Culture corner: A spy in the house of fashion

Styling a film franchise, particularly one as bankable as writer Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, is often an exercise in characterisation over couture. However, while 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, which made more than $422m at the box office, saw Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) trading his slick spy chic – leather jackets, chunky tan sweaters, and many outfit changes – for a pared-down, markedly less conspicuous look, The Bourne Legacy, now showing in the US and UK, is more fashion-sensitive than its predecessor.

“Matt’s character was really the onion peeled away,” says British costume designer Shay Cunliffe, who worked on both films. With a narrative switch from Jason Bourne to Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), the product of a CIA programme who has been chemically enhanced to become an unstoppable killing machine, “we wanted to shake it up a bit, but not take it into a completely different vocabulary”. The result is a fugitive clad in practical and stylish outerwear that is likely to infiltrate civilian closets in the autumn.

Cross’s wardrobe was largely sourced from specialist Canadian outfitter Arc’teryx, whose thermoformed, micro-seam jackets are engineered to be “fantastically light, fantastically warm, impervious to water”. Function-infused fashion was important to Renner, who told Cunliffe: “I want to be able to put it on, live in it and do everything I need to do.” A utilitarian black-on-black Belstaff jacket, leather in appearance but made of cotton to minimise sweat, also plays a part.

Colour relief comes via a Ralph Lauren Highland green cable-knit sweater worn by Cross’s fellow “Outcome” agent (Oscar Isaac) and referencing “frontier men together in solidarity”, says Cunliffe. Conversely, as a morally dubious CIA agent hell-bent on catching Cross, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) dons muted grey suits from Ermenegildo Zegna and Hugo Boss: “cool and collected, like a young JFK”.

As for the womenswear, Cross’s scientist saviour Dr Marta Sheerling (Rachel Weisz) forgoes high fashion for Earnest Sewn dark jeans, a faux shearling Comptoir des Cotonniers dark camel duffel jacket (Cunliffe removed the toggles to take away fuss), and charcoal Rag and Bone flat zip-boots – proof, perhaps, that this new chapter of the Bourne series has some pretty powerful fashion legs.

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