The Camel Coat

A few years back there was a film version of the engrossing novel Possession by A.S. Byatt. You may know it only by the fact that it occasionally bobs up from the obscure depths of free Netflix recommendations. (Netflix, by the way, has decided that I like “Understated Comedies About Dysfunctional Families” by my ratings. I quickly ducked their radar by watching a slew of cheesy romantic comedies.)

Possession (the film) disappeared almost as soon as it appeared. I read the book in my early 20s and was engrossed for days on end, holing up in my smoky corner of Sitwell’s Coffeeshop with the rest of the desperate writers. (It is a writerly book about writers researching writers. Enough said.) A couple years later, I read in Mirabella magazine (the only magazine I have ever subscribed to, a combination of fashion and intellectualism, now sadly defunct) that it was being made into a film by Jane Campion, director of The Piano and last year’s absolutely lovely Bright Star.

Ten years went by, no Jane Campion movie. Now this book has a decidedly feminist bent to it. And it is partly about English reservedness vs. English libertarianism in the educated classes, an old classic English anxiety. I don’t know what happened to Jane Campion, but instead it got handed to Neil LaBute–better known for In the Company of Men. A very, very strange marriage, if you know his films at all. And then putting Aaron Eckhart in the lead male character, who is changed to a studly square-jawed American–aka “Aaron Eckhart”. Adding American insouciance to English anxiety is an entirely different concept, working in some places but losing the entire point of the tension between the two main characters. It is just as bizarre as remaking Death At a Funeral in “American” (also, I have just discovered, by Neil LaBute).

But there is one scene with Gwyneth in her camel coat. It’s a dull grey London day, of course, and her character, a restrained yet pretty professor of Victorian poetry, glides into a room full of elder literary statesmen at an auction. A perfect place for a long, tailored coat, don’t you think? The way her date slides it off her shoulders and then relunctantly has to carry it sets the tone for the entire film.

Is that the only thing I carried away from the movie? Um, yes. And I kept pausing to look at how the lapels were shaped.

Well, a gazillion blogs have written about “the camel coat” this year, so I am very late to the party. Camel showed up as the derigueur color of the season, which is telling at least about the mood of the fashion business. It’s the ultimate in conservativeness and neutrality–other than grey, which by its very closeness to black has or can have a bit more edge–and it was everywhere this year.

I just don’t like anything that resembles beige. I got to thinking that times like this are when designers produce seasonless and timeless looks, and it’s good to invest and take advantage of that. (I’m just waiting for the shoe to drop; usually this means we’re on an edge when the backlash of rebellion/inspiration begins.)

Camel coats were very 80s, but they were also very 60s and 70s, with different silhouettes. We had the return of the shawl coat but with a much slimmer, more structured shape than the 80s version:

Combinations of shawl and cape (capes were a thing this year and I do love them so!):

Long floor or duster coats–which look amazing when something crazy is hidden under them:

Combined with military style, also big (again) this year:

{Coats: Surface to Air, Sears, Anthropologie, Spiegel, Jaeger, Alexander McQueen}

I really came around to camel’s possibilities when I saw this photo over at Lookbook. This lovely woman looks like a soft watercolor painting. What shows up is her skin color, her hair, her natural, down-to-its-essence beauty.