Meeting Sidney Reilly – A Cream Suit in Baku
Sam Neill as Sigmund Rosenblum, later known as Sidney Reilly, Russian-born British Secret Service agent
Baku, Russian Empire (now Azerbaijan), Spring 1901
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “An Affair with a Married Woman” (Episode 1)
Air Date: September 5, 1983
Director: Jim Goddard
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
Super Bowl XLIX viewers last Sunday surely didn’t miss the new trailer for Jurassic World, the newest entry in the franchise that began more than 20 years ago with Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, Sam Neill will not be reprising his role as Dr. Alan Grant in the newest film, so Neill fans itching to fill the void can revisit the brilliant 1983 mini-series Reilly: Ace of Spies.
Based on his own highly exaggerated recollections, the series begins with Reilly – ahem, Professor Rosenblum – riding a train through the outskirts of Baku, then a rapidly growing oil town in the Russian Empire. While the real Reilly’s confirmed activity in Baku at the time was dubious at best, the city was certainly essential to “The Great Game”‘s turn-of-the-century players. In fact, Baku’s oil boom led to a rapid population growth between 1856 and 1910 that bested London, Paris, and New York.
The series places its hero in Baku for one of his earliest missions, spying on oil fields for the British. After his train is delayed, he and his fellow passengers – an elderly cleric and his wife – are forced to stay at a nearby “hotel” while he and his possessions are investigated. “An Affair with a Married Woman” deftly weaves together some of the aspects of Reilly’s early life into one thrilling – albeit highly fictionalized – episode.
What’d He Wear?
The exact setting of the episode is hard to pin down. The opening titles tell us that this is “1901”, but the meeting in London – supposedly 17 weeks later – is in April 1901, thus placing the Baku scenes around December 1900. Baku enjoys a subtropical climate with cool winters, and the summer clothing worn by Reilly, Margaret, and the others would certainly be too chilly for temperatures around 45°F. It’s most likely that the date on the poster is an error; this scene is likely set closer to midsummer when temperatures in Baku average just shy of 80°F.
Keeping this in mind, Reilly is nicely attired for a warm summer train ride. His traveling suit is a lightweight cream two-piece lounge suit with a slightly contrasting waistcoat.
Reilly’s single-breasted suit jacket has three widely-spaced light brown buttons down the front; he keeps only the top button fastened when he is not sitting. The 3-button cuffs match the buttons on the front. Reilly’s suit jacket has a single rear vent, natural shoulders, and roped sleeveheads. The edge-stitched notch lapels receive a further embellishment with a white daisy pinned through the buttonhole of his left lapel.
The suit jacket’s welted breast pocket slants slightly toward the center, embellished with a taupe pocket square. The hip pockets have large flaps, as does the ticket pocket on the right side.
The suit’s matching trousers are flat front with on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms. We never see them without the waist covered, but they are likely worn with suspenders (or braces, Brits) rather than a belt.
Reilly wears a light brown vest (or waistcoat) with the suit. It is a simple garment with no lapels and six buttons down the front to the notched bottom. As usual, he wears his pocket watch in the vest’s lower left pocket with a chain across his waist.
Reilly’s shirt is plain and white with a detachable club collar, fastened onto his neck by a gold collar button. Detachable collars like this were the norm during this era; in fact, shirts with attached collars would not become popular until several decades later. He wears a black silk necktie with a gold stickpin.
Reilly’s shoes are a pair of five-eyelet cap-toe oxfords in cream napped nubuck leather, worn with cream socks nicely carrying the leg line from trouser to shoe.
Appropriate for both the setting and context, Reilly completes his outfit with a straw Panama hat. The hat is constructed of light brown straw with a tall crown and wide dark brown ribbon. The brim curls up dramatically in the back.
These early scenes are the only appearance of Reilly’s cream suit. For the duration of his captivity in Baku, Reilly wears a striped light brown suit during the daytime and dresses for the evening in a sharp white tie ensemble that differs slightly from his evening wear ten years later in St. Petersburg.
How to Get the Look
Reilly travels in style, wearing comfortable layers despite the implied heat of the situation.
- Cream 2-piece lounge suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, welted slanted breast pocket, flapped hip and ticket pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single rear vent
- Flat front trousers with on-seam side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light brown single-breasted vest/waistcoat with 6-button front, welted pockets, and notched bottom
- White dress shirt with double/French cuffs and a detachable white club collar, secured with a gold collar stud
- Black silk four-in-hand necktie
- Gold stickpin
- Cream-colored nubuck leather 5-eyelet cap-toe oxfords
- Cream dress socks
- Dulled silver pocketwatch, worn in vest pocket and attached to silver chain and silver shield-shaped fob
- Taupe folded pocketsquare
- Straw Panama hat with wide dark brown ribbon
A natty dresser like Reilly pins a daisy through his lapel buttonhole, nicely complementing the earth tones of his suit.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series.
This suit is only seen in the first episode, “An Affair with a Married Woman”. At 79 minutes, this clocks in as the longest episode of the series but it’s worth watching and aptly serves as an introduction to both the shrewd Sidney Reilly and the changing nature of espionage in the early 20th century.