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Camel Coats

The commonality is the camel, but the styling is entirely yours

By PAMELA DITTMER MCKUEN
   Perhaps you have a camel coat languishing in a closet, too good to throw out but too date-stamped to suit your sensibilities. Pull it out and take another look. This revered classic has returned to shed a welcome ray of light on an otherwise gloomy winter.
   If you don’t own a camel coat, how fortunate. We shall shop. Most every designer and purveyor of fine apparel is offering a rendition or several, for women and men alike. It’s part of an overall focus on investment dressing, prompted by a tough economy. But only partly. There’s also an undercurrent of chic, which opens the wardrobe door to tantalizing choices.
   Forget preconceived notions you may have about the color. Susan Klope, head designer for the Per Se Collection, says that today’s coats push aside the old definition of camel as “dependable.” Instead, they bear a sophistication and edginess that appeal to young women who might be wearing the hue for the first time. “Also, to Baby Boomers, who are cooler than ever,” she adds.
  “Many men haven’t seen camel before, so it’s new and hip to them,” says menswear designer George Zaharoff. “They will accept camel as a neutral, just like grey or black.”
   To be found among the season’s collections are traditional trenches, oversized wraps, minimalist toppers and sporty jackets. Some are decked with military-inspired brass. Others sport whimsical touches such as ruffles, belts, knit and leather trim, hoods and detachable sleeves.
   “The commonality is the camel, but the styling is entirely yours,” says Chicago fashion stylist Susan Mowder of The Style 
Principle.
    Michael Kors, who christened the color as “barley,” created streamlined double-breasted coats with elbow cutouts. Per Se’s toffee wool jacket has empire styling and detachable black cuffs. At Chloe, Hannah MacGibbon stitches grace and fluidity into menswear-inspired coats. Max Mara pinches oversized maxis at the waist with leather belting. The Lauren coat, by Ryan Roberts, has an asymmetrical leather closure and a collar that can be worn up or down.
   Traditional gents might consider Burberry’s double-breasted topcoat with epaulettes and back half-belt, or Ralph Lauren’s Howard topcoat with sloped shoulders and notched collar. For more contemporary flair, Kors’ crombie and Chesterfield are fashioned from crinkle flannel. Zaharoff is working on a slim-silhouetted paletot for Fall 2011.
   A camel coat is not flashy, but it does stand out, especially against the mass of black so typical of Chicago streetwear. Says Mowder: “Someone who wears a beautiful camel coat exudes a confidence that says ‘I am willing to be seen. I am willing to be different.’”

Published: October 10, 2010
Issue: November 2010 Arts and Politics Issue