North by Northwest_Cary Grant_mid New York.bmp © 2009 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

North by Northwest: Cary Grant’s Kilgour Suit

Savile Row tailors Kilgour provided much of Cary Grant’s wardrobe for North by Northwest (1959). In all probability director Alfred Hitchcock left Grant to his own devices in selecting ensembles, just as he’d done on To Catch a Thief four years earlier.

If this was in fact the case, Hitchcock was not so trusting with Eva Marie Saint’s wardrobe. Disliking initial design sketches for her look, he escorted Marie Saint to New York’s swanky Bergdorf Goodman department store, personally choosing her outfits right off the racks. She later jokingly referred to Hitch as her “one and only sugar daddy”.

As for Cary Grant, by this stage in his career it was written into his contract that he could keep all the suits made for his movies. He was a stylish guy, but also frugal, apparently even charging autograph hunters fifteen cents for his signature.

Contrary to popular opinion, Grant had a tough initiation into stardom, first as an acrobatic performer in the UK and then on the unforgiving Vaudeville circuit in the U.S., before finally striking it big as a Hollywood actor in the early 1930s. Hardly surprising then that he liked to keep onto those suits so expertly tailored for him throughout his career.

This stylish, medium grey Glen check suit from North by Northwest, as worn by Grant’s protagonist Roger Thornhill/George Kaplan, is probably considered one of his best – certainly his most well known:

Lightweight wool single breasted suit, ventless, with three button fastening and notched lapels. Trousers with forward pleats. ‘Oxblood’ leather derby shoes worn with grey thin ribbed socks. White medium spread collar shirt with double cuff; light blue initialed cufflinks, grey silk tie.

The suit is apparently made by Kilgour French and Stanbury, specifically tailored by Arthur Lyons (who also made suits for Edward, Duke of Windsor). Yet this issue remains constantly in debate. At one point in the film a Quintino label can be glimpsed. Some say sixteen suits were created and used, which would seem par for the course when considering how much physical action Grant’s character undertakes and the different shot angles required. It seems probable then that several suits were made by different tailors from the same or similar pattern. The trousers on all suits are cut high for Grant’s typical waistband, fitting loose through the seat and thigh.

During the 1950s, Grant began following the Duke of Windsor’s example – having his suit jackets tailored at Savile Row and slimmer cut trousers made in New York. Either he was dressing for the scorching hot weather in North by Northwest, or else he just fancied a change. The full trousers do drape impeccably with the jacket though. And with those long legs, Grant could easily pull off a wider leg.

Ventless is unusual for an expensive single breasted jacket these days, yet have been familiar on double breasted suits since the ‘column’ look of the thirties. Grant apparently preferred double vents as he liked to put his hands in his pockets whilst acting. Without vents the jacket is forced up onto the hips causing it to crumple in an unsightly manner.

In North by Northwest, Grant stands in the desert with his hands in his pockets and looks as cool as a cucumber. The jacket is cut high alongside his trouser pockets so – especially with the bottom button undone – any crumpling is brief and minimal. All in all, six suits were used during filming.

Grant’s attention to detail with accessories is typically faultless. Always a keen interest of his, the selecting of that perfect neckerchief or pocket square; here he expertly offsets the ever-so-slightly boxy finish of his jacket with rounded silver cufflinks.

Likewise his particularly rich oxblood shoes cleverly contrast with the combined colour palette the suit (blue on charcoal grey). Those matching socks finish off the ensemble nicely. Not a glint of hairy leg either, not even when he’s clambering over a courthouse desk as drunk as a lord.

For the movie’s final act, Grant gets a controversial costume change. He dons what some view as an all-too-baggy white shirt (during close ups on Mount Rushmore you could be forgiven for thinking Grant was captaining a pirate galleon). The shirt was off the peg and made by Brooks Brothers, featuring their patented button-down collar, with single button cuffs.

Grant actually wore an off the peg Brooks Brothers blazer in real life; he was not always tailored to the eyeballs. Here too, within the context of the film, this shirt performs a function above that of helping Cary Grant look good. The change of clothes is given to him by The Professor (Leo G. Carroll) don’t forget, not selected from Thornhill’s own closet. Plus if you buy an off the peg shirt for a man with a 17.5″ neck then it is going to be baggy.

For a star that many consider to be one of the most stylish who ever lived, North by Northwest’s grey suit is his epitome. It’s clean, uncluttered and just a little bit controversial. In regards to what it means within the context of the film, this writer believes very little. Featuring a protagonist who is as much Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, this is whom the costume represents. The man, the role; they are one and the same.

For more information on Cary Grant’s unmatched elegance try Richard Torregrossa’s excellent book Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style.

© 2009 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.

  • jim rafferty

    The greatest grey suit ever filmed…all that and Saul Bass titles?

    Deep Joy.

    • http://www.dereklyonssite.com/ Derek Lyons

      Thanks Deep Joy!

      My Grandfather also made suits for Rex Harrison, Fred Astaire, Robert Mitchum, King Hussein of Jordan to name but a few!

      This is because the Duke of Windsor love his tailoring and the word got around!

      Warmest wishes

      Derek Lyons

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1750488/ Derek Lyons

    Hi all,

    My grandfather Arthur Lyons made that suit for Cary Grant because he was one of the best tailors at Kilgour French Stanbury in Savile Row. My grandfather called it French’s!
    Arthur also made the suits for the Duke of Windsor as well and was very popular because the Duke loved his work.

    All the best

    Derek Lyons

  • http://bondclothes.blogspot.com/ Matt Spaiser

    At a point in the film, Cary Grant takes off his suit jacket and a Quintino label (Cary Grant’s Beverly Hills tailor), not Kilgour, label can be seen inside. Might it be explained that Kilgour made a few suits for the film and Quintino made some extra copies, perhaps for beating up in the crop dusting scene?

    • http://clothesonfilm.com Chris Laverty

      Interesting, Matt. Whereabouts? I assume they must have worked from the original pattern by Kilgour though? Not something that tailors are partial to doing, but things do work different where movies are concerned.

  • http://www.dereklyonssite.com/ Derek Lyons

    Hi Matt,

    All I am aware of is that my grandfather Arthur fitted and made the suit.

    He was recommended by the Duke of Windsor who told his famous friends like Rex Harrison, Fred Astaire and many others. You are right that the costume department always make extra copies. I have had experience of this, being in the film Industry as an Actor for 30 years.

    Thanks

    Derek

  • Gary Rees

    Such a shame that good quality, stylish men’s clothing is no longer available. The mass production of mens’ clothing in such stores as M&S, Austin Reed, H o F etc offers the customer a poor and restricted choice. Once a trend becomes established, it is followed slavishly by all manufacturers.
    I list below some of my pet hates: –

    1. Logos generally but particularly on knitwear, polo shirts etc. Both M&S and AR have recently taken to spoiling otherwise good garments in this way. If we don’t like logos we can’t by the item!

    2. Contrast neck band facings on shirts.

    3. Piping detail on the inner face of shirt neck bands.

    4. Why must the vast majority of mens’ blazers, jackets and suits be offered with side vents? Please be a little more daring and offer centre vents or, even, ventless jackets. Go continental!

    5. Too much extraneous detail (on shirts particularly). One gets the impression that the ‘designer’ has run out of inspiration and the only way that he or she can make a garment look different is by slapping a zip, badge, sleeve pocket, slogan etc etc on the shirt where there really is no need for it. One suspects that this sort of approach is encouraged in the art schools where these people have been tranied. Please remember, “less is very often more”. Try concentrating on the cut, and fit instead!

    6. Manufacturer’s enduring insistence on distressing garments. Particularly demim jeans and (more recently) shoes. This has gone on for too long. When will it stop?

    7. Endless racks of diagonal striped silk ties. Come on designers! How about some prints or jacquard designs? Someone must break away from the herd sooner or later.

    8. I could offer many, many more gripes and groans but my parting shot is a suggestion that the the big stores might consider doing a bit of ‘ in store’ market research. Have someone asking customers what they do or don’t like about the clothes on offer. What the customer is looking for and can’t find etc etc. On a poster in M&S menswear dept recently was a model wearing a pleasant tweed jacket, polo neck and silk scarf. I think the scarf was a rather nice brown/ginger paisley design or similar. I asked a sales assistant to direct me toward the silk scarf section where I was offere silk scarves with a hideous reindeer and snow flake motif! Hopeless!
    Why put it on the poster if you don’t sell it?

    • Derek Rubin

      Don’t forget, the horrible low-rise trend on pants.

      I think it’s a conspiracy by the clothing companies to pass it off as cool to save on fabric costs. As a millenial, I make sure I get all my pants cut so I can wear it at my natural waist, and I get complimented on my style all the time. People my age just don’t know any better.

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