The Look of Love: Dressing the No-Body Body

Beginning in the late 1950s, into the 60’s, predominantly through the mid to late 70’s, then into the early 90’s, costume designer Stephanie Collie’s work for The Look of Love covers several distinct periods.

This is the true story of King of Soho billionaire Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) told via the many women in his life. Helpfully these women confirm to a specific body type which is still relatable as the model ideal today, i.e. very slender or the ‘no-body body’. This means that all the garments on screen look fantastic. They are costumes above all but still relevant as fashion; the 60’s especially still informs contemporary style for women’s clothes. The 60’s and 70’s will always be one of the fondest eras to recreate on screen, yet also one of the trickiest. Potentially The Look of Love was only a feather boa away from being fancy dress.

Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), Paul’s second wife, is tall, slim and fresh-faced, which gives her obvious model characteristics. Her clothes are in the most part transferable to the present day. Although, while seeming completely natural in period attire, Egerton’s physicality is such that she resembles a current cover girl more than one 50 years ago. This is regardless of the real Fiona’s vital statistics (she actually bared little relation to Egerton’s build), but instead a generalisation of then body types. Women were, in the main, shorter and slighter. It could be argued that as associated with the era as leggy model Jean Shrimpton is, Twiggy – a good 4 inches shorter and even slighter – will always be more so. This is perhaps why in The Look of Love, Anna Friel who plays Paul’s first wife Jean, a mere 5’ 2”, actually appears more ‘60’s like’ than Egerton. Nonetheless, Stephanie Collie only used vintage clothes for the film, so no adjustments needed to be made.

The Look of Love_Anna Friel coat mid_Image credit FilmFour

Anna Friel as Jean Raymond. The Look of Love is a surprisingly restrained (considering the eras involved) costume movie, even if half the cast are naked a lot of the time. Stage clothes in the film are mostly reminiscent of American burlesque, while day wear echoes prominent period trends such as mini-skirts and shaggy fur coats.

Men’s fashion did not take a huge leap until the late 1970s, when suits were swapped for separates and denim. The silhouette of the suit went through degrees of trimming, shortening and tightening beyond Pierre Cardin’s revolutionary Mod designs adopted by The Beatles early in the 60’s. 10-15 years later the shape was long and lean, with flared trousers and pinstripes adding as much height as possible. Paul Raymond is mainly seen in pin and chalk-stripe suits, mid to heavy weight, well cut to imply Savile Row quality. Later after dying his hair blond, Paul’s style becomes slightly more relaxed and youthful. He wears a matching fur coat with Fiona, which is actually a lasting photographic image of the real Paul. However this image seems just as off-base as his life at the time. Financially successful and outwardly happy, Paul was spending old man’s money in a young man’s world. Apparently Steve Coogan is very interested in clothes so would have understood exactly what these conveyed about his character’s journey, and of those around him. Case in point, note the way Paul’s lawyer Carl Snitcher (James Lance) apes his boss by wearing similar pinstripe suits; he sees respectability as defined by clothes, not the wearer. This was not an intentional device by Collie, but more something that is created purely by circumstance on screen.

The Look of Love_Tamsin Egerton lingerie full_Image credit FilmFour

Tamsin Egerton as Fiona Raymond, here posing in lingerie for Men Only magazine. The further into the latter half of the 20th century the story moves, the more revealing (and tacky) these ensembles become.

There are no captions to identify exactly when The Look of Love is taking place, which means production design, make-up and costume has to work fast to place us in the correct period. Paul’s neckties, the fabric, print and width of the knot, are an indicator of just how far into the 70’s we have travelled. The fur coats worn by Fiona and Paul are far longer than those seen on Jean earlier in the story – again another subtle method of implying a change in the silhouette.

During the last act of the film, when Paul rushes to his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), she is wearing a salmon pink t-shirt. A lot happens around this point, with the story zipping forward through several major events. This is perhaps where most viewers will struggle to identify precisely when everything is taking place. The pink t-shirt, just that exact shade and weight of cotton, is an indicator of the early 1990s. This t-shirt is seen so quickly it perhaps does not consciously register, but combined with other elements, e.g. the drab colour of Paul’s overcoat, his style of spectacles and the model of cars on the street, the effect is gently immersive. We may not be 100% sure of the era, but know roughly when we are, and that – the feeling, the atmosphere – is how costume design can serve a story best.

The Look of Love is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 19th August.

You can watch Steve Coogan in The Look of Love at LOVEFiLM.com.

© 2013 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.