week SS: Christian Dior Parka, look 30, SS 2016
Candy-striped parka latest thing by Christian Dior, SS 2016, look 38, in Paris. Uber-feminine, light, easy to wear summer wear.
Three years ago: Blonde Ambition: Jean Paul Gaultier feminises the parka, quilting it, belting it, with the fur being farmed fox hood and bouffant trim. Updated, glamorous spotrswear. RTW, AW 2012.
28TH September 2015, London. Parka=‘Hoodie’: yesterday, the Evening Standard’s report on Angell Town, an estate in Lambeth, South London, where, it says, gang culture is rife. The hooded jacket, and in this case, parka, is the sportswear of choice. The parka is ubiquitous; inexpensive, warm, may pocketed – and anonymous. [ I WANT THIS SAME PAGE LIKE THIS. ONE IMAGE.]
By Walid, unisex parka, recycled mink and antique Chinese embroidered fabric. Sustainable luxury and turning high fashion parka into a work of art.He is also subtly tapping into what a parka has always been; a garment that is by its nature recyled, passed down from generation to generation for wear. Every piece of fabric and fur which By Walid uses comes from something that has seen another life. And in the nature of the fur parka from the arctic, each has seen another life worn by an animal, whether it be caribou/reindeer, adult seal or other creature.
Requiem to Mod: as part of the subculture as a Vespa, this parka with a fishtail. Quadrophenia, by Pete Townsend of The Who.
Mod: Pete Townsend, The Who, in American parka with fur trim, worn over a suit
Mod – parkas, mid-1960s, may be Lord Kitchener’s Valet, on the Portobello road about 1968. Customised parkas in this way were a cornerstone of streetstyle and Mod culture. The informality of these originally North American togs are in clear contrast to the bowler hats and jacket the man in the forefront is wearing.
Rihanna papped wearing Mr and Mrs Furs’ parka. Mod style? I think not.
Tom Hardy in parka, by Mark hughes
@parkafashionillustration @tomhardyparkas
Tom Hardy in parka, by Mark hughes
@parkafashionillustration @tomhardyparkas
Catching crabs in a parka: Steve McQueen
Explorer, writer, film director Earl Rossman filming ‘Kivalinia’, Alaska, 1925, in parka and fur hat. The parka is eminently practical and can be worn even when ease of intricate movement is necessary.
The Norwegian polar explorer Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (1872 – 1928), dressed in caribou parka.
Gutskin parka,1919, Inupiat, from Sinews of Survival. Made from sea mammal intestines, hide, fur and sewn with the historic thread made from sinews. All animal product was and is used by traditional Inuit; there is no wastage. This is from Cape Prince of Wales and was collected by R.G Oliver, just after World War One. The animals that are part of the Inuit ‘supply chain’ are caribou, adult seal, polar bear, dogs and birds. This is lightweight, waterproof and sophisticated in cut; and these ancient methods of production, the handing down of clothes from generation to generation make the ‘parka’ in the hands of the men and women of the Canadian and Siberian Arctic exemplars of a new attitude to Fashion. No waste, biodegradable, lasts for years. Transparent supply chain.
Mod: Phil Daniels as the hero Jimmy in the film Quadrophenia, 1979. Set in 1965, the costumes, like this parka, were primarily sourced at London’s Contemporary Wardbrobe, on of the greatest emporia of youth culture and fashion.
Angelica Kauffman, A Woman in Eskimo Clothing from Labrador, 1768 – 1772. She is wearing an amauti, the woman’s parka, with its pouch for carrying a baby. Note the wide hood, unedged with fur, decorative bands and long, narrow back flap, with the ‘fishtail’ of the early Nunavimuit amautiit. Most interestingly, this is a layered outfit, with the caribou fishtail parka being the over garment. Angelica Kauffman was an artist in the Neoclassical school. What is interesting to me about this is that she has painted it not only with reference to the ‘noble savage’, unfettered by western civilisation; she has painted this so that the amauti ensemble resembles the drapery of women of ancient, Republican, Rome. This is a deeply political painting that presages the French Revolution.
Portrait by the photographer and chronicler of native Americans, Edward S. Curtis. Called ‘A family group, Noatak.’
Man’s caribou-skin outer- parka and trousers, Copper Inuit, early twentieth century, from Sinews of Survival. Variations in Parkas: the Copper Inuit preferred the lighter, glossier skins of the caribou killed in the summer months. Two layers again, the inner and outer parka, fur on outside, undergarment has fur facing inward. In the winter months, a heavier layer would be worn, made from patches of different skins. Everything is used. Nothing is wasted.
Nanook, an Eskimo hunter. From ‘Two Centuries of Fur Trading, 1723 – 1923: Romance of the Revillon Family.’ This book was a source of hilarity to American Vogue’s Bettina Ballard and photographer Schall. On a visit to the newly married Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1937, this was the only book on display. Was this a hint by the duchess to the duke to buy her another mink or sable coat, of which she was so fond? Or had Revillon sent it to them as a marketing wheeze? No mention was made of ‘Nanook’ by Ballard, sadly.
The first feature length documentary in the history of film: Nanook of the North, 1922. Directed, produced, written by Robert J. Flaherty, it tells the story of Inuit hunter Nanook and his family, battling for survival living in the harsh environment of Arctic Quebec. It was backed by Revillon Freres, one of the oldest skin and fur companies in the world. Would Revillon, once under the creative directorship of Rik Owens, then have thought these indigenous and ancient garments would become a street-style staple?
The Revillon trader inspects a wild fox skin trapped by our friend Nanook. Both European and Inuit are dressed in skin parkas. 1922.
Hot to trot …. Mr and Mrs Furs parkas.
Green linen parka with recycled mink lining throughout, unisex.
By Walid unisex parka, fabrics from the 1800s, 1900s and twentieth century. Upcycled glamour with mink hood and lining.
Children at school, many wearing ‘parkas’, 1920, Cape Prince of Wales, from The Living Races of Mankind, author’s copy.

Mrs Miniver

‘Miniver’ has all the gorgeous allusions to the age of chivalry, the medieval past and the courts of the Plantagenets and Valois. Fur in fashion repeats itself over and over again, from the white fox lining the robes of ‘Salome’ in the Byzantine Ravenna Mosaics to the mink that trimmed the robes of Henry VIII.

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The Parka

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Of Unicorns and Wickermen – British Folk Art at Tate Britain

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