In early 2001, the U.S. Army decided to try installing individual air-conditioning units in soldiers’ uniforms—an idea complex enough to garner the attention of then-25-year-old Caleb Crye and 24-year-old Gregg Thompson, two Cooper Union graduates (Crye studied fine art, Thompson majored in engineering) who founded the design firm Crye Precision in a basement office in Chelsea. With no military expertise and no experience designing clothing, Crye and Thompson began studying soldiers’ uniforms and were shocked to find that few updates had been made since the Vietnam era.
Today, every single American soldier in the Army or Marines wears some product that was designed by Crye and Thompson, who are expanding into an 85,000-square-foot building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (this past August, they won a military contract for up to $50 million). They’ve designed combat pants with injection-molded knees, vented helmets, and various types of armor, though the company is best known for its design of “Multicam,” a camouflage that works in diverse environments, allowing soldiers to move across landscapes without having to change. A favorite design that has yet to make it into actual combat is the bio-chem “Crap Suit.” “We came up with some really simple, elegant ways of defecating in your pants,” Thompson says.
Crye laughs. “There’s a patent on the wall right there.”