How ‘The Gentlemen’ Told a Quintessentially British Story With Mob Wives and a Cockerel Costume

LONDON — What makes for a quintessentially British wardrobe? A Barbour jacket, a pair of wellies, Prince of Wales checks and sometimes something completely out of left field, like a cockerel costume.

In Guy Ritchie’s Netflix drama series “The Gentlemen,” Daniel Ings’ character Lord Frederick “Freddy” Horniman dresses in all of the above.

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“In the script, Tommy Dixon, a Liverpudlian gangster [played by Peter Serafinowicz] said he wants to make Freddy feel like a cock. When I read that, the whole idea of a chicken costume is quite boring, I’d rather do a cockerel,” LouLou Bontemps, the show’s costume designer, said in an interview from her London studio.

Theo James in 'The Gentlemen’.
Theo James in “The Gentlemen” wearing a Barbour jacket with a butler holding Carl Friedrik suitcases.

She didn’t want something that had been done before or could be found at a local costume shop, and the cockerel costume is what sets off the series for eight episodes.

Bontemps started with a fat suit and she worked with her tailor to layer on real feathers in different shades and then added wings.

“I wanted to create something that really had drama to heighten the whole intensity of that scene because it is funny, but it’s also really traumatic,” she said, referencing a painting of a cockerel she found that added elements from Elton John’s costume when he performed “Crocodile Rock” on “The Muppet Show” at Elstree Studios in 1977.

The series, a spin-off based on Ritchie’s 2019 film of the same name, colorfully plays on stereotypes of communities found within the British class system and which Ritchie has plumbed in his numerous films, from travelers to gentleman gangsters.

Kaya Scodelario and Theo James in 'The Gentlemen’.
Kaya Scodelario and Theo James in “The Gentlemen.”

It’s the costumes of these characters that helps add wit to the series through the nuances of tracksuits and tweeds.

“As soon as Peter walked in and saw the Sergio Tacchini tracksuits, he said, ‘I’ve gone back in time. This is me as a kid, up north [of England]. We all wore this brand, it was a real luxury brand there.’ I did my research through not just books or films, but real images of people hanging out on the streets of Liverpool,” Bontemps explained.

For the protagonist of the show, Edward “Eddie” Horniman, the new 10th Duke of Halstead played by Theo James, his sartorial journey is an emotional one. Overnight he goes from being a United Nations peacekeeping officer to a duke to a gentleman gangster, swapping his camouflage uniform and plaid shirts for Barbour jackets, car coats and sharp smoking suits.

Theo James in 'The Gentlemen’.
Theo James in “The Gentlemen.”

“He comes home as the humble soldier wearing clothes for function. He’s not really thinking about fashion. Slowly he gains more style with the people he’s surrounded by — it rubs off on him, from crewnecks, lovely coats, tweed jackets and then the three-piece suits,” the costume designer said.

At the funeral of the 9th Duke of Halstead, who passes away in his country manor wearing a silk robe, his family is gathered in their Sunday best, emulating the British royal family.

“In that [aristocracy] world, a funeral is a fashion parade. Daphne Guinness was on my mood board because she’s always wearing something extraordinary, stunning and shocking,” said Bontemps, adding that Lady Sabrina Horniman, Dowager Duchess of Halstead, played by Joely Richardson, wears a magpie on her head.

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II also featured on her mood board, as did a Steven Meisel editorial for Vogue Italia depicting a Mafia funeral.

A still from Netflix’s 'The Gentlemen’.
A still from Netflix’s “The Gentlemen.”

“The Gentlemen” is a clash of the trending mob wife and old money aesthetics with characters sitting in one camp or the other.

Kaya Scodelario’s character Susan “Susie” Glass, for example, wasn’t tailored with one particular woman in mind but rather an eccentric mix of fabrics, colors and silhouettes.

“She’s a celebration of vintage style,” said Bontemps, who shopped for a majority of the clothes seen in the show at vintage markets and charity shops.

The costume designer started her career as a tradesperson selling antique fabrics, French linens and designer vintage at London’s Portobello Market before clients started giving her shopping lists, which led her to becoming a stylist.

A still from Netflix’s 'The Gentlemen’.
A still from Netflix’s “The Gentlemen.”

Bontemps’ next project is Ritchie’s spy action film “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” based on the 2014 book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by Damien Lewis. The film stars Henry Cavill, Alex Pettyfer and Henry Golding.

“This is a really beautiful, period film with incredible costumes. We’ve made some replicas of Winston Churchill’s siren suit. When I was researching for the film, I was like, ‘Why hasn’t anyone put Churchill in his romper?’” she asked.

Launch Gallery: A Look at Netflix's 'The Gentlemen' Costumes

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