Arts & Leisure

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has the best clothes and cars of any film in ’15

Posted on August 25, 2015

“YOU LOOK important... or at least your suit does.”

THE VESPA, the turtlenecks, the sunglasses, the helicopters, the bling -- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has it all.
So opens The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Guy Ritchie’s punchy bon bon of an action flick, a remake of the mid-1960s TV series of the same name. But instead of a weekly romp of Cold War spy versus spy, you get a feature-length origin story to the buddy-comedy pairing of sarcastic Russian KGB agent Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) with suave CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) as they race to save the world from nuclear destruction.

You also get a very nice suit -- many, many nice suits -- and sunglasses and watches and glossy vintage roadsters roaring through the Italian countryside.

The film’s fashion is as on-point as the supercars are slick. One of the funniest scenes involves a champagne-fueled tête-a-tête in a posh boutique about if a Paco Rabanne belt can go with Dior.

Even Bond may want to take some notes.

Apparently Jaguars are the cars du jour for evil baddies in spy flicks.

Gaby (Alicia Vikander) is chauffeured in a stately Jaguar MK9 to a lunch that may spell her demise while the villainess Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) drives a blood-red convertible 1963 Jaguar E Type two-seater, looking like a viper ready to strike. That’s after a recon mission goes F.U.B.A.R. and Solo and Ilya have to escape on a replica Vespa VBB 150.

That Vespa made an appearance earlier when Solo rides it in a car race filmed at the Goodwood Estate -- in real life, home to the annual “Festival of Speed” featuring vintage autos -- while Ilya and Gaby catch a Fiat Multipla Taxi. The race car itself is based on 1960s Formula One cars by Honda, like the RA300, which won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix.

As for the two epic car chase sequences? The opener down deserted streets of East Berlin saw a vintage Wartburg 353 dueling with a Trabant, both squat communist workhorses-turned-collector items.

The closing chase sees Ilya tear up a mountain on a Métisse Desert Racer built by Gerry Lisi (an exact replica of the Mark III moto designed by Steve McQueen in the 1960s), while Solo drives an anachronistic-yet-awesome dune-buggy-like creation dubbed the “Rock Crawler.” According to auto wrangler Alex King, two of the seven-feet-wide, 4WD ATVs were totally custom built. (They’re both chasing Alexander in a modified Land Rover.)

Although a major action sequence involves a British-built, 75-horsepower Fletcher powerboat wreaking havoc in an industrial harbor (we can only imagine what it’d do on a lake not exchanging gunfire), the clear watercraft winner is an Italian-built Riva. Seen for a flash as Victoria climbs aboard in Pozzuoli Harbor to go to her family’s private island (a.k.a. Evil Island Lair), it’s dark-wooded, exquisitely sculpted, excessively polished, and oozing class. In an e-mail, the film’s maritime wrangler called it the “Rolls-Royce of the speed boats.”

Look familiar? That’s a 1960 Hiller UH12E4, better known as Pussy Galore’s helicopter from Goldfinger.

Napoleon Solo is a man bent on re-invention -- a solider turned master thief turned CIA wunderkind. After a heady car chase and shootout, he’ll whip up a white truffle risotto in double-breasted suit, no problem.

“He’s all about the vanity and projection of his appearance -- so expensive, good-looking, and chic,” said Oscar-nominated costume designer Joanna Johnston in an interview.

A gentleman’s gentleman, his Oxfords are G.J. Cleverley, boots Crockett & Jones, and sunglasses Thierry Lasry. Buttery leather gloves from Pickett as well as Dents make safe-cracking a sumptuous affair. If he’s going to dress down, say to shoot up a secret lab, he’ll still keep bespoke with a black windbreaker and woolen slacks by vaunted London tailor Timothy Everest.

Everest also crafted all his “important suits” in high Savile Row tradition, using pure wool fabric from Holland & Sherry and Misan, chosen for their quality and color.

“I also love the mills W. Bill, Islay Woollen Mill, and Hainsworth,” said Ms. Johnston. “The mills in the UK are very special.”

During that race track scene, Solo killed with a windowpane patterned suit, a 1960s vintage Omega watch loaned from their archives, and a custom-made gold signet ring.

“It’s such an English thing,” Ms. Johnston explained. “Henry was very keen on it as well, so I made one for him at a local independent jeweler.” The design was Cavill’s own, depicting the two faces of the Greek god Janus.

Standing a lanky 6’5”, Armie Hammer’s Agent Kuryakin may be a beast of a Russian, but he wears the most American of designers like a boss.

His go-to chestnut brown Ralph Lauren suede bomber was off-the-shelf when the film was shot two years ago -- “We had to have loads of them because it was an action film,” said Ms. Johnston -- but you could snag a shearling one today for around $2,000. He’s not afraid of a little corduroy jacket action either.

Steve McQueen was a big influence on Illya’s look -- that and the ever-present turtleneck pullovers from the TV version of his character. Those were made by John Smedley, in cotton and light merino wool, a brand Ms. Johnston prefers for their classic cut, excellent construction, and variety of colors. To complete the “separates” look, Johnston custom-made his ivy cap from W. Bill wool, leather Chelsea boots, and wool slacks, then paired it all with both light cream and dark navy/black Baracuta G9 Harrington jackets (a tartan-lined, wind-breaker-like coat).

For the easiest Halloween costume ever, find a pair of signature foldable Persol sunglasses (or that pair of Armani he wore in the final scene), a random vintage Russian watch (major plot device alert), a gun, and a throaty Russian accent.

A black python-skin waistcoast, cinched tight -- that’s everything you need to know about Elizabeth Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra. She’s gorgeous, sexy, and very very deadly. It’s no surprise she wore that, plus a custom chiffon skirt, when she went to ensnare Solo via sexy times at Rome’s Grand Plaza.

Throughout she had Roger Vivier on her feet and a vintage gold Jaeger-LeCoultre watch on her wrist, plus the occasional drip of Pierre Cardin bracelets, pendants, and rings. No-nonsense luxe.

Later in the pivotal third act of the film she’s seen in a vintage Valentino print sewed into an asymmetrical top, black-and-white, like her worldview.

Meanwhile her mustachioed racecar-driving husband, Alexander (Luca Calvani), is the perfect Italian playboy: stylish and sexy, with all the right labels.

His shirts are Prada, shoes Versace, and that sweater, pure Balenciaga. At the racetrack he wore handmade L.G.R. sunglasses from Italy (natch), then switched up in the last act for a pair of vintage Persol the actor found himself in Naples. Mr. Calvani also introduced Johnston to the (then current-season) Massimo Rebecci jacket he wears during the final chase.

When he does go bespoke, he favors rust and maroon suits with (Batemen Ogden wool) with shirts made from Swiss Alumo fabric -- or like, llya, a classic John Smedley pullover.

For spunky Gaby, an East German mechanic-turned-undercover pawn, Johnston first bought a lot of vintage clothes for the “base” of the film, then built up her design vocabulary from them.

Although some are Laurent Garigue fabrics, Ms. Johnston preferred to print her own patterns for the one-off dresses -- like that orange camo mini-dress Gaby wears to the island. The goal: lots of structure, strong silhouettes, to match the strong personalities.

The accessories, though, are pure retro luxe. Among the multiple Thierry Lasry sunglasses, a bug-eyed white pair Henry Holland stands out. Her yellow purse at the racetrack was Delvaux; other times she carried a Marni handbag with earrings to match. Ms. Johnston found more 1960s pop baubles at Grays Market in London and Pikkio in Rome.

While the modern-day Checkpoint Charlie may feel like the Euro Disney East Berlin, and those chase sequences actually happened on the streets of Greenwich in England -- “One of the worst places you could be” for historic verisimilitude, joked production designer Oliver Scholl, noting the whole drive-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road challenges -- you can still visit some of the other posh locations in the film.

“Architecture is a bigger time span,” said Mr. Scholl. “If you go to Rome now, it used to look like it did then.”

The gilt-as-all-get-out hotel in Rome? It really was the Grand Hotel Plaza.

The Vinciguerra Estate? That’s the Convento Santa Teresa in Caprarola, Italy, north of Rome. The nearby Villa Farnese with its giant outdoor staircase and wooden grounds (not to be confused with the Palazzo Faranese in Rome) served as the site of a key lunch.

Victoria’s Evil Island Lair, a.k.a. Vinciguerra Island? Totally fake -- but its composite components are real, a mixture of a Napolitano boat factory with its big long pier, Castle Baja in the Bay of Naples, and Castel dell’Ovo on the islet of Megaride. As for the secret labs beneath: Not a soundstage, but caves beneath Naples under the Fonderia Iron Works. (Visit Napoli Sotterraneafor a similar adventure.)

One last fun fact: when the final chase zooms from Vinciguerra Island to the countryside, the production actually zipped from Naples to the Hankley Common, a rural area in Surrey, and Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. Geography, woah. Movie magic! -- Bloomberg