AN INTERVIEW WITH JP PLUNIER OF FEAL MOR CLOTHIER & EVERLOVING RECORDS
"Some things are everything. Some things are just what they are."
It’s like jazz. It’s not about copying. It’s about interpreting things. In this case, you are not making a shoe that doesn’t exist. You’re using what you are exposed to in order to create something fresh that draws a pure line. At the end of the day it’s just a shoe, but can there be a deeper connection? That’s what this opportunity is for.
This is the world’s rarest camouflage. It comes from a French Marine Commando smock out of Indochina. There are pictures of it in Dr. J.F. Borsarello’s book “Camouflage Uniforms of Asian and Middle East Armies” and these dudes look just amazing. The “Commandos de Marine” were formed during World War II and (fundamentally) based on the British commandos. During the French Indochina War (1946–1954) the French used commando units extensively and the unit this jacket was assigned to are designated “marine” - a French word for “naval” - meaning they had amphibious capabilities and then later on underwater capabilities - very close to an UDT level (Underwater Demolition Team – a precursor to the U.S. Navy SEALs). They were a legendary corps and wore the green beret “British” style with badge to the left (opposite of the French way to the right).
In this seminal period of camouflage development it got really modern by becoming ancient. The influences came from as far back as the colonial wars and the American Revolution where the Americans were dressing like Woodsman, Trappers, and Hunters to blend in for forest/jungle warfare against the British “Redcoats”. By WWII, the switch had been completely made and the first actual camo patterns emerged. This pattern in particular is very primitive and painterly. The colors on the inside pockets of this smock which we worked off of for the first round sample version of the shoe are a really deep chocolate brown against an almost Christmas tree "turn of the century" evergreen with a touch of blue and a cream colored background. So, it was kind of funky. I certainly think the aged version we eventually went with is incredible. We can take the shoe and jacket and put them neck and neck to see that our iteration is really close to the original. The Syndicate team really threw down and made it happen.
The inscriptions on the shoes are combined from elements of the various commando units. The motto “A La Vie, A La Mort” - “To Life, To Death” came from the Ponchardier unit. The "Tigres Noirs" (Black Tigers , Commando 24) wore black head to toe and their leader’s name was Vanden (similar Vans Shoes). He basically started what we now know as SF mixed indigenous forces (locals with advisors) of which the direct descendents were units such as the Sog units in the US-Indochina conflict. One of his reputed tactics was to get captured only to infiltrate and do damage from the inside. The Black Tigers mission at Nim-Binh to recover the body of a general’s son is surely as good an example of the complexity and tragedy of war. Haiphong was the site of the beginning of the war when its harbor was bombed by the French navy. For a little R&R (rest and recreation) our paras and marine commandos might have gone to Vat-Chay so the motto then was “A La Vie” – “To Life”.
The other mission on the shoe is “Operation Castor”. Ill fated, the operation turned out to be “Dien Bien Phu” – “The Last Battle”. The French parachuted a ton of soldiers into this valley, but the Viet-Minh eventually had them bogged down and surrounded. They totally out maneuvered them with ingenuity and determination. By lugging weapons on bamboo poles and pushing their bicycles loaded with baskets of mortars and shells into this deep and remote jungle canopy then laying in wait they created a death vise. After long and a siege of mud and blood the French troops, who had not been short on heroics but in the end were badly led, were done. “Operation Castor” was “A La Mort” – To Death.
Not to be neglected is the fact that the French and Vietnamese wore tennis shoes in this war. The rubber stamp on the heel and the top rand that goes around the sidewall are all derived from that origin. Inspired, not copied.
I've had family members in the military so I’ve always been sensitive to that and what it means. With collecting camouflage there’s an aesthetic part and there’s a historical part, but there’s a patriotic element to it as well. Defending the flag. I spent the early part of my life living and traveling in Southeast Asia: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, India and Japan. In 1968, I was living with my family in Thailand. The French Indochina War had ended and the Americans, taking their turn in fighting the Vietnamese, were just getting deeper. Young guys, in their early thirties, who were vets of the “Indochine” conflict were still around and friends with my Dad. Being eight or nine years old I was influenced by them. All ex paras, to me, they were superhero adventurers.
There was one guy in particular, Pierre Darcourt, who had had an amazing life. Indochina was a French colony and he had grown up around Saigon pre-war and spoke Vietnamese fluently. Then WWII broke out so at fifteen years old he went to Poona, India and joined the British S.A.S. Assigned to Force 136 after training in Sri Lanka, he was deployed back to the South East Asian front. A tough guy, he then fought in the war against the Viet-Minh, then in Algeria and later went on to have advisor roles and so on. Long story short, he went back to Vietnam in the 1960’s to cover the war with the United States as a “grand reporteur” - a kind of war correspondent with big picture depth. He came in to writing with that unique guerilla warfare experience, local knowledge perspective and as a real authority. Pierre could identify all of the subtle details other writers missed and communicate with the varied participants on a deep level. To this day he remains an influence and a friend.
In '67-'68 I moved to Thailand from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and came in contact with G.I.’s and their kids. This was my first exposure to America - the AFRTS (American Forces Radio and Television Service) playing the “stars and stripes”, riding a Schwinn “Sting Ray”, reading Archie and Marvel comics, Surfer magazine and Rolling Stone. This was an experience a normal French kid would never have had known. A weird set of interests took root - camo, blend in surf and then music. The same thing I am doing today. To be able to follow that all of the way through allows certain purity and an opportunity to meet people that are trying to do the same thing. We are living the dream as much as we can. These are the people that I end up working with and whether it’s surfboard visionaire Robbie Kegel of Gato Heroi or you guys, it’s pure. It’s about being as close to that as you can.
I am in the van with a new band, “The Growlers”. That’s the bottom line. I am back to ground zero on ground zero stuff. We were in Portland, Oregon and after the previous nights show they were going through some dumpsters and found wigs, dresses, whatevs and changed into them right there and then. After breakfast at a strip club, they went and got some beers and we drove to Seattle. They’re fresh and out of control. I love it. It’s raw. They’re not unreal. . .they’re surreal! This is just who they are. It’s a pure moment and we are in it. That’s what I am looking for.
"Feal Mor" is a saying in Breton, a Gaelic derived language, meaning "faithful to the sea". The sea is its own entity. Despite territorial waters, it’s a nebulous world and nobody owns it. Throughout history, man has gone there to be free and being loyal or faithful to the sea means not so much defending it, but defending your own freedom. I have a big connection to people who surf for the reasons that I think are core. They love the sea. They make their own shit and try to find the pure line. It doesn’t need to be more than that.