Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, proud, strong, and serious KGB operative
Berlin and Rome, Late Spring 1963
Film: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Release Date: August 2, 2015
Director: Guy Ritchie
Costume Designer: Joanna Johnston
Plans to reboot The Man from U.N.C.L.E. had been in the works for more than two decades by the time Guy Ritchie’s adaptation hit the big screen in the summer of 2015. The original series was created by Ian Fleming, Norman Felton, and Sam Rolfe, debuting in September 1964 as the American response to the wildly successful James Bond franchise… also the brainchild of Ian Fleming.
The original concept of the show focused solely on Napoleon Solo, the suave American agent from the international U.N.C.L.E. spy organization played by Robert Vaughn. Rolfe developed the character of Illya Kuryakin as a laconic Soviet agent who began as a minor character but whose wild popularity quickly propelled McCallum to share the spotlight with Vaughn.
When Armie Hammer took the role for the 2015 film, he incorporated the taciturn and capable intensity trademarked by McCallum’s Illya. The character’s origins were never deeply explored on the show, but the movie explains Illya’s stubborn pride – and violent volatility – as a result of his father’s dishonesty, embezzling Soviet funds. Hammer’s Illya works hard to shed the shame of his father’s transgressions against Mother Russia, living up to his KGB career goal – as Solo describes it – to be “the youngest member to join and pass in three years.”
What’d He Wear?
As opposed to his debonair partner Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) who prefers tailored three-piece suits, Illya Kuryakin sticks to a very utilitarian wardrobe of casual jacket, turtleneck jumper, and wool trousers that evokes both David McCallum’s original interpretation of the character as well as his contemporary style icon Steve McQueen.
Illya begins and ends the film in the same outfit – a brown suede blouson, dark blue jumper, and gray ranch pants – that has become very popular among fans of the film. Many sartorialists mobilized themselves to track down the elements of Hammer’s wardrobe.
The jacket is an off-the-shelf Ralph Lauren blouson in chestnut brown suede. Though many fans refer to it as a “bomber jacket” in their quest to identify it, Ralph Lauren preferred the more accurate description of “Brown Polo Wilstead Suede Newsboy Jacket”. (Fans may still be able to track one down at Lyst.com.)
Illya’s jacket has a large shirt-style collar with rounded points and a throat latch tab occasionally seen extending from under the left side of the collar. The front closes with a brass zipper. A straight yoke runs horizontally across the top of the back.
The waist hem and the cuffs at the end of each set-in sleeve are knit.
Illya’s brown suede “newsboy” blouson has three outer pockets. There is a slanted pocket on the left breast that zips up toward the left shoulder from the chest. Lower on the front, there is a large patch pocket on each side accessed by a straight vertical opening.
In both the 1960s TV series and the 2015 film, Kuryakin often wears a dark turtleneck sweater with his shoulder holster strapped over it; this outfit is no exception. Hammer’s Kuryakin wears a dark indigo blue John Smedley “Belvoir” rollneck jumper made from luxurious extra-fine merino wool and still available from John Smedley’s site for the oh-so-luxurious price of $265, where it is described: “expertly crafted from 100% merino wool this soft pullover is cut in slim fit.”
Illya Kuryakin isn’t the only classic cinematic spy to sport a John Smedley jumper; in Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s James Bond wore a Smedley “Bobby” v-neck pullover sweater in black with his Billy Reid pea coat.
The shoulder rig that Illya Kuryakin wears over his jumper is dark brown leather with the holster for his Makarov pistol hooked under his left armpit for a right-handed draw. The all-leather rig is self-suspending without any hooks or fasteners to his belt or trousers.
The retro details of Illya Kuryakin’s gray wool trousers could certainly evoke Soviet-era work pants but are more indicative of Western-styled ranch pants. The front is flat with curved frogmouth-style pockets, similar to those found on jeans. Both of the jetted back pockets close through a button. The fit is straight through the legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
The belt loops on Kuryakin’s trousers are wide with a distinctive point – similar to keystone loops – through which he wears a dark brown leather belt. Trousers with pointed belt loops and curved frogmouth front pockets were very common during the Western-wear boom of the ’60s and ’70s with many vintage examples from manufacturers like H Bar C still available at various online outlets. Circle S manufactures a polyester pair that can be purchased new for less than $60.
Perhaps a subtle hint that Illya is every bit the fashion plate he claims to be when later picking out Gaby’s wardrobe, all of the leather in his outfit – his boots, his belt, and even his holster – are all the same shade of dark brown leather. His cap-toe boots have raised heels and slanting zippers that fasten the inside with straps across the vamp that buckle on the outside, similar to this lighter-colored pair of Arider boots. The ankle height of the boots keep his socks from being evident on screen, but there are flashes of taupe seen between his trouser bottoms and boot tops as he attempts to zip line over the Berlin Wall, indicating the possibility of taupe socks.
Illya Kuryakin also has a fondness for flat “newsboy” caps – appropriate given the name that Ralph Lauren bestowed on his jacket. According to Bloomberg and TheTake, costume designer Joanna Johnston reportedly custom made both of his “ivy caps” for the film from W. Bill wool, one of the U.K. mills that also contributed fabric for Henry Cavill’s many sharp suits as Napoleon Solo.
Illya’s first cap, worn during the opening scene in Berlin, is a black-on-brown gun club check with a red overcheck. The next day, also in Berlin, he sports a gray mixed tweed flat cap.
When we first meet Illya Kuryakin on a sunny day in Berlin, he is sporting a pair of classic tortoise-framed foldable Persol sunglasses with blue lenses. Think Steve McQueen. Kuryakin would later sport these with his tan Baracuta G9 Harrington jacket.
For the final sequence in Rome, Kuryakin is now wearing a pair of semi-rimmed gold Armani sunglasses with brown gradient lenses, as identified by Bloomberg Pursuits. Armani wasn’t founded until 1975, but these appear to be designed as a more fashion-forward example of Randolph Engineering’s timeless military-style aviators.
The quintessential Soviet agent, Kuryakin proudly wears a vintage Pobeda wristwatch. Russian for “victory”, the brand name Pobeda (or Победа) was chosen by Stalin himself in April 1945 to celebrate the eminent Soviet victory. The first public model was produced by the Kirov Watch Factory in March 1946, following Stalin’s decree that the watches be ready in time for the one year anniversary of Russia’s victory in World War II. The Pobeda and other Soviet-era watches can often be found – used, of course – from online dealers like eBay or Etsy.
Though several companies produced watches under the “Pobeda” brand (which was not exclusive to a manufacturer during the Soviet era), the Petrodvorets Watch Factory in St. Petersburg has been producing Pobeda watches since 1946 and current owns the brand.
Kuryakin’s particular watch, a Pobeda TTK-1 as identified by TheTake, becomes a contentious plot point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when he is reluctantly mugged in Rome. It has the trademark mechanically simple 15-jewel movement that requires regular manual winding, housed in a chromium-plated 30mm case with a snap-on stainless steel back lid and a black leather strap. The 26mm dial is off-white with a sub-dial at the 6:00 position.
Illya Kuryakin has a fashionably utilitarian approach to on-the-job dressing, opting for a stunt-friendly suede jacket, turtleneck, trousers, and boots that come in comfortably handy when his missions call for zip-lining over the Berlin Wall, hand-to-hand bathroom combat, or tearing apart a car with his bare hands.
- Chestnut brown suede leather Ralph Lauren “Brown Polo Wilstead” newsboy-style blouson jacket with large rounded-point shirt-style collar (with rounded throat tab), slanted zip left breast pocket, vertical-opening patch hip pockets, and ribbed knit cuffs and hem
- Dark indigo blue extra-fine merino wool John Smedley “Belvoir” turtleneck jumper with ribbed cuffs and hem
- Gray wool flat front straight-leg Western-style ranch trousers with pointed belt loops, curved frogmouth front pockets, button-through jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather belt with round dulled steel single-prong buckle
- Dark brown leather cap-toe ankle boots with buckle/zip sides
- Taupe socks
- Black-on-brown red overchecked wool flat cap
- Persol tortoise-framed foldable sunglasses with blue lenses
- Pobeda TTK-1 chromium-plated wristwatch with off-white dial (with 6:00 sub-dial) on black leather strap
- Dark brown leather self-suspending shoulder holster rig (RHD), for Makarov PM pistol
Illya Kuryakin naturally arms himself with the Soviet answer to the Walther PPK, a Makarov PM. The Makarov was designed in 1948 after a post-WWII call to arms as Russia looked for a semi-automatic service pistol to replace its venerable Nagant revolver and bulky Tokarev TT-33 pistol.
The blowback-action pistol first rolled off the line at the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant three years later, chambered in the newly designed 9x18mm Makarov cartridge. The “Pistolet Makarov” served as the standard Russian sidearm for the remaining 40 years of Soviet power and even well beyond in the hands and holsters of military and police.
In The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Illya Kuryakin as well as the East German Volkspolizei officers who stop him are all appropriately armed with Makarov pistols.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie, and check out the original series too!