“You look important … or at least your suit does.”
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 vs. 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 whether a Paco Rabanne belt can go with Dior.
Even Bond may want to take 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 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 makes an appearance earlier, when Solo rides it a car race filmed at the Goodwood Estate (in real life, home to the annual “Festival of Speed” that features vintage autos) while Ilya and Gaby catch a Fiat Multipla Taxi. The race car itself is based on 1960s Formula One cars by Honda, such as the RA300, which won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix.
What of the movie's two epic car chase sequences? The opener down deserted streets in East Berlin sees 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 ‘60s), while Solo drives an anachronistic-yet-awesome dune buggy-like creation dubbed the “Rock Crawler.” According to auto wrangler Alex King, two seven-feet-wide, four-wheel-drive, all-terrain vehicles were totally custom-built. (They're both chasing Alexander, driving a modified Land Rover.)
Although a major action sequence involves a British-built, 75-horsepower Fletcher powerboat that wreaks havoc in an industrial harbor (we can only imagine what it would do on a lake when not exchanging gunfire), the clear watercraft winner is an Italian-built Riva. Seen for a flash as Victoria climbs aboard one in Pozzuoli Harbor to go to her family's private island (aka, Evil Island Lair), it is dark-wooded, exquisitely sculpted, and excessively polished while 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 (Henry Cavill)
Napoleon Solo is a man bent on reinvention—a soldier-turned-master thief-turned-CIA wunderkind. After a heady car chase and shootout, he’ll whip up a white truffle risotto while wearing a double-breasted suit, no problem.
“He’s all about the vanity and projection of his appearance—so expensive, good-looking, and chic,” Oscar-nominated costume designer Joanna Johnston tells us.
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 from 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.
During that race track scene, Solo kills in a windowpane-patterned suit, a 1960s vintage Omega watch loaned from Omega's archives, and a custom-made, gold signet ring.
“It’s such an English thing,” Johnston explains. “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.
Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer)
Standing a lanky six-feet, five inches, 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,” says 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 Kuryakin’s look—that and the ever-present turtleneck pullovers from his character's '60s TV version. Those were made by John Smedley, in cotton and light merino wool—a brand Johnston prefers for its 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 assembled it all with both light cream and dark navy/black Baracuta G9 Harrington jackets (tartan-lined, windbreaker-like coats).
For the easiest Halloween costume ever, find a pair of signature foldable Persol sunglasses (or that pair of Armani Kuryakin wears in the final scene), a random vintage Russian watch (major plot device alert), a gun, and a throaty Russian accent.
A black python-skin waistcoat, cinched tight—that’s everything you need to know about Debicki’s Victoria Vinciguerra. She’s gorgeous, sexy, and very, very deadly. It’s no surprise she wears that, plus a custom chiffon skirt, when she moves to ensnare Solo via sexy times at Rome's Grand Plaza.
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, race car-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 wears handmade L.G.R. sunglasses from Italy (natch), then switches up in the last act to a pair of vintage Persol that the actor himself found in Naples. Calvani also introduced Johnston to the (then-current season) Massimo Rebecchi jacket he wears during the final chase.
Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander)
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, Johnston preferred to print her own patterns for the one-off dresses—such as that orange camo mini-dress Gaby wears to the island. The goal: lots of structure and 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 from Henry Holland stands out. Gaby's yellow purse at the racetrack is Delvaux; at other times she carries a Marni handbag, with earrings to match. Johnston found more '60s pop baubles at Grays Market in London and Pikkio in Rome.
While the modern-day Checkpoint Charlie may feel like a Euro Disney East Berlin, and those chase sequences actually took place on the streets of Greenwich in England—“One of the worst places you could be” for historic verisimilitude, jokes production designer Oliver Scholl, who notes the "wrong" side of the road driving challenges—you can visit some of the other posh locations in the film.
“Architecture is a bigger time span,” says Scholl. “If you go to Rome now, it looks like it did then.”
The gilt-as-all-getout hotel in Rome? It really is the Grand Hotel Plaza.
The Vinciguerra Estate? That’s the Convento Santa Teresa in Caprarola, 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), serves as the site of a key lunch.
Victoria’s Evil Island Lair, aka Vinciguerra Island? Totally fake, but its composite components are real—a mix of a Napolitano boat factory with a big, long pier, Castle Baja in the Bay of Naples, and Castel dell’Ovo on the islet of Megaride. As for the garage and lower entrance at which Solo finds the Rock Crawler, those are caves beneath Naples, under the Fonderia Iron Works. (Visit Napoli Sotterranea for a similar adventure.)
One last fun fact: When the final chase zooms from Vinciguerra Island to the countryside, the production in fact zipped from Naples to the Hankley Common, a rural area in Surrey, and to Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. Geography, woah. Movie magic!
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