Arguably the longest-serving private never to have been promoted, Beetle Bailey will get the red carpet treatment next week when a line of clothing and accessories bearing his imprint is unveiled at the apparel trade show PROJECT New York.
Working in conjunction with King Features Syndicate, designers Darren Romanelli and Hitoshi Tsujimoto have banded together to develop an Americana-inspired and military-infused collection of jackets, sweaters, T-shirts, hats, shoes, pants and bags.
"It's an Americana type of clothing line. It's real authentic clothes that people wore -- jackets, blue jeans and stuff like that," Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker said. "All sweaters, all the stuff that the ordinary guys wear, not the fancy guys."
Those kinds of garments are not uncommon sights on fashion runways, with heritage-inspired and utilitarian looks increasingly en vogue.
But it won't be all fashion for Beetle and Walker, whose tale of a college student turned Army private has been running in newspapers since 1950. Besides the debut of Romanelli and Tsujimoto's designs, a retrospective of Walker's career drawing and writing about Beetle Bailey and the denizens of Camp Swampy will also be on display.
Romanelli, of the streetwear brand DRx, said the idea of infusing Beetle Bailey into fashion blended both professional curiosity and personal reminiscence.
"I dig deep in the archives of myself, of my brain. ... It's always about resurrecting these chapters of past experiences," Romanelli said. "I grew up on Beetle. As a kid I remember looking at it in the newspaper."
Given the breadth and reach of Americana-inspired looks, Romanelli said it made sense to incorporate Beetle Bailey into his new collection.
"We started talking about the significant Americana trend that is really massive and global right now," he said. "Americana bleeds over into the military, so we looked at Beetle as the perfect whimsical approach to celebrate Americana and the military."
Some of the items include authentic G1 leather jackets, with Beetle Bailey stitched on the right breast side and, on the back, an image of Gen. Halftrack's secretary, Sheila Buxley, sitting atop a bomb beneath the legend "Blonde Bombshell." Another is a button-down shirt in olive green with a picture of Sgt. Snorkel and Beetle Bailey in the midst of a brawl, the words "Rumble In The Jungle" surrounding it.
Beetle Bailey made his debut as a college student on Sept. 4, 1950, and was originally called Spider. In 1951 he was recruited by the Army just as the Korean Conflict was picking up. He's been on post ever since.
Walker said when he met with Romanelli, his decision to lend his creation's image was immediate.
"He was so enthusiastic and so bubbling over with ideas ... we couldn't resist," he said. "It's fun."
Romanelli worked with The Real McCoy's Tsujimoto, known for curating military apparel and gear, to ensure that the designs had levels of authenticity throughout them.
"Hitoshi is the best of the best in resurrecting classic styles," Romanelli said. "He'll spend weeks on weeks finding the best material to match his original production. he'll do whatever it takes so that the piece is authentic."
PROJECT began in 2003 and is held every two years in New York and Las Vegas. The event brings together designers, clothiers and retailers. Its president, Andrew Pollard, said the new collaboration is something that strikes fans of fashion and comic strips.
"This Beetle Bailey collaboration is just the type of project we like to get behind and feel strongly that the design concepts that Darren and Hitoshi have created will not only resonate with fans of the long-running strip but will excite retailers," he said in a statement.