Gentleman on Safari

I have never been on safari. I have often imagined it; I have closed my eyes to a reel of fantastical images. Of me strolling through the dry grass with a pair of binoculars and a pith helmet, of herds of animals sweeping majestically across the plateau and of the glorious evening by the open fire with a neat glass of scotch.

Impossibly romantic wishful thinking – and desperately unrealistic. It is rare that we imagine ourselves taking part in something we have never taken part in before and dreaming moderately; our imaginations have an unlimited licence of wonder and luxury. When a virgin traveller imagines the far away places of their reading they are forgiven for dreaming big; a novice climber is exculpated for ambitions of Everest. Therefore, I am sympathetic to my own poor escapist soul.

However, the fact that the modern realities of the world have escaped my attention in certain areas is not merely a product of my imagination. In many ways, I represent the final effects of a culture dripping in materialist nostalgia.

Not that I decry materialism, or nostalgia for that matter, but the sense of romance; marketing the dream and not the reality has long been the transmission – from travel agents to airlines to clothing brands. In many ways we are fed the dream of a lifestyle that no longer exists, or one that exists for a tiny few. Naturally, there would be no sense in marketing our own mediocre lives; where is the incentive? We need inspiration, and certainly temptation, to drag us out of bed each morning.

However, I am surely not the only one who is frequently struck with disappointment, an embarrassing feeling of being made a fool of and a strong sense of nostalgia when confronted with the modern realities of today.

In examining the range of ‘suggested’ safari clothing I recoiled; it is all absolutely ghastly. Instead of suits for the savannah, the poor purchaser is being marketed something more along the lines of Rambo; combat trousers with a number of pockets that recalls Carrollian ridiculousness, and horrible waistcoats of a thin shapeless material that reminded me a modern safari enthusiast is more likely to dress like the late Steve Irwin than Cecil Rhodes.

There was certainly no dream-peddling here – the websites were feeble and basic, there was no sign of a ’prepared shoot’ and the only ’model’ was an overweight bearded man in his late fifties. The dreamer who bases his romantic image of a safari on the gorgeous photography and costuming of Out of Africa had been disturbed from the slumber. However, instead of remaining awake he has turned over and pulled the pillow over his head.

The images above are of the beautiful spring/summer 2008 collection from Hackett, the ever more establishment and esteemed British retailer. A key inspiration for the collection – safari. The chaps loll around an expedition tent in cream cotton suits, linen jackets and panamas, looking every inch the European tourists and colonials of yore.

But not everything about the outfits is a costume relic. Bright accessories and Italian looking shirts accompany some of the more traditional items. The overall effect is a melange of the vintage and modern ’gentleman abroad.’ While not everyone is fortunate to do this clothing full justice and take it all on a luxury ten day safari to Kenya, the ’savannah sartorial’ is a popular look for the summer and a further step in fashion’s homage to tailoring of the past.

The key, as demonstrated by Hackett, is not to overdo it; wearing shirts unbuttoned and tie-less, accessorising only with a pocket square is very much de rigueur these days. If you simply have to, wear a pith helmet although for many this teeters on the edge of Gilbert & Sullivan-esque costume.


  1. Turling said:

    Mr. Chesterfield,

    Wonderful post. I know your area of concentration is clothing, but this post ventures into an area I am quite fond of, which is outfitting this type of excursion, namely british campaign furniture. A finely furnished canvas tent is a site to behold. While I do not in any way shape or form claim to be an expert, we do enjoy “roughing it” a couple times of year. By roughing it, I mean camping outside of a wine festival. I have built some campaign pieces and commissioned a canvas tent with flaps for walls on all four sides that can be raised individually. Very inexpensive, oriental looking rugs are used for the floor. I believe I may need to visit Hackett so I can fully look the part. Lord knows you can’t fully enjoy a gin and tonic outside your tent in the evening without the appropriate attire. Keep up the effort.

    April 16, 2008
  2. Nicola Linza said:

    You’re on a roll today, this is a terrific piece. It reminds me a quote from Luchino Visconti’s ‘Morte a Venezia,’ that truly fits this piece, “You know sometimes I think that artists are rather like hunters aiming in the dark. They don’t know what their target is, and they don’t know if they’ve hit it. But you can’t expect life to illuminate the target and steady your aim. The creation of beauty and purity is a spiritual act.”

    April 16, 2008
  3. Nicola and Turling:

    Thankyou both for your comments. Turling your vision of camping at a wine festival sounds marvellous – particularly with all the campaign furniture. I do love the style of Wellington chests and the campaign desks with their brass handles; I think they could have used your expertise on the Hackett photo shoot. Despite the focus on clothing, I think it’s far more complete, artistically, to include not only the natural environment but the man made environment also: a flame mahogany chest would look fantastic next to a vanilla linen suit!

    Nicola, that quote is very thought provoking. It is a while since I saw Death in Venice although the Mahler adagietto brings back all the beauty – and indeed the tragedy – from time to time.

    April 16, 2008

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