Costume to Collection: Arianne Phillips on Kingsman

By Brianne Gillen - February 19, 2015

The Costume Council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) recently hosted the latest event in its ongoing series of evenings dedicated to shining the spotlight on the art of costume design. In anticipation of the newly released film, Kingsman: The Secret Service, designer Arianne Phillips sat down with Sharon Takeda, LACMA's senior curator and head of Costumes & Textiles. The primary focus of the conversation was Phillips's design process for the film, which included the creation of a corresponding men's clothing line for the web retailer Mr. Porter.

 Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

The integration of the retail line and the costume design of the film is innovative in many ways. Kingsman's director, Matthew Vaughn, had the idea for the tie-in from the start of the production process. Phillips told the audience that Vaughn has loved the look of London's Saville Row tailoring since he was a teenager, and would often see menswear he liked in the movies, but was frustrated at not being able to easily recreate his favorites for himself. For this particular story, the costumes play a key role - the Kingsman spy organization's public cover and base of operations is a Saville Row tailor shop. It therefore felt like a perfect opportunity to launch this venture, and Vaughn wanted the film's designer involved in every step of the process.

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

Phillips explained how rare and exciting that involvement has been. So often, when there is merchandising involved with a film, costume designers are completely excluded from all aspects of it. For most superhero franchises, the designers create the look of the suits, but see no royalties or even recognition from action figures, posters, and the many other items sold. Phillips  recently had her first (Tony-nominated) Broadway experience with Hedwig and the Angry Inch (she designed the original film version as well), and said it was eye-opening. Thanks to Equity rules, theatre designers receive royalties for their designs, which does not happen in the current film studio system. Because Vaughn did not involve the studio in the clothing line's development until it was almost complete, Phillips was an integral piece of every part of the line. She said that everyone at Mr. Porter has also been wonderful about honoring and promoting her involvement with the collection, which has enjoyed a hugely successful launch.

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

The costumes, and the retail, are quite stunning. It was of the utmost importance to everyone involved that the costumes in the context of the story take precedence over the fashion line. The motivation for the look of the film was classic British menswear, with modern updates. Phillips shared some of her inspiration and mood boards, which were full of photos of style icons such as James Bond (in his many incarnations), Cary Grant, David Niven, Noel Coward, the Duke of Windsor, and Michael Caine (who was eventually cast in Kingsman). She spent nine months in England in preparation and production for the film, and did extensive research in fabric and textiles. Phillips visited textile mills and wanted to use as many traditional patterns and textures as possible, from chalk stripes to tweeds and plaids. The suit and textile business is a dying craft in England - where there used to be over one hundred and fifty suit manufacturers, there are now only three left.

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

There were many brands Phillips wanted to employ, and was fortunate that several already had partnerships with Mr. Porter. Everyone involved in the line's creation wanted to take the aesthetic of the film and preserve its integrity, giving the consumer quality products. The selection of items from the collection at the event displayed impeccable tailoring and details. 

 Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips. 

While some of the jackets in the collection are single-breasted, it was important to the story Vaughn wanted to tell that all of the suits be double-breasted. Phillips shared that she was a little worried about only including that style of suit in the fashion line, because it has not been as popular of late, but those at Mr. Porter were happy to adhere to the film's designs. As traditional as the double-breasted style is, Phillips did give the silhouette a modern update, with slimmer trousers and nipped-in waists, which provide a less boxy look. She also lent some wonderful creativity to the uniforms worn by the fictional spy organization's recruits. They are based on a one-piece jumpsuit worn by Winston Churchill, but Phillips made each one in a different fabric, all from the traditional canon of British suitings - plaids, pinstripes, and wools.

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

Phillips stressed that this film and its fashion line are an interesting and important step forward. It is much more than traditional "product placement," but rather has maintained a critical involvement with the integrity of the story. With the global nature of both film and the online shopping, content and commerce can be connected in exciting new ways, and more and more audiences can learn about what goes into the design process, and benefit from it themselves. Phillips closed the evening with her thoughts on the present and future of costume design. She believes the burden is on designers to think outside the box and create new opportunities that extend beyond traditional and all-too-often overlooked positions. She hopes this line will help set the bar and inspire more behind-the-scenes artists to take new chances. Several television designers have seen recent success with similar endeavors, such as Lyn Paolo's Scandal-inspired collaboration with The Limited and Pretty Little Liars designer Mandi Line's work with Aeropostale. Hopefully momentum will continue to build among the costume design community, and designers will continue to receive long-overdue, well-deserved recognition for their crucial contribution to the film industry, as well as fashion.

 Kingsman: The Secret Service. Costume Designer Arianne Phillips.

 

The full Mr. Porter Kingsman collection can be found at www.MrPorter.com/KingsmanWardrobe, and the film is in theaters now.

 

Special thanks to Heather Sturdy and the Costume Council at LACMA.