It ain't half hot, mum...

Safari suits co-exist in the British psyche with tiffin and gin slings. But the pukka article is back. By Tamsin Blanchard
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Think 1969 -Yves Saint Laurent poses for a photograph in khakis from his African safari collection. Or look back to the early Seventies and picture Lauren Hutton striding down Fifth Avenue with her chocolate- tinted goggle shades, wearing a safari suit, pulled in tight at the waist. In the early days of career wear, the safari suit, with skirt or trousers, was just the thing for fighting off all those urban guerrillas in the jungle that was the workplace.

Think 1985 and Meryl Streep in the dust and heat of Out of Africa. And Ralph Lauren, whose romanticised collection for the summer of that year fed off the film and was the stuff of fashion shoot after fashion shoot. In 1990, Safari even became the name of a perfume that has sold by the bucket load to men and women who have never been near a giraffe or an elephant.

Now think 1996. Clements Ribeiro, the London-based design duo, have taken another look at the safari suit, choosing to make it slim-line and softer with fabrics that drape rather than bulk.

"The idea was to take really tasteless pieces of standard suburban wear and make them modern and attractive again," says Inacio Ribeiro. The safari suit was deemed one such item and it seems to be enjoying a revival - for both men and women.

In the Forties and Fifties, Hollywood saw women's safari suits as glamorous, to be worn with full make-up and high heels at all times. But since the Sixties, the safari suit has had a certain kitsch novelty factor, which is why it has been adopted by easy-listening groupies (the government surplus store, Lawrence Corner, sells what it calls "the adventurous traveller look" for around pounds 27 for a jacket) and has, in turn, been enjoying a new lease of life on the catwalks. Paul Smith, John Rocha and Hugo have all made a version for men, while Gucci, MaxMara, and Margaret Howell are just a few of the labels that have blown the dust off the safari look for their spring/summer womenswear collections. YSL has reissued his 1969 safari standards with drawstring jackets and linen shirts. The high street is producing good versions, too. Later this month, Warehouse will be selling a cream cotton belted jacket for pounds 59.99.

So what is the new attraction? Perhaps it is a relief to see clothes that have substance, superfluous details and structure rather than the ultra-simplified jacket and suit shapes that designers have become obsessed with. The long-sleeved safari shirt is a good update to the wardrobe when the dregs of the sales have thrown up all their bargains and the new season's stock looks too summery for days when there is still frost on the ground.

But if you are planning an expedition to Africa, don't be tempted by a new Yves Saint Laurent. John Scott, a trek tour leader from Exodus Overland Expeditions, sees some strange sights on his travels. One research doctor turned up on his tour wearing a shirt with the sleeve ripped off, as though he had just escaped death at the jaws of an alligator. But safari suits are a rarity even on the savannah. "When I've been walking around Nairobi, you see the odd person in khaki shorts with a pith helmet. They are more the objects of ridicule. I don't encourage people to wear safari suits. Just as long as they wear dull colours - nothing fluorescent. You want to see the animals before they see you."

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