The Report

Steal These Looks

MR PORTER picks our most stylish films and takes our cues from Messrs Tom Ford and Vittorio De Sica among others

  • Mr Marvin in Point Blank, 1967 Kobal Collection

It has become a cliché to imbue Mr Steve McQueen with magical sartorial powers, as if every stitch was manufactured by the actor. (It’s especially funny when you remember that the late studio head Mr John Calley once said that Mr McQueen rented you his naked, unshaven body and the studio had to supply everything else.) But the simple fact is that we get so much from icons such as Mr McQueen, including the way we desire the world to see us. Almost every one of us has an article of clothing inspired by a movie, and we reminisce about the power of representation whenever we wear it and are asked about it.

As someone who has covered the intersection of cinema and style over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to own some looks I first discovered on screen. Both the elegant – like the black suit Mr Daniel Day-Lewis wore in Nine – and the pedestrian. When I went to see Metro and happened to be wearing the same orange sweater as Mr Eddie Murphy’s character in one scene, my date trilled as if I’d stepped into the back row with her. That charm had dissipated by the time this clichéd action-comedy stumbled to its end, so I left the sweater in the bin at the theatre. These days, thanks to Netflix and Google Images, it’s pretty easy to channel a look from a major release – be it The Great Gatsby’s Turnbull & Asser shirts or Mr Daniel Craig’s Sunspel polo from Casino Royale. But for those of us who want to find less celebrated movies to take our leads from, let me make a few suggestions – 11, to be exact.

Absolute Beginners

  • From left: Messrs O’Connell and Temple in Absolute Beginners, 1986 Collection Christophel/ Photoshot

Director Mr Julien Temple’s 1986 musical set in 1960s London follows an aspiring fashion designer (then-newcomer Ms Patsy Kensit) and Colin (Mr Eddie O’Connell) the protagonist/ photographer/ narrator who loves her. The costume design by Ms Sue Blane and Mr David Perry concisely tells the background and social standing of everyone we see – from the sleek aspirational blazers and suits worn by Colin, to the rigidity of Mr James Fox’s Savile Row gear, to the outfits sported by Ms Kensit’s Crepe Suzette. In her case, they’re like dresses crafted for a being of alabaster. There’s also the saving grace of the film containing the energetic and witty Sade song, “Killer Blow”.

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A Bittersweet Life

  • Mr Byung-hun in A Bittersweet Life, 2005 Rex Features

This 2005 Korean action film, written and directed by Mr Kim Jee-woon, could best be described as a mesh of The Bodyguard and In the Mood For Love. It features a tough-minded second-in-command of a mob chieftan (played by the charismatic pop star turned actor Mr Lee Byung-hun) who falls for the girlfriend of his boss. Trouble ensues. His clothing is as ruthless and precise as his execution of violence; he wears a series of black suits and, in a subtle reflection of his pride (and vanity), each one is different from the last.

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The Conformist

  • Mr Trintignant in The Conformist, 1970 Kobal Collection

Mr Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 political melodrama focuses on the life of Marcello, a young intellectual and roué (Mr Jean-Louis Trintignant) whose loyalties are tested as Paris is about to fall into the hands of the Nazis. This is one of the most influential films of the last part of the 20th century (if you’ve ever seen a gun tossed from one character to another, who then turns to action with the firearm, it was probably stolen from this movie – or from a film that plagiarised it). And the suits evoke the desperate grasp of someone clinging dearly to a lifestyle being snuffed out before his very eyes. It’s one of the many collaborations between the director and costume designer Mr Gitt Magrini, who did great work with him on each occasion.

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The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

  • From left: Ms Dominique Sanda and Messrs Helmut Berger, Lino Cappolichio and Fabio Testi in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, 1970 Rex Features

Mr Vittorio De Sica’s 1970 meditation on the end of a way of life is set in 1930s Italy, as the rise of Fascism surely – inexorably – crushes these beautiful young things’ love for life, and for each other. It’s a deft and romantic summation of the period, with a level of heartbreak that slowly deepens with each scene. This Academy Award-winner is a stunning film – the tennis clothes will make you want to pick up a racket, but how sumptuous and alluring are the other bits of wardrobe? It’s one of Mr Thom Browne’s favourite films.

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Kiss Me Deadly

  • Ms Gaby Rodgers and Mr Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly, 1955 Allstar Picture Library

You should see Mr Robert Aldrich’s trim and compelling 1955 adaptation of Mr Mickey Spillane’s crime novel if only to find out where Mr Quentin Tarantino got the idea for the briefcase Jules and Vincent seek out in Pulp Fiction. Private eye Mike Hammer’s viciousness extends to his wardrobe, making an impact in every appearance, an exercise of ego that doesn’t quite seem to coincide with the budget of a private eye, which leaves the viewer wondering: “How can he afford to dress like that?”

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A Most Violent Year

  • Mr Isaac in A Most Violent Year, 2014 Photoshot

What is it about mob bosses and camel-hair coats? Writer/ director Mr JC Chandor’s suffocatingly tense 2014 crime drama falls squarely into the tradition of this piece of outerwear announcing power, a lineage that includes Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part II and even Mr Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris (early on in Tango, the coat conveys authority, and by the end, when he’s slumped into a pile, even the camel-hair can’t save him). In this film, Mr Oscar Isaac’s imperial coat and lordly procession of double-breasted suits signal the arrival of a man determined to make his importance known as soon as he enters a room. It’s clothing as a modern suit of armour, there to deflect and intimidate, and Mr Isaac knows it – the pieces change his posture.

What to wear

  • Charvet 4.5cm Knitted Silk Tie


  • Ms Sophia Loren and Mr Day-Lewis in Nine, 2009 Rex Features

Could a list like this be complete without a nod to costume designer Ms Colleen Atwood? First and foremost, the suit worn by Guido (the Fellini figure portrayed by Mr Day-Lewis) has to tell us exactly who and what he is. It moves with him like a second skin, yet also announces the high life in which he’s immersed himself. And the garment, perhaps the best black suit in the movies – a shimmering mixture of raw silk and linen – does exactly that. (I must note that when I met Ms Atwood – the recipient of an Oscar nomination for her work here – and made a fool of myself going on about this suit, she graciously gave me one: I’m still too terrified to wear it.)

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Ocean’s 11

  • From left: Messrs Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr in Ocean’s 11, 1960 Mondadori Portfolio

The 1960 original was directed – if that’s the word – by Mr Lewis Milestone; you can almost feel his white-knuckled frustration in every frame. It’s the ne plus ultra of Rat Pack realisation, complete with the cast’s contempt for what should be their “characters’” shabby backgrounds; each of their outfits is contoured to their contours, with the most laughable – and gorgeous – being Mr Sammy Davis Jr’s shantung silk suits and double-cufflinked shirt cuffs. (I always wondered: were these guys pulling the heists in order to pay for their wardrobes?) Honourable mention for Mr Brad Pitt’s wardrobe in the remake – it’s a hilarious nod to the original, since he’s almost always eating greasy fast food while wearing roughly $10,000 worth of clothes.

What to wear

  • Charvet Blue Slim-Fit Double Cuff Cotton-Poplin Shirt

Point Blank

  • Kobal Collection

Director Mr John Boorman’s trippy and allusive adaptation of the novel begs the question: why do suits always look so good in crime movies? The plot is a straight line: after being double-crossed and left for dead, Mr Lee Marvin’s character named Walker seeks bloody revenge (man by man) on those who f***ed him over. He does so clad in dark suits and monochromatic ties that nail his view of the world; everything exists for him in those terms. (It’s also a great complement for his silver hair – he’s mercury with a trail of collateral damage.) The other suits chosen for the movie make their mark as well – crafted for action, yet the definition of the word professional.

What to wear

  • Turnbull & Asser 8cm Ribbed Silk Tie

A Single Man

  • Mr Colin Firth in A Single Man, 2009 Rex Features

In 2009, Mr Tom Ford adapted Mr Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel about… OK, I know – it’s Mr Tom Ford. But it’s also the eye of Ms Arianne Phillips, who had to move the costume beyond ostentation into something believable, that evokes an aesthetic. And the meticulously selected suits worn by Mr Colin Firth’s tortured George Falconer embody a melancholy glamour; it can’t have been easy to have allayed expectations of viewers who anticipated a film that, for them, had to be part melodrama and part runway show. Ms Phillips, whose designs can be seen in both Kingsmen: The Secret Service and MR PORTER’s Kingsman collection, thwarts such unreal demands and instead offers a real-life example of aplomb.

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The Last Tycoon

  • Messrs Robert Mitchum, Robert De Niro and Ray Milland in The Last Tycoon, 1976 Allstar Picture Library

Messrs Harold Pinter and Elia Kazan teaming to adapt the (incomplete) novel by Mr F Scott Fitzgerald; it deserves inclusion on some list for that reason alone. Then there’s an extraordinary cast of style icons that includes Messrs Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis, and Mses Anjelica Huston and Jeanne Moreau – most importantly. It’s one of the few times the word elegant could be applied to a Mr Robert De Niro character. He plays the Byronic figure Monroe Stahr, in apparel by costume designer Ms Anthea Sylbert, who gives her leading man the chromed luminosity of a Hudson hood ornament. (She had a particular affinity for 1930s sheen; she also worked on Chinatown.) Is it any good? Um… you can watch it with the sound off.

Mr Elvis Mitchell is an American film critic and the host of KCRW’s nationally syndicated pop culture show The Treatment since its inception in 1996. 

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