Mahershala Ali as Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, mob boss and nightclub owner
Harlem, November 2015
Series: Luke Cage
Episodes: “Suckas Need Bodyguards” (Episode 1.06) & “Manifest” (Episode 1.07)
Streaming Date: September 30, 2016
Directors: Sam Miller (Episode 1.06) & Andy Goddard (Episode 1.07)
Costume Designer: Stephanie Maslansky
Key Tailor: Cherie Cunningham
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
The chilly weather here in the Northern Hemisphere as we look toward the official start of winter this week is a fine time to explore options for layering against the cold.
Crime boss Cottonmouth Stokes’ “last stand” on Luke Cage finds him bundling up for a cold Harlem morning in the sixth episode, “Suckas Need Bodyguards”, when confronting the corrupt Detective Scarfe by the water. From then, he’s thrust into a spiral that ultimately results in him getting his deserved comeuppance… not for Scarfe’s murder but for the more-relevant-than-ever issue of victim blaming.
Part of Cottonmouth’s watchability comes from Mahershala Ali’s impressive gift for humanizing the character, as he explained in an October 2016 interview with Vulture. Cottonmouth may be ruthless, greedy, and vicious, but there’s no doubting his sharp style mixed with the charismatic sense of evil affability that the excellent Mahershala Ali brings to the role. I had always liked Ali on House of Cards (in fact, my first House of Cards post featured him rather than the main character… which I guess I have a habit of doing when it comes to Ali), and I’m glad to see that Luke Cage and Moonlight have both contributed to getting him on the map during 2016.
What’d He Wear?
As Cottonmouth finds himself looking at more dangerous times ahead, he leaves his bold checks and shiny silks in the closet and dresses in a more understated navy three-piece tailored suit, likely lightweight wool.
Single-breasted jackets with peak lapels have enjoyed a resurgence every 40 years or so, from their initial popularity in the 1930s to their brief return in the ’70s to their more slimmed down revival in this decade. Luke Cage takes many cues from the 1970s so it’s fitting that the gangland antagonist’s suits would evoke that era (without directly replicating it.)
Cottonmouth’s two-button suit jacket has padded shoulders that add additional strength to his silhouette. The jacket also has long double vents, 4-button cuffs, and straight flapped hip pockets. In both episodes, Cottonmouth wears a patterned navy display kerchief, folded into a neat pocket square in his jacket’s breast pocket for a subtle touch of luxury.
Like the jacket, Cottonmouth’s matching suit vest is shaped by darts down the front. Each dart stops at the lower welted pocket on each side. The waistcoat is single-breasted with five buttons well-spaced down the front with the lowest button left open over the notched bottom.
The matching flat front trousers likely have buckle side-tab adjusters like his other suit trousers, fitting comfortably around Mahershala Ali’s waist without the need for suspenders or a bulging belt. Only the slanted side pockets are seen on screen, but they likely have jetted back pockets that close through a button like his other trousers as well. These have a straight fit down to each trouser leg’s plain-hemmed bottom.
In both episodes, Cottonmouth wears a pale blue broadcloth cotton dress shirt with a cutaway spread collar to accommodate the large Windsor knots of his silk foulard neckties. The shirt also has semi-rounded cuffs that each close with a single white button.
Both episodes also find Cottonmouth wearing a silk tie with a dark ground and lighter foulard pattern, always with the tie fastened in place with a silver crest-shaped tie pin at his chest. In an interview with Forbes, costume designer Stephanie Maslansky said that “[Cottonmouth] always has a subtle piece of green, somewhere, little things that reference that snake-like aspect to his character.” Both of these episodes incorporate that green into his tie.
The first tie, in “Suckas Need Bodyguards” and the beginning of “Manifest” has a dark navy ground with repeating boxes in purple and green, each with a small tan dot in the center.
After he is released from the police station in “Manifest”, Cottonmouth returns to Harlem’s Paradise wearing the same suit and shirt but with a changed tie and pocket square. In this tie, his snake-like green has evolved from the subtle boxes of his last tie to being the entire ground color of the tie, broken only by a series of small blue-inside-gray dots. It may look to be the same tie at the outset, but the venom has spread and he’s in full snake mode by the time Mariah confronts him in his office…
Cottonmouth appears to be wearing dark brown shoes during his fight with Detective Scarfe in “Suckas Need Bodyguards”, but “Manifest” shows him lounging in his office at Harlem’s Paradise and clearly wearing a pair of black calf 3-eyelet bluchers with a cap toe. His socks are a dark shade of blue to nicely carry the leg line of his navy suit into his shoes.
Both episodes find Cottonmouth adding an extra layer against the cold late fall weather with a stylish charcoal-on-navy plaid Ulster coat in heavy woolen tweed. Though it falls short of his knees, the overcoat looks long and luxurious on Mahershala Ali’s lean 6’2″ frame.
Cottonmouth’s overcoat has all of the elements of a true Ulster coat, including the large and distinctive “Ulster collar” and a double-breasted front with a 6×2 configuration of dark brown horn sew-through buttons. There is a welted breast pocket and flapped patch pockets on the hips. The back has an inverted box pleat in the center and an adjustable half-belt with a button on each side. Each set-in sleeve ends with a wide turnback gauntlet cuff.
Cottonmouth wears a very stylish wristwatch in polished stainless steel, secured to his left wrist on a black leather strap. The white-bordered blue “tuxedo dial” reminded me of the Omega DeVille Hour Vision, but I’m still not sure. (If Mahershala Ali was on Twitter, I would ask him; it’s where Frank Whaley confirmed that Detective Scarfe wore a Rolex Daytona!)
On his right pinky, Cottonmouth wears a silver ring with a set-in round blue stone.
After wearing plain silver studs in his ears in “Suckas Need Bodyguards”, Cottonmouth swaps in his emerald-set earrings for the final acts of “Manifest” that find him at his snakiest. In the Forbes interview, Maslansky explained that “the beautiful earrings he wears, they have emeralds in the center. He always has a subtle piece of green, somewhere, little things that reference that snake-like aspect to his character.
What to Imbibe
If it wasn’t such a damn good and memorable episode in its own right, “Manifest” (episode 1.07) could also be referred to as “the Scotch episode” of Luke Cage for the ubiquitous significance of drams in key scenes.
Following his release from custody, Cottonmouth returns to his office where he pours himself a dram of The Glenlivet 18-Year-Old single malt Scotch, drinking it neat. Mariah Dillard also “enjoys” a glass of Glenlivet 18 after a rough day of fielding reporters, and the character-defining flashback to Cottonmouth and Mariah’s youth finds “Pistol Pete” frequently imbibing Johnnie Walker Black Label.
How to Get the Look
Cottonmouth defines his image as a successful gangster by never allowing himself to be seen in anything less than a tailored three-piece suit and silk tie, always with a touch of green and occasionally layering against the cold with a classic Ulster coat.
- Navy blue lightweight wool tailored suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim peak lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and long double vents
- Single-breasted 5-button vest with lower welted pockets and notched bottom
- Flat front straight-leg trousers with buckle side-tab adjusters, slanted side pockets, jetted button-through back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pale blue broadcloth cotton dress shirt with cutaway spread collar and 1-button semi-rounded cuffs
- Dark silk foulard tie (…Cottonmouth would incorporate green here!)
- Silver crest-shaped tie pin
- Black calf leather cap-toe 3-eyelet derby shoes/bluchers
- Navy blue dress socks
- Charcoal-on-navy plaid flannel wool Ulster overcoat
- Polished stainless steel wristwatch with round blue-and-white dial on black leather strap
- Silver pinky ring with round blue set-in stone
- Emerald-set silver earrings
Cottonmouth keeps the weapon he used during his first murder, a Smith & Wesson Model 64 with white pearl grips, in a small box in his office. The Model 64 is the stainless variant of Smith & Wesson’s venerable Model 10 “Military & Police” revolver in .38 Special. The Model 64 was introduced in 1981, so it certainly would’ve been available by the time Mama Mabel first placed it in his hands sometime in the ’80s. Cottonmouth’s Model 64 has a 3″ barrel, evident by the ejector rod matches the length of the barrel.
Cottonmouth’s Smith & Wesson Model 64 makes a reappearance in the final episode during Mariah’s takeover.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out Luke Cage on Netflix!
There is honor amongst thieves, but you ain’t no thief.