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The suit is the modern gentleman’s armour,” observes Harry Hart, the hero of Matthew Vaughn’s new action film. “And the Kingsmen are its knights.”
Released this month in the UK, Kingsman is a spy drama in which a Savile Row tailor’s shop serves as a front for an elite group of suave secret service agents. Written, directed and produced by Vaughn, it stars Colin Firth (as Hart), Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and newcomer Taron Egerton, and, like all the best British espionage dramas, is a brilliantly entertaining blend of impossible gadgetry, explosions and giddy humour — all packaged in a perfectly cut double-breasted suit.
The 43-year-old says he was inspired to make the film while standing in a tailor’s dressing room. “I was having a suit made at Huntsman, where all the rich and powerful have had their suits made since Queen Victoria, and I got bored and started imagining what would happen if I pressed a secret button and the whole room became an elevated lift going down into a secret lair. And this idea of the tailor being the shopfront of a spy organisation was moulded.”
The gentleman spy is a cinematic figure as familiar and seductive as a shaken Martini but while Kingsman’s formula is pure James Bond — an avenging hero, a lisping pantomime villain (Samuel L Jackson), an umbrella that fires bullets — the film has also inspired a rather ingenious innovation.
Kingsman, a new menswear label developed by Vaughn, the costume designer Arianne Phillips and Mr Porter (the menswear arm of online retail behemoth Net-a-Porter), launched this week with a capsule collection of 60 items of clothing and accessories taken directly from the film. So, viewers who love the Kingsman suits, Colin Firth’s “dope ass” velvet smoking jacket or Caine’s slippers and dressing gown can now buy the exact same for themselves. In creating Kingsman, Vaughn has potentially changed the business of costume for ever.
“A lot of people do these cheap lifestyle brands off these movies — really cheap crap basically — and I thought, ‘Let’s do the opposite,’ ” Vaughn says. “I know a lot of people will watch this film and think, ‘My God, how do I get that?’ So I rang up Natalie Massenet, one of the most intelligent and groundbreaking people in fashion, and thought this would be a way to have some fun.”
Produced and manufactured in Britain, Kingsman brings together some of the most venerable names in gentlemen’s outfitting; the collection includes hats by Locke & Co, eyewear by Cutler and Gross, shirts by Turnbull & Asser, ties by Drake’s, shoes by George Cleverley and umbrellas by Mayfair company Swaine Adeney Brigg (alas, bullets are not included). The suits are manufactured by Cheshire Bespoke. “It’s one of the very few factories in the UK that can still make a fully canvassed tailored garment”, says Toby Bateman, the buying director at Mr Porter who was instrumental in steering the whole collection.
If Vaughn is confident of how influential the cinema can be sartorially, it’s because he speaks from experience. “I remember watching American Gigolo and thinking how amazing Richard Gere looked in Armani,” he says. “The first time I ever wore an accessory was after seeing Tom Cruise in Risky Business, when I started to wear Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Then, four years later, I saw Top Gun, threw the Ray-Bans away and started wearing Aviators.
Moreover, he argues, film is far more influential than any men’s fashion show. “The only catwalk men will look at is Victoria’s Secret,” he argues. “If you ask most men who they want to look like, it’s always the usual names that come up — Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Sean Connery. Most guys want to look like an image or a person they’re inspired by rather than create their own look.”
If there is a standout star in the Kingsman ensemble, it is the double-breasted suit. A typically 1980s, and lately unfashionable, style, not everyone was convinced when Vaughn first proposed it for his secret service agents. “Everyone thought I was insane,” says Vaughn, who describes the Duke of Edinburgh as the world’s most elegant suit wearer. “Even Mr Porter were like, ‘We don’t really sell them, everyone wants single-breasted.’ Well, I told them, when I was getting my first suit made in the 1980s it was all about double-breasted, and as far as I can tell fashion is circular — and they can look beautiful.”
Truly, the resulting garment is sublimely handsome (especially when worn by Firth). “It was a bold statement,” Vaughn says. “But I wanted to recreate that classic English gentleman suit in a modern-day way. I think even the Bond suits are not really gentleman’s suits — they’re a little bit too trendy.”
Furthermore, as a new menswear label in a crowded market, the double-breasted suit will be Kingsman’s USP. “We couldn’t simply sell a navy blue two-button suit and expect men to come and buy it,” says Bateman. “You can get a navy two-button suit from every designer in the world. We were really looking for a point of difference for this brand, and the double-breasted silhouette is the point of difference.”
While Kingsman is a neat marketing stunt, it launched this week amid London Collections: Men, and alongside a glamorous premiere and a pop-up shop, the team insists the label is more than simply hype. There are already plans for further collections, which will ideally precede further Kingsman films, but the label has been designed to continue regardless of how Kingsman fares in cinemas. “We’re hoping the film’s a hit and we can make another one and then continue with the clothing,” says Vaughn. “If the film isn’t a hit, then we’re hoping we can continue with the clothing anyway because we’ve got strong ideas how these guys should dress.”
At the very least, Kingsman should inspire a renaissance for the gentleman’s umbrella: “I hope so,” says Vaughn, “instead of these horrible plastic things. If you’re going to have an umbrella, why not have one you’re not embarrassed about? I’ll feel very proud if in a year’s time I see a lot of people with umbrellas and double-breasted suits.” With a secondary career as a fashion designer, one wonders where Vaughn might look for inspiration next. Turns out, he has designs on the piste. “I’m doing another couple of movies this year,” he says. “It’s a really fun script about skiers, and we’re designing the costumes for that and I’m thinking, ‘This is great ski gear, people will want to wear this.’ ”
‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is released in the UK on January 29 and in the US on February 13. The Kingsman collection is now available on Mr Porter