INSPIRATION FOR MADONNA'S "BEAUTIFUL KILLER" was Alain Delon as hitman Jef Costello in the 1967 crime film Le Samouraï. Centered on a murder investigation, the film follows the beautiful Delon through a grim Paris, where he steals cars, guns down targets, undergoes interrogation and walks nonchalantly around town.
While the movie brims with a near-spartan style, thanks to Henri Decaë's direction of photography, I take particular interest in its attention to sartorial detail. Delon, through the film, can be seen in a handful of handsome classics such as the black, or grey, suit, the white shirt, the fedora, the black-strapped watch, the black topcoat, and the khaki trench coat that becomes central to his character's investigation. And to this blog post as well.
Fortunately enough, Le Samouraï does a fantastic job of featuring the trench coat's features. From endless scenes of Jef sporting the coat through Paris streets, to tight shots of the coat's details, the film provides sufficient visuals for both surveying and admiring the iconic garment.
The trench coat as raincoat is demonstrated many times in the movie, with Jef wearing the coat in the rain. Designed by Thomas Burberry in his own patented water-proofed gabardine in the mid 1800s, the trench's precursor by John Emary was actually a raincoat called Aquascutum; Latin for "water shield". Emary and Burberry eventually went on to grow their trench-coat-centered brands, with each brand rivaling the other for the next century or so. The rivalry was settled in 2012, and as you would have guessed, Burberry wins.
Further features of the classic trench trace back to its original military use, including a storm flap to keep rainwater from entering military rifles, a khaki color characteristic of British India cavalry uniforms, and a belt with d-rings for suspending maps, grenades or swords. Other attributes of the original trench are raglan sleeves, shoulder and sleeve straps, a collar, lapels, deep yoke back saddle, self belt, and two breast panels secured by ten buttons.
Le Samouraï in particular provides close-ups of the sleeve straps, seen while Jeff attempts to start stolen cars, as well as a peek of the coat's checkered lining, flashed momentarily when he is made to trade coats with another suspect. Is Jef's actual coat by Burberry or Aquascutum? No online source confirms, but perhaps the check pattern provides a clue.
Through history, the trench coat has changed very little, though re-created with many variations in fabric, cut and color. From serving as garment for the British military, it has gone on to identify historical and literary figures including Dick Tracy, Casablanca's Rick Blaine and Victoria Beckham.
Guess which which trench-coat-wearing character I adore the most. As if it weren't obvious already.
Le Samouraï, 1967. Directed by Jeanne-Pierre Melville.