The pure camel hair coat is now firmly established as a classic of the fashion world, but its history is more intricately connected with the history of Jaeger as a company than many people know.  

The idea of creating coats from pure camel hair had always been an irresistible one - nature, after all, is the world's cleverest couturier. Arab desert traders realised, hundreds of years ago, that there is no creature better equipped to provide us with one single garment to protect from all the elements than the camel.

In no place in the world are there such staggering extremes of heat and cold as in the deserts of Asia and Africa. On desert treks, while their human masters were forced to seek shelter from the deadly midday heat, the camels simply lay down to rest in the scorching rays of the sun, protected by their covering of thick hair. And at night, as temperatures plummeted to near freezing, the camels dozed, warm and comfortable, in that same covering. The tough fibres of the camels' hair also resisted the wearing friction of the heavy packs they carried.

This got the camel drivers thinking. Could this amazing coat keep them comfortable, too? So they started picking up the mats of hair the camels naturally shed in the spring, giving them to the village weaver, who spun and wove them into camel hair cloth. This quickly became one of the most cherished fabrics in the Orient, especially once traders took it to Russia, where it was hand-woven into overcoats to keep soldiers warm when sent to Arctic outposts in Siberia.


And then the age of machinery dawned. Cotton, wool and silk could all be used in the new mode of weaving, but this ultra-fine camel weave broke in the shuttles. Some success was achieved by blending it with wool, but pure camel hair, it seemed, was about to be left behind. The race was on to find a way around the problem. Several clothing producers around the world began experiments to evolve a process by which camel hair could be spun and woven by machine in sufficient quantities to make it available for general use. It was a race that Jaeger, ultimately, would win.

The first discovery the Jaeger laboratories made was that the best results were obtained from the long, strong fibres of the Bactrian two-humped camel from the Arctic passes of Mongolia and Tibet. This camel has a much heavier coat than the single-humped desert-dwelling Southern dromedary with whom our story began. In 1919, after much trial and error and amid much jubilation, Jaeger launched the first pure camelhair coat onto the clothing market.

It was a roaring success and customers flocked to buy one, establishing Jaeger as a major player in the fashion world. Cut in the drop-waisted flapper style of the 1920s, they were sold throughout the world through Jaeger's much sought-after mini-catalogues. Two decades later, with war looming once again, camel-hair became even more important to the British style landscape. Wool and leather were requisitioned for uniforms, while silk was commandeered to make parachutes, maps and gunpowder bags. But camelhair was available. Meanwhile, Paris, the international fashion capital, was occupied by German forces and no longer communicating trends to the outside world. It was a chance for London-based companies like Jaeger to assert their own style identity. At the government's request, Jaeger produced 'utility clothing' during the war and


the austerity years afterwards, and this resulted in a piece that was to become truly iconic: the great world traveller coat, camel hair one side and plaid the other, woven so as to be completely reversible. Still relevant today, the double-face coat has been reworked into the AW14 collection.


Jaeger became so synonymous with the camel coat - updating it with new versions and cuts as fashion developed through the 1960s and 1970s - that in 1984, when celebrating its anniversary, it paraded a camel from London Zoo past its flagship Regent Street store. It's the mark of a fashion classic that the camel coat is a centrepiece of the current collection, working as well for today's stylish woman as it did in the 1920s.

The wonderful thing about buying a Jaeger camel coat? Not only are you buying something warm and stylish that may even outlast you, you're also buying a true piece of fashion history.

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