For Guy Ritchie’s newest crime-meets-action film “The Gentlemen,” about an American drug kingpin living in Britain and trying to sell his business, the director turned to his “Aladdin” team of costume designer Michael Wilkinson and production designer Gemma Jackson. But the backgrounds and looks they created had less to do with Arabian Nights than with an irreverent, heightened portrayal of the British class system seen in earlier Ritchie films like his career breakout, “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”
Wilkinson produced many of the ensembles from scratch, including those for Mickey Pearson, the wealthy drug lord (played by Matthew McConaughey); his right-hand man (Charlie Hunnam); a mob boss (Henry Golding); a street gang leader (Colin Farrell) and a working-class narrator (a cast-against-type Hugh Grant). “Each character has an iconic, memorable look — a little larger than life,” he says. “We had fun with the costume choices.”
Fit and fabric selection was key to the class distinctions. “Matthew McConaughey’s suits were chosen to exemplify classic English tailoring, but the silhouettes had a more relaxed modern shape,” Wilkinson says. Similarly, his team designed and manufactured the plaid tracksuits worn by Farrell’s Coach and the outfits of his street gang, the Toddlers. “We based them on classic English suiting fabrics, which we then enlarged, made more vibrant and printed onto a modern quilted technical fabric,” Wilkinson explains.
Whether it was production design or costume design, it was important not to bog things down in realism. Wilkinson calls Jackson’s design sensibility “witty and fun,” adding, “She’s great at capturing the essence of modern London.”
Jackson’s color palette had dark and lush tones. The apartment of Hunnam’s Ray was painted a deep eggplant and a vibrant blue. “Much of this set was shot at night, which made the color even richer,” Jackson says. “As you step out with Fletcher [Grant] to cook his steak, it was a perfect visual transition into dark greens and the deep night.”
Both Jackson and Wilkinson chose to keep their colors muted. “That helped with the visual storytelling of this unsavory tale,”
Jackson used the film as an opportunity to feature London in a new light. While a newspaper office shows the ultra-familiar view of the River Thames and the city, other iconic locations include Billingsgate Fish Market and the pitch at Emirates Stadium, home to the Arsenal soccer team. The film’s production crew helped the locations pop. “They had this great innate style, but they still needed work from myself and my art department,” Jackson says.
To build Mickey’s weed empire, the production designer researched cannabis farming, which led to her discovering the practice of subterranean container installations. So Jackson set out to build an underground system of subterfuge. “It added a sense of magic and hallucination to a world that existed beneath this old paddock somewhere in the countryside,” she says.