Style on Screen

Wardrobing Russell Brand in 'Arthur': Less Dudley, More Lapo

Sometimes the clothes really do make the man. We talk to the woman who made the clothes.
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Brothers

White Out: Russell Brand and Nick Nolte in 'Arthur.'

We’ll refrain from speculating on whether the remake of Arthur is worth your time, but heed must be paid to Russell Brand’s eye-popping wardrobe in the film. We called up costume designer Juliet Polcsa to get the lowdown on the clothes, which were made by Martin Greenfield and inspired by everyone’s favorite Italian auto heir, Lapo Elkann.

How do you go about updating something with such a classic? You kind of have to reference the original, don’t you?
Absolutely. The first thing I wanted to do was revisit the original Arthur and see how impeccable he was. The costume designer on that, Jane Greenwood, did such an incredible job. It was definitely the early-’80s, but at the same time he had this kind of timeless elegance, the rich guy air of tailored suits, and that was something I wanted to do.

How did Russell Brand figure into your concept?
When they cast Russell everyone was a little scared. They wondered, okay, how is this going to translate? What are we going to do? I was doing some research and trying to find something that would solve that problem. And, indeed, I found it in GQ. There was a 50 best-dressed men issue or something like that, and one of them is Lapo Elkann, the heir to the Fiat fortune. Lapo’s always on these international best-dressed lists; Tom Ford has always said that he is inspired by him. He is this Italian rogue playboy—millionaire, billionaire, I don’t know how much money he has. The thing about Lapo is he has the look: he has the rock ‘n’ roll hair and he has the tailored suits but he wears them with such non-conformity. When I brought that to the table and showed the director and the producers they all just said, that’s it! When I presented it to Russell, I think he was kind of searching for a way he could hang on to the character and everybody was like, Okay, Lapo Elkann, let’s go. I wish we had bracelets made that read, “What Would Lapo Do?”

All Materials Courtesy of Miss Polcsa

Design sketches, and the Fiat heir who inspired them.

I know some people in this office who would’ve sported those bracelets. We’re all huge fans of Lapo’s grandfather Gianni Agnelli, and envious as sin of Lapo for inheriting his closet. It makes sense that Russell is wearing that baby blue kinda worsted suit with ’70s lapels…
It was brilliant. There is a point in the script when he takes his jacket off and his girlfriend notices the Savile Row label inside. The jacket was custom made for his father and he makes a comment like, “Oh yeah, I had all my father’s suits tailored to fit me.” Everything seemed to fit. I mean, Lapo does a lot of shawl collar with grosgrain trim, and double breasted, and some of that didn’t work on Russell. So once we had the inspiration we took it to where we could. What was important to Russell was the very British iconography. We did the traditional British banker striped suit and there was one outfit that he wore which was my take on a fox hunting outfit. Then we just tried to have fun with fabrics.

Tell me about that, the detailing.
There are a lot of whimsical touches in there that don’t necessarily show up on screen, but we all knew it was there and the actor knew it was there. Everything was custom made. The linings were just incredible. There were a lot of details in the suit. We of course had working button holes and got to play with that a little bit. Some men, when they have a custom suit, will undo a couple buttons just to show that it is is workable. We decided not to make it so subtle. He would turn the cuff and show the lining and push the sleeves up and have fun with it.

Sketches, Photos and Swatches Courtesy of Miss Polcsa

From Concept to Creation.

We talk a lot about surgeon’s cuffs around here, as well as Mr. Martin Greenfield, of whom we are big fans.
Martin Greenfield is a god. I spent days, weeks, at [his factory in Brooklyn], sitting at his table, going through fabric swatches, making choices. Once we had a fit on Russell and the proportions, the length of the sleeve and all, the biggest thing was the length of the jacket on him. Once we had that body, we could change the details—we could make it an over coat, we could change the lapels, do a ticket pocket. Russell wanted the suit short, short, short, short, short. And he wanted the pants tight, tight, tight, tight, tight. It was this back and forth to find a balance between elegant and modern. I didn’t want it to look too Russell, but wanted to find a comfort zone where Russell could still feel comfortable playing this character.

By the way, that seersucker three-piece is amazing. I want one.
Oh, thank you.

Photo: Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Brand New Secondhand Savile Row.

Tell me about those watches.
He had four watches that were… astounding. They were made by a company called Wintour and they are only just being sold in this country now. What was amazing about these watches is that under the crystal there are just free-floating diamonds. I want to say 3 karats worth of diamonds. We had a solid gold one, a platinum one, a gold with a brown croc band, and a platinum with a black croc band. It’s funny because the director said, “I don’t want Arthur to wear a watch. He shouldn’t be aware of time. He’s got people for that.” But I said, “these really aren’t timepieces, they’re toys.” I showed them to Russell and he said, “I have to have one!”

Who did the shoes?
A lot of the time he wore Belgian shoes. To get Russell into that… I kept referencing these pictures of Lapo, and whether Lapo’s were Belgian or not, I don’t know, but there is definitely that slipper-with-no-sock kind of thing. And Russell just fell in love with them. To him, when he put the shoes on without the socks he really felt like the character. We [also] had Crockett & Jones and Armani shoes.

Well it’s a really beautiful collection you’ve made. How many suits did you do in the end?
I don’t know. Over twenty. All of them were really exceptional. I have a hard time choosing a favorite.

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