Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dazzle Camouflage Costume Ball
















On March 12, 1919, the Chelsea Arts Club held a costume party, called a Dazzle Ball, at Royal Albert Hall in London. It was inspired by the abstract geometric shapes on camouflaged ships in World War I , a method that was first employed by the British, who called it "dazzle painting" or dazzle camouflage. When the Americans adopted a comparable method, they referred to it by other names, among them "baffle painting," "jazz painting," and (rarely) "razzle dazzle." Reproduced above is a spread from the March 22 issue that year of the Illustrated London News, which featured illustrations of the riotous goings-on at the Dazzle Ball (pp. 414-415). A few weeks later, there was a brief news article in The Independent (May 3, 1919, p. 160) that also told about the ball—

Four British naval officers, distinguished for their success at camouflage, had charge of designing the dresses, and the ballroom looked like the Grant Fleet with all its warpaint on, ready for action. The jazz bands produced sounds that have the same effect upon the ear as this "disruptive coloration" has upon the eye.

Who could have thought a dozen years ago, when the Secessionists began to secede and the Cubists began to cube, that soon all governments would be subsidizing this new form of art to the extent of millions a year? People laughed at them in those days, said they were crazy and were wasting their time, but as soon as the submarines got into action, the country called for the man who could make a dreadnaught look like "A Nude Descending a Staircase"…The submerged Hun with his eye glued to the periscope could not tell whether it was a battleship or a Post-Impressionist picture bearing down upon him…

…in its new and dazzling guise it may cause collisions in the ballroom as it did on the sea. In these days when dancers do the one-step, two-step, three-step and on up to eight-step simultaneously to the same tune, it is becoming difficult to keep the necessary leeway and seaway. When a ship or a woman is disguised by dazzle decoration one is likely to be more than fifteen points off in judging her course.