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New decade, new style icon?

January 19, 2010

2010 is shaping up to be a stylish year already thanks to Robert Downey’s Jr’s movie personification of legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. Take one cult actor with lashings of charisma, add in an Oscar winning costume designer (Jenny Beavan) and tap into the current trend for all things Victorian/steampunk.

Result? A new movie costume style icon.

What’s so appealing about Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes is that we get the impression that, although everything else he does is premeditated, his appearance is not. His Holmes is a pugilist who isn’t afraid to get his hands (or suit) dirty, a man who never brushes his hair. He is a man who spends three weeks in his rooms wrestling with all manner of weighty issues in an amazing house gown which looks like it’s seen much better days. He is not, in short, a man who has much time for clothes.

Instead, Holmes “borrows” clothes from his sidekick Watson (played beautifully by Jude Law), but throws them on any old how. And mixes these pieces up with his own items, which are more exotic in colour- think plums and purples- and fabric- silks and corduroys- than Watson’s conservative palette of cottons and tweeds.

The sartorial contrast between Holmes and his sidekick Watson is nicely marked. Where Holmes has the flamboyant Bohemian look of someone whose profession has no dress code, Watson, ex-military and professional man of medicine always looks smart, starched, and somewhat fastidious. Just compare the way the two men wear their shirts in the scene below:

In his very immaculateness Watson doesn’t look half as stylish to our 21st century eyes as Holmes. In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine Jenny Beavan remarked that she put Watson in “really nice suits an army man would have had made by his army tailor for when he returned to civilian life.”

And, of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the brooding fellow in the floor length leather coat must be the villain…

Some costumes and props from the movie are apparently now on display at the London Film Museum. More info is here.

Pictures are all copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures and are reproduced here for research purposes only.


Special Discount Code for our blog readers!

December 13, 2009

Pimpernel is thrilled that our decks of playing cards are being highlighted in the latest issue of Skirmish magazine! (Skirmish is the world’s leading multi-period historical re-enactment and living history magazine- and aims to cover all periods in world history from the last 3000 years…)
Sounds like cause enough for celebration! So, we’d like to offer you lovely people 10% off the full price of any of our decks of playing cards. Simply enter the promo code WP1789 at checkout to receive your 10% discount.
(This offer will expire at midnight UK time on December 17th 2009.)
Pimpernel hopes this might help you with your final Christmas gift shopping (Pimpernel always leaves his present shopping to the last minute, so he feels your pain). Or you could just treat yourself 🙂

Wilde Wilde West

November 25, 2009

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do is choose a notable and joyous dress for men. There would be more joy in life, if we were to accustom ourselves to use all the beautiful colours we can in fashioning our own clothes… At present we have lost all nobility of dress…

Well said indeed! This is the kind of strong stuff that Pimpernel wishes he’d said, but Oscar Wilde got there first. Mr. Wilde delivered these remarks back in 1882, during an extensive lecture tour he gave in America. The title of the lecture was ‘The Practical Application of the Principles of the Aesthetic Theory to Exterior and Interior House Decoration, With Observations upon Dress and Personal Ornaments.’ (Admittedly not the catchiest of titles and a bit of a mouthful by anyone’s standards. You can read the full text of it here.)

After the rather splendid menswear of the eighteenth century (and earlier) with lavish embellishment, embroidery, bullion and fabulous patterned silks of every colour you can imagine, menswear in the nineteenth century must certainly have seemed a lot less exciting. And just what did Oscar consider the epitome of elegant men’s dress? He considers the draped garments of the Ancient Greeks, allows himself a little excitement over menswear at the time of Charles I (see the Van Dyck portrait of Charles I to the left). He also decides that “the dress of the last century in England is also peculiarly gracious and graceful. There is nothing bizarre or strange about it, but it is full of harmony and beauty.”

And then he makes a surprising choice…

In all my journeys through the country, the only well-dressed men that I saw – and in saying this I earnestly deprecate the polished indignation of your Fifth Avenue dandies–were the Western miners. Their wide-brimmed hats, which shaded their faces from the sun and protected them from the rain, and the cloak, which is by far the most beautiful piece of drapery ever invented, may well be dwelt on with admiration. Their high boots, too, were sensible and practical. They wore only what was comfortable, and therefore beautiful.

This was an echo of the same rationale that would prompt Wilde to explain his own stage dress of black velvet jacket, lace cravat, silk knee breeches, and patent leather pumps thus: “When a man is going to walk or row, or perform feats which require a display of strength and muscle, the trousers are done away with and knee breeches are worn.”

Opinion on Wilde in America was divided but never neutral. Critics loved or hated him. But, surprisingly perhaps, where he was most loved was the West. Or rather, at that time, the Wild West. Not long before Wilde arrived in America, Pat Garrett had gunned down Billy the Kid. Wilde himself would pass through Jesse James’ home town in Kansas and learn that James himself had just been assassinated by a member of his own gang. But this love was reciprocated, for Wilde seemed to fall for the West, its rough romance, its lawless heroes and perhaps its vast possibility for freedom.

And then, smitten, he began to embrace the West’s dress. In her fascinating article Oscar Wilde’s West on the Literary Traveler website, Jan Wellington writes about Oscar’s reception, and admiration of how he carried himself:
In Denver, a reporter for the Times described Wilde in his flowing locks, wide-brimmed hat, and the long duster he had recently adopted as “not unlike a Texas ranger who had struck it rich.”  The Denver Republican declared approvingly “that if placed in a mining camp dance hall, [the Aesthete] would pass for a real bold, bad man.” The Leadville miners, whom Wilde dined with, recalled that “[t]hat Oscar Wilde is some art guy, but he can drink any of us under the table and afterwards carry us home two at a time”.

Pimpernel very much admires Mr. Wilde’s embracing of a dress aesthetic that combines the beautiful and the practical, his rejection of wearing garment’s simply because they were the current fashion. His enthusiastic adoption of clothing that spoke to him and appealed as a statement of some higher truth. After all, in his duster coat and wide hat perhaps Oscar felt he carried with him a little part of the untamed free spirit of the Wild Wild West.

Best dressed list, vampire style

October 30, 2009

Pimpernel almost choked on his breakfast kippers the other morning (probably looking very similar to Tom Cruise above) to read that the character Edward Cullen from Twilight has been voted the “favourite movie vampire”. More than 3,000 people took advertising firm Pearl & Dean’s poll, and 38% of movie-goers chose actor Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the angst-ridden teen vamp.

Personally Pimpernel prefers his vampires much more epic, and much better dressed. With their centuries of experience and exquisite taste – no pun intended- don’t vampires generally tend to be the among the more sartorially elegant supernatural creatures?

As Halloween approaches, Pimpernel ponders his three picks for the position of best dressed vampire (in no particular order:

1. Viktor from the Underworld series of films, portrayed by Bill Nighy.

Dressed up or even more up, vampire elder Viktor has a penchant for bullion emboidery and all manner of embellishment. Even his armour is covered with intricate details. (Check out images of the coat he wears in Underworld: Evolution here in the private Blatanikov collection)

2. Dracula from Dracula, portrayed by Gary Oldman

Simply impeccably put together. Sigh. Pimpernel wishes he could carry off blue sunglasses so well.

3. Lestat from Interview with the Vampire, portrayed by Tom Cruise

Although his outfits generally change in keeping with the passing of time from Georgian through Regency to Victorian, Lestat seems to feel most comfortable in his lavish outfits from the 1790s. (And why not indeed.)

Happy Halloween- Pimpernel hopes it’s a stylish one 🙂

Images from Imdb and our own screenshots

A buckle man, or a string man?

October 6, 2009

Portrait of Pierre Sériziat, by Jacques-Louis David, 1795.

What will the well dressed gentleman will be wearing for Autumn? In Pimpernel’s enthusiastic research he chanced across a copy of the Boston Weekly Magazine from Saturday, Nov. 10, 1804. What a delight to find this publication carries information on the latest Parisian fashions!

The Parisian beaux wear nankeen breeches in half dress, and even at balls. Buckles are more the ton amidst the votaries of the light fantastic toe, but strings are more elegant for walking. The deepest nankeen color is the most fashionable; and therefore the petits maitres get their nankeen garments refreshed in a strong infusion of tea.

Pimpernel has never been a votary of tripping the light fantastic (it’s murder on the dance floor, apparently), but likes a good walk. That would presumably mean that strings at the knees of his breeches would suit, like that dashing Mr Seriziat in the portrait above. George Bryan Brummell, below, Pimpernel dimly suspects is more of a buckle man…

Pimpernel is particularly intrigued by rinsing one’s breeches in tea. Earl Grey, naturally, with a little milk and one sugar. (Pimpernel also wonders whether dousing himself in tea would work as a tanning agent….)

George “Beau” Brummell, watercolor by Richard Dighton (1805)

A marked superiority

September 28, 2009

A new deck of our popular facsimile playing cards has been added to the Pimpernel Clothing store: the Arms of English Peers. (Pimpernel finds the mania for gambling amongst his acquaintance required many decks, such is the excessive wear his cards are subjected to!)

A little background to this particular deck: in 1644 King Louis XIV of France issued a licence to print certain ‘educational’ playing cards. The resulting cards sparked off a fashion which spread to Holland, Germany and England. The most popular educational subject soon emerged as Heraldry. This deck is a facsimile of an original English deck from 1688.

Logically, the arms of the peers are ordered according to rank in each suit. The higher the rank, the higher the card value: archbishops and dukes are superior in rank to earls and barons, the arms of the latter being depicted on the lowest cards in all suits. (Pimpernel hopes that you will not suppose that earls or barons are inferior in any other way- goodness no!)

Attention to detail

September 13, 2009

We had a lot of fun setting up this Pimpernel Clothing photoshoot. (You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to arrange playing cards to look random, and how much hard work it was finishing off the wine afterwards…)

What isn’t apparent perhaps in the finished shot is that the mounds of gold coins are not in fact money but are actually gaming counters (such is Pimpernel’s pernickety attention to detail).

To be exact, they’re Victorian counters modelled on Georgian coins, known as ‘spade’ guineas as the shield on them was spade shaped. The phrase “in memory of the good old days” has been added around the shield. This peculiarity (and a few other little strategic alterations) helped avoid the legal problem of gaming counters looking too similar to actual coinage. (Later Victorian counters start to carry advertising- one of ours advertises a fledgling shopping emporium founded by a Mr. Sainsbury. It’ll never catch on…)

It is reputedly thanks to Marie Antoinette that gambling counters (or jetons) became so popular. In 1778 the Queen introduced a mania for gambling while lying in before the birth of her first child, Marie Therese. Her passion was the game Pharoah (or Faro):

Play rose so high, that they were obliged to invent a new mode of managing their accounts. It was impossible for a person to bring four or five thousand louis in gold; boxes were contrived which were filled with pieces of mother of pearl, engraved with their name, and on the other side the fums for which they were meant to pass. The following day these bills of exchange were immediately paid. M. de la Vaupalliere, having desired his lady to arrange some pieces for this purpose, she ingenously had her portrait with those of her two children, engraved on them, with these words, Remember us. When this gentleman opened his box at the table, it occasioned a momentary surprise; he applauded the invention; laughed, played, and was ruined.

from Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution by Isaac Disraeli.