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Lights, Camera, Fashion: A Single Man, July 2013

Forget the monochrome trends around now- there’s enough monochrome inspiration in A Single Man to dress you for life.

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What happens when one of fashion’s leading designers buys the rights to a Christopher Isherwood novel? Magic, that’s what!

Famed Gucci designer Tom Ford turned his artistic talent to directing for 2009’s artistic breakthrough film, A Single Man. An art house favourite and a success on all counts, not only did Colin Firth gain an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of George – a homosexual professor haunted by his lover’s suicide –  but his costume’s are spot on too!

An introverted character at the best of times, George’s minimalistic style is well suited to his elusive personality and the context of 1960’s LA. On the brink of a breakdown and struggling to hold himself, there’s one thing that never wavers -his impeccable appearance.

Always smartly suited up – rarely – if at all, does he appear without his trademark suit and spectacles, (Ralph Lauren’s Polo 2043), while his addition of thick rimmed glasses is likely inspired the fashion of the times, it establishes him as an intellectual who, perhaps by choice, is distanced from the inner social circles to which he ought to belong. He is a character who belongs to no social sphere.

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George’s suit and spectacles combination draws heavy comparison to Michael Caine’s iconic look of the 1960’s, but the creation of his style is set within deeper roots of influence, tracing back to Ford’s role at Gucci. Ford gained himself a reputation for artistic clashes with  Maurizio Gucci, who;“always wanted everything to be round and brown, and Tom wanted to make it square and black.” Indeed, that is George’s style defined.

As for the actual manufacturing of George’s suits, Ford did what any other top designer would and simply fashion one up in a flash – but not before scripting a suitable backstory and meticulous attention to detail. Ford fictionalised George buying the suits from his native England –Saville Row of course- as well as the suits featuring a sewn pattern of the tailor’s name on the inside, then George’s name and dated on the pocket (1957).

Explaining the abundance of black clothing and the notable absence of colour for George’s look, Ford explains this was due to his attitude to mood, stating,” When I’m depressed I don’t see color. Everything is flat. Then when I am not depressed, in a happy state, everything is very intense. Color is very intense.” 

Among the dark, sharp-cut clothing of George’s comes an unlikely saviour to his despair. By contrast to George, student Kenny’s primary colour is white, an angelic denotation to his relationship to George. Wearing a trademark look of white jeans and a soft, white mohair jumper, his approachable and charismatic nature is apparent – although Ford perhaps wasn’t a big fan at the time, revealing, “I had to brush that sweater and put hairspray on it the whole time, because mohair—you know. It just kept getting fluffier and fluffier and fluffier.”

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Ever arm to arm with fellow student Lois – played by top Brazillian model Aline Weber – she’s Kenny’s opposite in a black sweater and striking long blonde hair. A ringer for Bridget Bardot, she holds her cigarette casually in hand, pouting like only a model is capable of, she screams 60’s sophistication. As for her bouffant hair and smoky eyes, it’s not surprising Kenny stays so close.

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Having revived Gucci’s fledging reputation and contributing to their mega success, Tom Ford proves everything he touches turns to gold. This happens quite literally however for the costume of Charley (Julianne Moore) – George’s long-time friend and confident. With her strawberry blonde hair coiffed above her head, mustard/gold earrings falling down her neck and THAT monochrome dress emphasising her warm colouring, Charley’s influence on George is that of a warming sun shining upon a cold winter’s morning. With an energy and brash confidence as bold as her dress, Charley’s glamorous costumes are perfection, though it wasn’t always to be.

 Initially, Charley’s character described in Isherwood’s novel was nowhere near as glamorous as Tom Ford’s version, with the writer fearing the person it was intentionally based around may take delight in seeing themselves published. Ford only became aware of this once the script was complete, however, having received hugely positive feedback from Isherwood’s long-term partner, Don Bachardy, Charley’s character blossomed.

With dreamy scenes of A Single Man being compared to Hitchcock’s works, and the film’s beautiful construct captured to full potential through using expensive 35mm film stock, it’s crazy to discover that financial backers fully refused to fund a ‘flimsy’ art/fiction film. Undeterred, Ford’s passion meant he budgeted $7million of his own money to fund his film, but we know who had the last laugh.

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