Kingsman: How to create a clothing line one film at a time
There are a few defining movies enshrined in menswear lore.
The sharp tailored suits worn by Michael Caine in 1970’s Get Carter; Richard Gere’s much-mimicked Armani wardrobe in American Gigolo (1980); the game-changing impact The Talented Mr. Ripley had on reshaping pretty much everyone’s holiday attire from 1999 onwards; and the impeccable style of Tom Ford’s cinematic flurry, A Single Man (2009).
In 2015, Kingsman: The Secret Service was added to that list. In fact, good clothes and marketable style were actually key components in the ultra-stylish spy caper, and its subsequent sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) and this year’s release of the prequel The King’s Man.
“From the outset of the first film, my aim was to tell an alternative spy story, with cool, aspirational and wearable clothes that mirror the style and tone of the characters on screen,” says Matthew Vaughn, director of the Kingsman films franchise. “When I was a kid, I loved movies, and I was heavily influenced by what the movie stars were wearing on screen. For example, the Wayfarer sunglasses that Tom Cruise wore in Risky Business; I had to buy a pair immediately after leaving the theatre.”
Unlike traditional ‘product placement’ seen in other blockbusters, Vaughn spied the opportunity to create an entirely different element of film merchandise. This was more than James Bond’s Omega Seamaster watch or his Aston Martin DB-whatever, once Vaughn envisioned the Kingsmen as immaculately dressed spies, he thought: why not turn the movie’s costume into a real collection?
“I had admired how other companies had successful produced film merchandise…but I wanted to create something from the luxury end, with great quality clothing and partnerships with the best brands,” Vaughn tells Esquire. Peculiarly enough, it was an area of merchandise spin-off that has been previously attempted, but never pulled off successfully.
How Vaughn is his team “cracked-the-code” with Kingsman was by making the process inherent to each film’s production process. Bringing in award-winning Hollywood costume designer Arianne Phillips (who worked with Ford on A Single Man and was Oscar-nominated for her work on Walk the Line) and—rather cleverly—the menswear e-commerce site MR PORTER, the development of the film’s costumes and the commercial collection inspired by the film were done simultaneously, and were to be available exclusively on MR PORTER.
“What really piqued my interest was that tailoring was at the centre of the narrative,” said Phillips previously about the original collection. “The idea of creating a Kingsman brand was an incredible opportunity because no-one has successfully managed to merchandise fashion from a film before.”
The decision has long since been vindicated with the Kingsman clothing collection having taken a life of its own as a successful menswear label. In the five years since its launch, it is now in its 13th season.
“I don’t think we could have foreseen how successful it would be,” says Sam Kershaw, buying director of MR PORTER. “We knew the brand was the result of a special partnership, but didn’t anticipate that Kingsman would sit within the top 10 luxury menswear brands on MR PORTER”.
This year sees the release of The King’s Man, the latest installment to the franchise and, with it, the third ‘costume to collection’ launch. Unlike the previous two, due to the film being set during World War I, an entirely new styling direction and aesthetic is introduced by Michele Clapton who
has taken over from Arianne Phillips as costume designer.
“It’s the first time I have used my costume skills to design for both a film and a commercial collection,” explains Clapton. “In the first films Arianne and the team created the foundational DNA, where there was a steep grasp of Savile Row tailoring and quintessential modes of British dress, but for The King’s Man, I was truly thrilled to take the costumes in a new direction, bringing my own lens, language and approach to each piece.”
As the origin story of the franchise, the fim is set during the first World War, and a lot of stress was put on balancing the historical accuracy while evoking the style and cool of the Kingsman brand.
“I started by exploring 1910’s dress codes, looking at original pieces, fabrics, military uniforms, paintings and photos from the era and discovered that there was a bold use of colour and weave in the suiting, along with classic checks and stripes,” explains Clapton. “I learnt that much of the suiting was heavy weight so used this to create the silhouettes and incorporated an array of three-piece suits, alongside the classic Kingsman double breasted styles, which men of that time frequently wore.”
The depth of research also ensured that the collection pays attention to the smaller details, with specifics such as penny collars and tie bar shirts, that were prevalently worn during this period, were also updated to be included into the latest ‘costume to collection’.
According to Clapton, the benefit of working with the commercially-savvy insight from MR PORTER allowed new light to be shed on menswear trends and how many of today’s classic menswear pieces took inspiration from retrospective styles originating during the 1900s.
In the film, Harris Dickinson’s character, Conrad, looks infinitely sharp in an oiled linen jacket based on an original biking shape from the 1910s with an incorporated utilitarian aesthetic. It is a piece that best demonstrates the adaptation of the film’s costume to the commercial collection available today.
“In addition to replicating the jacket in green for the collection, we also interpreted the piece into a leather jacket. Leather jackets are an everyday staple in a man’s wardrobe and this style, even with its historical homage, is something that is as relevant today as it would have been back then,” says Clapton.
From a retail point of view it appears that the Kingsman collection has successfully managed to deliver crossover appeal to the film’s fans and established luxury brands that would benefit from the aesthetic created.
“What was so unique about Matthew Vaughn’s vision for Kingsman was that he wanted to specifically partner with leading and time-honored British brands that are masters in their field,” explains Kershaw. “Many of the brands were rooted in bespoke and made-to-measure menswear that make-up the very best of Savile Row, so with the support of MR PORTER, we were able to deliver commercially-viable, ready-to-wear collections from brands such as George Cleverley shoes and Turnbull & Asser shirting, in order to create easy-to-access pieces that helped elevate the tailoring centerpiece of the collection.”
According to Kershaw, with each film release the e-com site witnesses a notable bump in sales for its mainline continuity range, in addition to the showpiece film-specific collections. “What we have seen is that the brand transcends merely resonating with the film’s fans, but also does continuously with our luxury customers,” he says.
When it comes to a lasting legacy, Vaughn’s enjoyable trilogy may never be considered up there with the likes of The Godfather or Indiana Jones, but it certainly will have left its mark in the style stakes.
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