Why we're channelling The Talented Mr Ripley this summer

Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of contenders from the title of most stylish summer film, but we can’t think of any that get more referenced than The Talented Mr Ripley starring Jude Law, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow as the decadent protagonists, living la dolce vita (although Ripley, played by Damon, is of course only imitating it). Sartorially speaking, the film is a clever montage of Ivy League style meets classic Italian tailoring, as seen through the eyes of a well-heeled American jet-set. The garments in it are so representative of the characters who wear them, that Ripley appropriates them as his camouflage, borrowing from Dickie Greenleaf’s wardrobe as he becomes increasingly intractable from his sociopathic journey.

In fact, the entire premise of the film hangs on a piece of clothing - a Princeton-crested blazer that Ripley borrows in order to look the part at a musical recital in Manhattan, and which leads him to be mistaken as a Princeton alumnus. We soon learn that Ripley is the epitome of East Coast average, particularly in the way he dresses. He has no particular taste of his own, nor any idea of Mediterranean forms of dress, as highlighted by a cringeworthy Italian beach scene when he first approaches Greenleaf, wearing a pair of lime green bathing shorts, tattered brown brogues and an “undercoat” of milky pale skin. Dickie, on the other hand, is reclining assuredly, oiled up and sunkissed, wearing a pair of cream printed shorts and looking every bit the Europeanised dandy.

The Talented Mr Ripley cast

As the film opens up, so too does Dickie’s wardrobe, which is a masterclass of casual tailoring, inspired by jazz musicians and Italian flair. Perhaps most iconic are Dickie’s short-sleeved shirts which come in a variety of collar styles, from accentuated points to the camp or Cuban collar style that is extremely popular right now. Some, such as a pale yellow and white one, are made with an open weave to appear more sporting (he even wears a black polo made from a gauze-like weave in Sanremo), while others are constructed from a more tightly woven cotton to appear smarter, most of which he counters with rolled-up linen trousers of the baggy variety or shorts in white and pastel pink hues, bookended with a pair of Gucci loafers. It’s effortless bourgeois style with the decadent shabbiness of someone with no permanent address.

Celebrated costume designers Ann Roth and Gary Jones were responsible for the wardrobes. Roth had just won an academy award for her work on Minghella’s previous film, The English Patient and relished the idea of creating a dichotomous wardrobe for Greenleaf and Ripley: “The ’50s were, for the most part, very dull visually,” Roth told Live Design in 2000. “In the ’40s, we had the restrictions of the war and limited fabric. After the war, Dior came with the New Look and that was very interesting, with the use of more fabric, the bigness of men’s clothes, the double-breasted jackets. When we went into the ’50s, there was this aspiration to look like a solid citizen… Then, the jet-set thing started to happen — Italians, the Riviera, Brigitte Bardot and the Mambo Kings… There was a certain air about town, which had to do with Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani, and dancing all night. And I was right there.”

Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley

To this day, Roth and Jones’ work still stands up to sartorial scrutiny. Paltrow and Law’s characters could have stepped off any resortwear runway show of the last 20 years, such is their timeless style, which is something we aim for at Oliver Spencer. Rather than chasing trends, we prefer to create seasonal collections that elevate the classic pieces of casual tailoring so they are never out of style. Our selection of linen trousers, for example, could just as easily be worn by Dickie Greenleaf in Mongibello in 1955 as they could be by you in Dalston in 2020. If anything, we want you to buy less, but buy better, and creating a timelessly stylish wardrobe is the best way to do this.

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