Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fashion in Film: Galliano's Silent Comedy

John Galliano SS 2011 Menswear
John Galliano's Spring/Summer 2011 Menswear Collection

Again, another post from last year. Apologies if you've read it when it was originally posted.

I suppose it's only typical that my first proper post for Film in Fashion features no gowns whatsoever. Having not really considered doing menswear related articles and in the middle of researching something completely different, I was reminded of John Galliano's Spring/Summer 2011 Menswear Collection. My introduction post had me harping on ad nauseum about the continuing influence of cinema upon the contemporary fashion industry, while failing to mention this most recent, unique show to help prove my point.

Galliano only presents a menswear collection biennially, so it's always exciting to see what he'll come up with. For Spring, he brought us Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder taking on streetwear. In regards to Chaplin's famous "Tramp" costume, the more I started comparing it with Galliano's designs and researching its history, I found some fascinating articles and photographs of extant props and costume memorabilia from the Silent Comedy era.

Galliano's Spring 2011 was a tribute to Silent era comic greats. Inspired by proportions in mens fashion, Galliano started by looking to Chaplin's badly fitting "Tramp" costume. The show as a whole was such an overt reference, even down to the monochrome runway, overshadowed by a clock and cogs backdrop bringing Chaplin's many interactions with machinery in a factory in Modern Times or Harold Lloyd's Safety Last where he dangles from a clock face; The mirrored strip of the runway which reminded me of both a slick, rain wet sidewalk (or possibly the "Mirror" sequence by Max Linder, see below) with creased newspaper sheets floating across the stage.

John Galliano SS 2011 Menswear

Charlie Chaplin, "Modern Times"
Charlie Chaplin in "Modern Times", 1936

Harold Lloyd - "Safety Last" 1923
Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, 1923

The show opened with model, Scott Barnhill as Charlie Chaplin. Notice how Galliano has retained the tight torso and the wide trousers.

A feature of Charlie Chaplin's onscreen clothes is that they were always badly fitting (in real life, he was quite a snappy dresser!). His famous Tramp costume has a jacket which is far too tight across the chest, almost as if it's a child's jacket. The sleeves, however, are more or less the correct length and a decent fit (presumedly to allow for ease of movement for Chaplin's physical stunts). His trousers are far too big, made for taller, stouter man,. His bowler hat is too small, his shoes comically large and make him appear pigeon toed - reminicent of the shoes of a clown. The overall appearance has the look of a poor man who is desperately trying to appear smart. There's an element of the pathetic about his struggles in the films which is reflected in his costume - Despite everything, he always tries to retain some gentlemanly dignity. He's the ultimate underdog. No wonder this loveable character competing against the odds was embraced by the cinemagoers of the time.

The Tramp costume was first seen in his film Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), Chaplin's second film. There's very little difference between the costume in this film and in his later ones. The clothes and his appearance were fundamental to the character, you could say that it was all the more important because the films were silent. It's a very strong image which is why it's so memorable and recognisable, even by those who have never seen a Charlie Chaplin film.

Chaplin developed the costume and make-up himself although it seemed to come together on the spur of the moment. In a 1933 interview, Chaplin discussed the creation of the costume:

A hotel set was built for (fellow Keystone comic) Mabel Normand's picture Mabel's Strange Predicament and I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul - a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett* the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking death,  but his feet won't let him.

Also in his autobiography he talks about The Tramp's look: 

I had no idea what makeup to put on....However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett* had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born. [1]

[*Mack Sennett: Actor, director, producer, screenwriter, presenter, composer, cinematographer, innovator of slapstick comedy in film and founder of Keystone Studios where Chaplin made his first films] 

Interestingly, the costume was made up of donations from Chaplin's contemporaries - "Fatty" Arbuckle contributed his father-in-law's derby and his own pants (of generous proportions). Chester Conklin provided the little cutaway tailcoat, and Ford Sterling the size-14 shoes, which were so big, Chaplin had to wear each on the wrong foot to keep them on. He devised the moustache from a bit of crepe hair belonging to Mack Swain. The only thing Chaplin himself owned was the whangee cane. [2]

According to Chaplin’s Hollywood producer and costumier at the time, Ted Tetrick, the hat and cane were originally at the studio costume department and were selected by Chaplin personally.

Slight variations on the Tramp

There were a few auctions in recent years which has made it fairly easy to track the fate of the costumes and it's revealed some really interesting facts. The original Tramp costume, comprising of a black suit, hat, cane and boots from Kid Auto Races at Venice, was sold in 2005. The suit sold for just under £4,000 (which seems awfully cheap!?) and the cane, which was signed by Chaplin in the 50s, sold for £1,900, at auction in Plymouth (BBC News article )  According to the provenance, the suit was loaned to Chaplin, who had to return it as soon as filming of the short was complete. 

The Tramp's original costume in Kid Auto Races at Venice

Interestingly, the boots from the auction showed that there were holes in the heels which were used to insert screws so that Chaplin could balance more easily on high objects.

Chaplin's Boots.

Galliano's detailing on the shoes in his collection is amazing. I particularly like the flapping sole on the centre pair.

Chaplin in the famous shoe eating scene in "The Gold Rush".

 I found an interesting reference to the shoes in this scene in an interview with Chaplin on Edna website:

MERYMAN Did you do the eating of the shoe gag [in The Gold Rush ] many times? 

CHAPLIN We had about two days of retakes on it. And the poor old actor [Mack Swain] was sick for the last two. The shoes were made of liquorice, and he'd eaten so much of it. He said, 'I cannot eat any more of those damn shoes!' I got the idea for this gag from the Donner party [a wagon train of 81 pioneers who, heading to California in 1846, became trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevada]. They resorted to cannibalism and to eating a moccasin. And I thought, stewed boots? There's something funny there.

In regards to the cane and hat, there appears to have been at least two or three. It's such a flimsy looking thing that it's quite likely that a few would have been on hand in case it was damaged during filming. The following images I found on's blog. I hope that they don't mind me reblogging them here for the interest in the article. Please visit their blog, it's fascinating.

Chaplin memorabilia courtesy of

Hats and Canes

The hat and cane in the bottom image sold for £77,000 pounds in 2006 - BBC News

Chaplin on the Runway: John Galliano Menswear SS 2011
More Galliano Chaplins

Galliano's Menswear SS 2011 vs. Charlie Chaplin in "The Adventurer"
A Galliano look alongside Chaplin in 1917 short, "The Adventurer"

Buster Keaton vs. Galliano Menswear SS 2011
Chaplin was followed by Buster Keaton. Preferred by many over Chaplin, Keaton was famous for his boater hat and morose expression.

Another reference point for the collection, I think, is Max Linder. Linder was a French comedian in the early Silents who Chaplin admired greatly. After Linder's death in 1925, Chaplin dedicated one of his films - "For the unique Max, the great master - his student Charles Chaplin." Sadly Linder seems to have faded somewhat into the background of Silent Cinema. I first started reading about him and watching his films on youtube after he was mentioned twice in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. I'm so glad to have been introduced to his films. You can definietly see how he inspired Chaplin, Keaton etc. Here is a scene from one of his films, which you might recognise if you've seen the Marx Brother's Duck Soup:

Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder
Charlie Chaplin with Max Linder

Galliano, if he was inspired by Linder, used his distinguishing features: his dapper, rakish appearance and moustasche as a reference point. Two of the looks in the collection especially seem to suggest Linder.

Galliano SS 2011 vs Max Linder

And finally, perhaps an element of Harold Lloyd who was often show wearing a cap similar to those used in Galliano's show:

Harold Lloyd Vs John Galliano's SS 2011 Meswear

The styling was, as always with John Galliano in his own line and with Dior, absolutely stunning as these backstage photographs by Jak and Jil show:

John Galliano SS 2011 Menswear Backstage

The collection had a timeline feel, starting with Charlie Chaplin, moving through more conventionally tailored looks of Keaton, to Linder, and then Galliano explored mixing up the proportions, lengths, simplifying, removing layers, borrowing certain elements to end with more contemporary designs. You can see the rest of the collection on - HERE and here, with the benefit of zooming in on higher resolution images, on GQ.


Galliano photographs courtesy of - LINK

Backstage photographs courtesy of Jak and Jil - 

Guardian article on the auction of Chaplin's hat and cane LINK 

Bohams Sale of Chaplins Hat and Cane - LINK

The Tramp Wiki article - LINK


[1] My Autobiography, Charlie Chaplin.

[2] Sutton, Caroline (1985). How Did They Do That? Wonders of the Far and Recent Past Explained. New York: Hilltown, Quill. p. 174, via the Charlie Chaplin wiki article - LINK

Watch the show on youtube:





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