Brad Pitt as Max Vatan, Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer
Casablanca, Morocco, Fall 1942
Release Date: November 23, 2016
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Costume Designer: Joanna Johnston
As a fan of World War II spy stories, particularly those of the Special Operations Executive, I had been intrigued by Allied since production began last year. The film weathered (or, some say say, benefited from) the pre-release gossip that a romance between co-stars Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard had driven a nail in the coffin of the venerable Brangelina pairing, but off-screen whisperings shouldn’t diminish the impact of the finished product: a captivating period romance-thriller with all the beauty and intrigue of Casablanca in a glossy, well-executed package. (Though my hometown newspaper disagrees…)
Pitt plays Wing Commander Max Vatan, a Royal Canadian Air Force intelligence officer operating in Morocco with Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a French Resistance agent, posing as his wife. The two are tasked with a deadly mission requiring the use of Sten submachine guns, so Max and Marianne head beyond the city limits for a tense bit of target practice.
What’d He Wear?
Joanna Johnston, a costume designer who proved her WWII chops with flicks like Saving Private Ryan and Valkyrie, received multiple well-deserved award nominations for her work in Allied. Neither of the film’s stars are strangers to glamour, and Max’s undercover sojourn in Casablanca provides many opportunities for Brad Pitt to show off the many attractive 1940s-styled suits that Johnston designed.
The target practice scene showcases a luxurious and eye-catching casual ensemble ideal for a military officer dressed for deep-cover desert duty in the guise of a well-to-do businessman. Johnston explained her choice for this outfit in an interview featured at Film School Rejects, which also includes some of her beautiful original costume sketches like the one to the right.
“It indeed does nod towards his military uniform, which is established in London, so both color and shape lead gently towards that,” Johnston shared in the interview. “It’s a casual, clean look based on some French styling and then tropical in fabrics for the heat of the desert… ’40s and modern at at the same time. Clean and masculine, ready for all possible action.”
Safari jackets had been a staple of European military serving in warm climates through the end of the 20th century, and Abercrombie & Fitch had started offering “Safari outfits” made from “Cravenetted” cotton drill as the world was at the brink of war in 1939. Even before the safari influence hit mainstream menswear, macho adventurers had been embracing safari jackets and suits, indicated by the “bush jacket” commissioned by Ernest Hemingway from Willis & Geiger in 1936.
Max’s safari-inspired jacket is made from a light blue herringbone cloth in either linen or a linen silk blend for the luxurious “tropical” touch that Johnston referenced.
In fact, the blue belted jacket with its four flapped pockets certainly evokes the image of Max’s Canadian Royal Air Force uniform, which he prominently wears during the film’s latter half.
As a civilian garment for style and comfort in warm climates, it forgoes some of the more traditional military-inspired safari jacket details like epaulettes or cuff straps that would add heft. In fact, it almost serves as a precursor to the leisure jackets that would – for better or worse – line the closets of trendy gents in the 1970s.
The jacket is loosely structured with shirring at the unpadded shoulders, though the belted waist adds a flattering degree of waist suppression that emphasizes Pitt’s strong physique. The wide, matching belt has a four metal grommets with a tall rectangular gunmetal single-prong buckle.
In addition to the belt, the single-breasted jacket has three metal buttons that Max wears fully fastened, acceptable due to the cut of the jacket and the fact that it’s a casual jacket and not a suit or sportcoat. The long-pointed revere collar evokes field jackets like the classic M1943 that would be issued to U.S. Army personnel the following year.
Like a traditional safari jacket, Max’s jacket has four flapped patch pockets – two on the chest and two larger pockets below the belt. Each close with a single metal button through the center of a pointed flap.
Though not exactly the same, fans can find a safari jacket in the similar spirit as Wg Cdr Vatan’s jacket with this blue all-linen piece from Ring Jacket.
Max’s bold yellow linen trousers stand out even in the bright desert sunlight. The waist is covered by the lower quarters of the blue jacket, but they’re likely styled like his other trousers in these scenes with a high rise, side pockets, jetted pockets, and double forward pleats that emphasize the already full cut. The bottoms are finished with turn-ups (cuffs).
Desert boots would be a reasonable choice with this outfit, and Johnston’s original sketch seems to call for a pair like the sand suede desert boots he wears later in the dunes with Marianne the morning of the assassination (these ones!). However, the actual shoes that Max wears with this outfit are likely the white nubuck shoes that Crockett & Jones referred to when they announced their role in making shoes for the production. His socks are beige.
Under his jacket, Max wears a light stone gray cotton knit polo with short sleeves. The collar is large and soft, and Max only wears the bottom of the three buttons fastened, revealing a glimpse of his white ribbed cotton sleeveless undershirt when sitting at dinner with Marianne.
Both of the accessories on Max’s left hand are props, worn “in character” as Maurice Berne, the successful Paris businessman. He wears a wedding band that appears to be white gold or silver on the third finger of his hand to indicate his cover marriage to Marianne.
Rather than wearing his military watch, Max wears a dressier yellow gold tank watch with a gold square dial on a dark brown leather strap. I haven’t been able to identify the manufacturer, but a luxury French jeweler like Cartier would certainly fit his cover.
Thanks to SunglassesID.com, we know that Brad Pitt wears a pair of vintage Nylor “Doublé Or Laminé” sunglasses in the Morocco scenes. The brand’s French pedigree also fits his Parisian cover story, although they were likely produced in the 1950s and would thus be anachronistic for the 1942 setting. (Although Max’s cover is considerably fashion-forward…)
Max’s Nylor glasses have gold-filled rectangular frames with a heavy browline that curves over each lens, similar to the Ray-Ban Olympian that Jon Hamm wore as Don Draper in the later seasons of Mad Men (see?). You can find still find these classic Nylor on eBay and replace the clear lenses with dark lenses à la Max Vatan.
Max: How come you don’t know Stens?
Marianne: I do know Stens. I didn’t see you set the trouble safety.
Max: You’ll be okay to use a Sten on the night, though?
Marianne: I would be okay if I had to use cutlery. Diversionary attack will happen five minutes later at 8:35. And then, everything will be in God’s hands.
Max: Good. Hopefully, he’ll know how to work the safety.
Sick burn, Max.
For anyone who may truly not know about Stens, a Sten submachine gun was a British weapon that saw widespread use among both regular military and resistance groups during World War II. The simple design of the Sten and the low cost to produce each weapon meant approximately four million Stens produced following the weapon’s development in 1940, although this quick, cheap, and easy production brought with it a reputation for unreliability.
Designed by Major Reginald V. Shepherd and Harold Turpin and first produced at Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, the officially designated “Carbine, Machine, Sten” emerged during the Battle of Britain when British supplies of Thompson submachine guns purchased from the U.S. were in short supply. RSAF Enfield was contracted to quickly develop a weapon to arm a fighting force against the Axis. Turpin handbuilt and delivered his first prototype at the Philips Radio works in Middlesex.
The design went through several variations before development of the Sten Mark II, the most iconic of the Stens with more than two million produced. This rougher design eliminated the grip and the flash eliminator. The blowback-operated, open bolt weighs in at just over seven pounds with a side-loaded detachable box magazine that holds 32 rounds of 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition that would fire at a rate between 500 and 600 rounds per minute.
Nicknamed the “Plumber’s Nightmare” for its unpredictable reliability, the Sten was unpopular among front line troops but found plenty of use among insurgency groups and partisan fighters including the Special Operations Executive, as seen in Allied. One of the SOE-trained Czechs who famously assassinated SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in May 1942 as part of Operation Anthropoid used a Sten submachine gun. (In fact, Jozef Gabčík’s Sten misfired at point-blank range, forcing his confederate Jan Kubiš to toss a grenade that caused enough damage to eventually kill Heydrich.)
Violette Szabo, a real life SOE agent dispatched into France, reportedly used a Sten to fight off elements of the 3rd SS Grenadier Regiment Deutschland when she was cornered outside of Salon-la-Tour. Legend has it that Szabo held her own with eight magazines for nearly half an hour before she was finally captured. Like so many brave women who volunteered to serve in foreign lands for SOE, Violette Szabo was executed in a concentration camp. Her life in SOE, including a depiction of her Sten-gunning last stand, is featured in the 1958 biopic Carve Her Name With Pride. Szabo is portrayed by actress Virginia McKenna.
After target practice in the desert, the Sten gets some more exciting action later in the film on “the night” to which Max refers…
Max Vatan’s safari-meets-leisure desert ensemble perfectly coordinates his military background with his cover as a fashionable businessman traveling in Casablanca with its vivid colors capturing the old world glamour and romance that defines Allied‘s mise en scène.
- Blue herringbone linen/silk 3-button safari jacket with long-pointed revere collar, four patch pockets with pointed button-down flaps, matching belt (with gunmetal single-prong buckle), plain cuffs, and single back vent
- Light stone gray cotton knit short-sleeve 3-button polo shirt
- Double forward-pleated yellow linen trousers with side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White nubuck shoes
- Beige socks
- Nylor “Doublé Or Laminé” vintage sunglasses with curved gold-filled frames
- White gold wedding band
- Yellow gold tank watch with square gold dial on dark brown leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I also just finished reading Rita Kramer’s fantastic Flames in the Field and I strongly recommend it.
We both know people who’ve fucked each other. Then they fucked up and now they’re fucking dead.
Today, June 30, is also the birthday of Pitt’s Allied co-star Lizzy Caplan!