Louis Jourdan as Marc Champselle, “a gigolo… a buffoon… a professional diner-outer… a notorious sponger!”
Heathrow Airport, London, Winter 1963
Film: The V.I.P.s
(also released as Hotel International)
Release Date: September 19, 1963
Director: Anthony Asquith
Costume Designer: Pierre Cardin (uncredited)
Happy December! For the first month of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, we look to the stylish 1963 film The V.I.P.s, a cinematic celebration of jet-age luxury starring an impressive international cast as a group of travelers stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport and the neighboring Hotel International for a cold but passionate January night.
Screenwriter Terence Rattigan supposedly based this drama on his friend Vivien Leigh’s attempt to leave Laurence Olivier for her lover, Peter Finch, until Leigh and Finch’s flight out of London airport was delayed by fog, giving Olivier time to rush to the airport to confront them and convince Leigh to return home with him.
While Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton famously played the feuding married couple in the first of a dozen films they would star in together, in a role that would become all too real for the film’s cast and crew, the role of Liz’s dashing – if irresponsible – paramour went to Louis Jourdan, a suave Marseille-born actor who had taken a break from his fledgling film career during World War II to join the French Resistance. Twenty years after his role in The V.I.P.s, Jourdan would bring his urbane sophistication to the James Bond franchise as Kamal Khan, the villain opposite Roger Moore’s 007 in Octopussy (1983).
What’d He Wear?
“Jourdan flew to London from Hollywood at the last moment to appear in the film, bringing his own wardrobe with him,” wrote Sam Kashner for Vanity Fair in July 2003, providing the definitive behind-the-scenes account of this movie. “‘I had never seen anything like it,’ remembers [assistant director Peter] Medak, who was the first to greet Jourdan on the set. ‘There were 20 pairs of gray flannel trousers in various shades, and sport jackets, and those shoes! The same shoes Cary Grant used to wear, those kind of loafers. He always looked immaculate on-screen and off—he was famous for that.”
Early in his career, Louis Jourdan had been a model for Pierre Cardin, and Cardin’s uncredited costume design on The V.I.P.s leaves little doubt that it was Cardin’s designs that provided the bulk of Jourdan’s wardrobe as the debonair Marc Champselle.
Marc drapes himself in a camel cashmere raglan-sleeve coat. The single-breasted coat has a single-breasted three-button covered fly front; when he turns up the notch lapels, a fourth button is revealed at the neck to close the coat over the chest for additional warmth. The full-fitting, knee-length coat has hand pockets with large vertical openings, cuffed sleeves, and a single vent.
Perfect for a winter day in London, Marc wears a gray herringbone tweed sport jacket with an American-inspired cut with no darts and a single rear vent. The single-breasted front has notch lapels with swelled edges that roll over the top of three dark gray plastic buttons. Two non-functioning buttons are spaced apart on each cuff. The jacket also has a welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets.
In the welted breast pocket of his tweed sportcoat, Marc wears a red silk pocket square, printed in a foulard pattern of ornate olive squares.
“His need is for Charvet ties and silk shirts,” Paul growls about Marc. If that’s the case, Marc is certainly ignoring his needs for his day of luxury air travel, wearing instead a considerably subdued cotton shirt and solid black tie.
Marc’s shirt is pale gray with a semi-spread collar and double (French) cuffs. His only concession to any sort of sartorial grandeur is this regard is a set of large and ornate gold cuff links with enamel-painted striped shields on the faces.
Marc keeps his neckwear simple with a plain black tie, knotted in a four-in-hand. It may indeed be a Charvet tie, but not conspicuously so.
Seemingly in line with the real Louis Jourdan’s reported penchant for gray flannel trousers, Marc Champselle wears a pair of dark charcoal wool flat front trousers that rise to his waist, just at the buttoning point of the jacket. They appear to be beltless and finished on the bottoms with plain-hemming rather than cuffs.
Despite Peter Medak’s recollection of Jourdan wearing “those kind of loafers… Cary Grant used to wear”, his character appears to be wearing black calf leather lace-up derby shoes with black socks to continue the leg line.
Marc wears a plain gold watch on a black leather strap, fastened to his left wrist.
What to Imbibe
Although much of the movie is set in a V.I.P. lounge where the characters have little to do other than drink, The V.I.P.s featured far more imbibing behind the scenes than on the screen. Richard Burton “would drink Bloody Marys before noon, then a second bottle of vodka for lunch,” while Peter Medak told Vanity Fair decades later about Elizabeth Taylor drinking glasses of straight vodka in her makeup chair before going on camera.
Booze was even a major part of the film’s promotional tactics. Anatole “Tolly” de Grunwald designed a marketing campaign that included a contest where the winning “V.I.P.” would win a personalized portable bar that was stocked with twelve bottles of Booth’s High & Dry gin, three bottles of dry vermouth, and a set of cocktail accessories.
In the film itself, White Horse blended Scotch whisky seems to be the booze of choice for our stranded characters. White Horse has been continually produced since 1861, and it was reportedly distributed to crews of the U.S. Army Air Force 467th Bombardment Group when stationed at RAF Rackheath in England during the final months of World War II. The whisky’s blend includes Glen Elgin and Lagavulin, before the latter would become a popular single malt bottling in its own right, including as the favorite of Parks and Recreation‘s Ron Swanson.
“I thought we might be needing this,” Marc offers when he brings a bottle of White Horse to Frances’ hotel suite.
Later, a squabble between Frances and her jealous husband Paul leads to her cutting her hand. He pours out a dram of White Horse for both of them before he realizes…
Paul: Didn’t know you liked whisky.
Frances: It’s not my bottle.
Paul: Oh, I see… do you think he’ll forgive us?
Paul soon gets the chance to find out as Marc returns to Frances’ suite and is drolly greeted by Paul: “I’ve stolen some of your whisky, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” responds the jilted lover.
How to Get the Look
A dapper dresser in real life, Louis Jourdan brought a fashionable yet functional aesthetic to his character in The V.I.P.s with a timeless ensemble just as appropriate for a natty winter day at the office as for high-class air travel.
- Gray herringbone tweed single-breasted sport coat with notch lapels, 3/2-roll dark gray plastic buttons, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Pale gray cotton shirt with semi-spread collar and double/French cuffs
- Black tie
- Charcoal wool flat front trousers with side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black calf leather derby shoes
- Black socks
- Camel cashmere raglan coat with notch lapels, single-breasted 3-button covered-fly front with throat button, large vertical hand pockets, cuffed sleeves, and single vent
- Red square-printed foulard silk pocket square
- Gold watch on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Look, I’m not insulted. From all you know of me, you’ve a perfect right to suppose that I can be bought off. As a matter of fact, I have been bought off by a jealous husband before… two, come to think of it.