In February 1928, the popular magazine Estampa published an unassuming centerfold photograph of a large group of people strolling through Madrid. The jovial crowd pictured is so large that they take over the sidewalk and spill into the avenue (fig. 1). At the center of the image, cheerful female dressmakers walk with synchronized steps. Nearby pedestrians take note of the group’s energetic display for the photographer and pause to look at them.
Modernism and camouflage would seem to be unlikely allies. One advances and the other retreats. One rebels and resists; the other lurks undercover. But during World War I, a group of renegade camoufleurs forged an uneasy truce between modernism’s flash and camouflage’s muted secrets. Their sources were extraordinary and eclectic. Drawing inspiration from animal behavior, avant-garde design, and women’s fashion, the camoufleur—and, as I argue, the camoufleuse—worked to reimagine visibility and warfare in modern terms.