In keeping with our aim to appreciate and utilize traditional Indian handcraft, we set out almost a year ago to create a standout hand-blocked print for the FW21 season. As we’ve discussed before, India is world renowned for their block printing craftsmen who work their whole lives to hone their craft. Each block is meticulously hand carved from a piece of wood by a master craftsman. For multi-color prints, like what’s seen on this shirt, each color requires a unique block. Since every repeat of the pattern must be individually printed by hand, every shirt will be slightly varied and completely unique.
For the base fabric, we sourced a beautiful hand-loomed cotton khadi that has a hint of irregularity. As we continue to work with India, we are consistently impressed with their hand-loomed fabrics - and there is none more important to India’s history than khadi. Mahatma Gandhi saw khadi fabric as a symbol of Indian heritage as well as a means to push back against English colonialist oppression. He encouraged all his countrymen to take up yarn spinning and weaving to regain control of their fabric (and economy) from the English, who had begun to monopolize Indian fabric production and exploit Indian workers. The story of khadi is inspiring, especially as we designed this collection during a year marked by protests in America fighting for racial justice. But it wasn’t only the story alone that drew us to khadi; the textile itself is absolutely stunning.
Yarns are first spun by hand with a slubby texture – slub refers to purposeful irregular thickness – before being loomed by hand on a wooden machine into a plain weave canvas. The resulting fabric is slightly inconsistent and textured in a subtle way with random tufts of thread emerging. The weave itself is slightly loose, giving it a comfortable breathability and textured hand feel. For FW21’s CPO shirt, we sought to reframe khadi by applying a hand blocked, custom designed camouflage print inspired by the Surrealist artist Jean Arp. On the surface this feels like an unconnected dichotomy and yet we see both surrealism and khadi fabric as representing a rejection of the status quo and a push for a better future.
Like we discussed our FW21 Inspiration post earlier this month, we were drawn to the Dada and Surrealist art movements when designing this season; the feeling of disillusionment matched with pangs of optimism resonated deeply with us. We realized that the random nature of camouflage is not so dissimilar to the abstract art of the early 20th century so it felt fitting to bring two seemingly disparate interests of ours together in one dynamic pattern. Hans Jean Arp’s art immediately conjured up images of classic Vietnam-era frog camo in our minds, which we’ve featured several times in past collections - so we sat down and designed this season’s camouflage based on the artwork of Arp. Each shape refers back to a piece of Arp’s work, whether it be a collage, sculpture, or painting. The print is hand block printed in homage to the slight irregularities that were present in his oil paintings. Once the fabrics are printed, the base yardage is overdyed to a sand or black color; the black overdyed colorway is more subtle with a pattern that will reveal itself with wear.
This season’s CPO Shirt is a masterclass in Indian handcraft and the rich traditions of the country. We’ve said before that our goal in expanding production to new countries of manufacture would be done in such a way where we’d be able to offer the best of what could be done there and nowhere else. From the surrealist-inspired camo print to the traditional Indian processes, all the way down to the replica military BDU buttons, this shirt is full of contrasts that come together to form a unique piece unlike anything we’ve made before.