© 2015 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Legend: Interview with Costume Designer Caroline Harris

Director Brian Helgeland’s Legend (2015) tells the based-on true story of Ronald and Reggie Kray: twins (both played by Tom Hardy), East End boys, racketeers, murderers, icons. The Krays were shaped during the 1960s, a post World War II boom for England. They came to symbolise the smartly dressed gangster for a new youth-orientated generation. They had money and they wanted to flaunt it – and that meant suits and a lot of jewellery.

Costume designer for Legend, Caroline Harris, boasting over 20 years experience in both film and television with credits such as Mr Nice (2010), Red Riding (2009) and Fleming (2014), here chats exclusively to Clothes on Film about her work on the project:

Legend is not set during the ‘swinging sixties’; there is still an air of long-established formality present, especially in nightclubs in casinos.
Legend is not set during the ‘swinging sixties’; there is still an air of long-established formality present, especially in nightclubs in casinos.

How did you approach your overall representation of the 1960s?

The 1960s was an entire decade and fashion changed and developed throughout. For Legend, it felt right to represent the period with historical accuracy. I focussed on the early 1960s where the majority of the look and style of the Krays and their cohorts belongs.

The brothers were quite conservative; their world was certainly not the swinging sixties. They spent a lot of time in their nightclubs where the dress code was formal. Tuxedos and suits for men, cocktail and evening dresses for women.

Tell us about Tom Hardy’s suits as both of the Kray twins

Because I needed at least two of every suit for both Ron and Reg, it was necessary to tailor from scratch. Their overall style was inspired by the Italian cut of suit they often wore. This look was popular at the time, particularly in Europe. I have images of Jean Paul Belmondo wearing the same shape jacket and trousers.

I used traditional heavyweight fabrics sourced from British mills in the north of England. I copied the smaller details, such as pockets, waistbands and lining, from the vintage 1960s suits I had collected for the film.
Rather than a flat front trouser, I used either single or double pleats to create a fuller leg plus a high waist to give the impression of a longer leg.

To tell the Kray brothers apart on screen, Tom Hardy was costumed in primarily double breasted suits as Ronnie and single breasted as Reggie. This is very similar to how they dressed in real life.
To tell the Kray brothers apart on screen, Tom Hardy was costumed in primarily double breasted suits as Ronnie and in single breasted as Reggie. This is very similar to how The Krays dressed in real life.

How did you differentiate the brothers?

Throughout the film, Ron wore 3 piece suits, mostly with double-breasted jackets. Ron was bigger than Reg so the waistcoat was useful to add bulk to Tom’s body shape thus avoiding the need for costume tricks.

Reg only wore single-breasted jackets, which could be worn open or fastened. His look was relaxed compared to Ron’s and exposed plenty of white shirt, lots of tie as well as the high waist of the trouser. The effect was both louche and elegant which was perfect for Reg.

The Krays wore a sizable amount of ‘bling’ too. Did you copy this from archive photos?

I was lucky to find a great and unusual collection of original cufflinks and tie bars dated from 1940s through to the 1960s and I used them wherever I could. They’re small details but a nice thing to be able to offer up to actors to help individualize their look.

Did you generally mix vintage clothing with new pieces for the principals?

Nipper’s (Christopher Eccleston) suit was genuine 1960s, it was Hardy Amies and beautifully cut plus it fitted Christopher perfectly. I used original suits where I could and I tailored when I couldn’t find a suit to fit.

To the eagle eyed, Christopher Eccleston’s costume as Detective Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read is obviously vintage. He actually wears a suit by Hardy Amies.
To the eagle eyed, Christopher Eccleston’s costume as Detective Superintendent Leonard ‘Nipper’ Read is obviously vintage. He wears a suit by Hardy Amies.

Tom Hardy’s suits are not the narrow fitting Mod cut popular now. What do you personally think makes a good suit?

While the slim fitting mod suit is currently very popular, it doesn’t work for everybody. I like to see a suit that can endure some wear and tear. I think the swagger of a looser cut suit, made in a heavier fabric with a visible texture, can create an elegant look that is both robust and rugged and appropriate for a working man.

Tell us about Emily Browning’s look as Frances Shea

The real Frances Shea/Kray looked lovely in all the photos. Her style was fluid in that there didn’t appear to be one key look she always went for. That said, her clothes were quite fashionable while her overall look was natural and uncluttered. I did my best to honour that.

For the film, most of her outfits were adapted from vintage pieces or vintage pieces were carved up and the fabric used to make something quite different.

The wedding dress in particular was absolutely stunning

Frances Shea/Kray’s actual wedding dress was beautiful and it suited her well. She looked so happy in her wedding photos I wanted the day to remain her’s, so I chose not to recreate her dress.

Instead I created a dress that suited Emily; it was homage to Frances in a way. I searched for a pale oyster grey silk to suit Emily’s skin tone, and I found a jacquard which is a silk that has a pattern woven through it.

The pattern allowed me to create a classic early 1960s shape that needed very little embellishment, which is why I chose a simple bow at the high waist and nothing else. Emily’s perfect shape and proportions, combined with an incredible team of cutters and sewers to construct the dress, made it work very nicely, I think.

Emily Browning’s dress as Frances Shea is pays homage to her original wedding gown but is not intended as a copy.
Emily Browning’s dress pays homage to Frances Shea’s original wedding gown but is not intended as a copy.

Colour and fabric seem quietly significant in the film’s narrative

There were many key male characters in Legend and most of them needed to wear suits. It was important that they looked and felt like individuals. Once Ron and Reg’s look was set and the firm’s look was in place, I was free to move ahead with the others.

There are a couple of photos of the real Charlie Richardson (played in the movie by Paul Bettany); in one he’s wearing a jacket in a dogtooth fabric and in the other he’s wearing tweed so that set a direction for the Richardson brothers.

For the film the Richardson gang, which included George Cornell, wore a broader colour palette, including browns and tans with dark colour shirts.

Lastly, what drew you to working on Legend?

I’ve worked with director Brian Helgeland on his three previous films (A Knight’s Tale, The Order, 42). So it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with him again. I loved the script and I loved his take on the strange world of the Krays.

I was strict about using original clothes from the period and I like to buy as much as I can so I’m free to do what I want with it all, so the challenge was finding enough clothes to costume the film.

With thanks to Caroline Harris.

Legend is currently on general release.

© 2015, Lord Christopher Laverty.