Most film productions have a costume department, but The Outfit, a period crime drama set for a March 18th release by Focus Features, elevates clothing to a starring role. As the thriller is set entirely within a tailor’s workshop, venerable Savile Row maker Huntsman was tapped to provide the wardrobe. The 170-year-old firm, which has lately supplied clothing for big-budget productions including The King’s Man, did more than furnish suits and overcoats. Huntsman creative director Campbell Carey led the film’s star Mark Rylance in an apprenticeship, showing the Academy Award-winning actor the ropes of bespoke suit-making.
In the film Rylance plays Leonard, a Savile Row-trained English tailor who’s made a brisk business selling suits to Chicago gangsters. Our mild-mannered protagonist has tried his best to avoid gangland intrigue, only to see his workshop become the setting of a tense standoff. In order for Rylance to convincingly portray a tailor with decades of experience, both he and director Graham Moore felt that the actor should train with Huntsman. Rylance spent a week on Savile Row, and according to Carey, proved something of a natural.
“He was a great pupil who spent the first couple of days watching what I was doing, watching what the tailors downstairs were doing and taking notes,” Carey says. “On day three, he started asking all the right questions and really got into what’s involved.”
Among the most important lessons was learning how to properly hold a set of tailor’s shears—no small feat, as the antique shears used in the film weighed close to five pounds. “That was a good day or two, we had him cutting out random bits of cloth, and also learn how to hold a thimble and needle properly,” Carey says. “We really had him practice the action of cutting, sewing and chalking as well. And we showed him how to measure someone, and that was great fun.”
By the fourth day, Rylance was tasked with cutting the suit his character would wear for the majority of the film. Though extra fabric was set aside in case of a slip-up, the veteran actor-turned-tailor managed to cut the jacket and trousers perfectly in one go. The Huntsman team largely took it from there, with some assistance from Rylance, who continued to visit the shop to witness the process from start to finish.
Naturally, bespoke tailoring is given an outsize role in the film, and even factors into its plot and narration. But it is also used to communicate key aspects of each character. Through most of the film, Rylance’s Leonard wears the vest and trousers of a dark-green three-piece with a subtle pinstripe, in keeping with his demure nature. This suit was tailored from a vintage, 22-ounce wool that was “aged” following its completion to achieve a lived-in look. The character is also seen working on a grey flannel suit with more American styling: Huntsman made five iterations of this suit-in-progress from Fox Flannel fabric, so that it could be shot in varying stages of completion.
In another instance of character-building-by-tailoring, Richie—the hothead son of a local crime boss—is seen in a Harrison’s camel-hair overcoat with too-wide shoulders, aggressive lapels and turnback cuffs. “It was all about showing off the fact that he’d had this thing made, a quite youthful garment with a young silhouette,” Carey says.
Though neither the American Film Institute nor the British Academy Film Awards recognize “Best Portrayal of a Savile Row Tailor” as a valid category, Carey thinks Rylance would make a worthy nominee.
“He took in all the things that are seen in it, like when you hold your tape measure, or when you play with your lapels, you’re always checking the garments to make sure they’re looking their best,” Carey says. “The clothes were everything for this movie.”