Alain Delon in Le Samouraï
Alain Delon as Jef Costello, slick, taciturn, and meticulous contract killer
Paris, April 1967
Film: The Samurai
(French title: Le Samouraï)
Release Date: October 25, 1967
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On Alain Delon’s 84th birthday, let’s explore Le Samouraï, arguably one of the best, most influential, and most stylish roles of Delon’s career and the frequent subject of requests from BAMF Style readers like Marcus and Mohammed.
Despite being Jean-Pierre Melville’s tribute to 1940s noir, Le Samouraï was also the maverick director’s first color production as he had evidently elected not to film in black-and-white. The color photography allows Melville to make the most of his shadowy settings from Jef Costello’s gray, barren apartment to the throwback glamour of the Parisian nightclub.
Delon stars as Jef Costello, a cold contract killer whose solitary lifestyle nods to Japanese lone warrior mythology—hence the title—and whose personal style co-opts the classic American noir anti-hero. Melville had written the script and developed the character specifically for Delon, stripping away the persona that the actor had cultivated over the previous decade as a charming if mischievous romantic who—even as a criminal—could win over the audience with a knowing smirk or grin.
The collaboration between Melville and Delon was a match made in cinematic heaven, evident from the day that Melville brought his script for Delon to read in person. After Melville shared the title with Delon, the actor escorted the director back to his bedroom, populated solely by a leather couch and a samurai blade on the wall: Melville had found his perfect Jef Costello. The result, which has influenced directors from the Coens and Scorsese to Tarantino and John Woo, is a spare yet stylish neo-noir that rightly maintains its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To learn more, I invite you to read James Roberts’ excellent 2017 essay for Glide magazine, which discusses Le Samouraï with far more eloquence than I could muster.
The film begins on Saturday, April 4*, with Jef Costello fully dressed, laying prone on the bed in his sparse flat, chain-smoking Gitanes as his caged bird serenades him. At 6 p.m., he rises, meticulously dons his trench coat and fedora, and leaves the apartment. After stealing a Citroën sedan, he drives to a wordless exchange with his underworld contact (André Salgues), who gives Jef new license plates, forged identity papers, and a .38-caliber revolver. Jef’s next stop is to the apartment of glamorous prostitute Jane Lagrange (Nathalie Delon) to establish his alibi for the following hours before finally making his way to Martey’s, the nightclub that would be the setting of his first on-screen murder. Jef sneaks down into the club’s basement and into the manager’s office, where he confronts Martey himself.
Martey: Who are you?
Jef: It doesn’t matter.
Martey: What do you want?
Jef: To kill you.
Martey reaches for his own revolver, but there’s no outdrawing Jef, who kills the nightclub owner with three shots. Once the relatively clean hit is complete, Jef disposes of his gloves, gun, and stolen car before meeting up again with his underworld cronies for a smoky 2 a.m. card game. A police dragnet rounding up all the usual suspects includes Jef, who finds himself in a room with dozens of other men dressed in raincoats and hats per the description given by Valérie (Cathy Rosier), the attractive pianist with whom Jef locked eyes after leaving Martey’s office. Magically, most of the eyewitnesses fail to identify him (with one even misremembering the killer to have a mustache), and his pre-arranged alibi with Jane is the final piece of the puzzle that leads to Jef’s release from custody…but the police superintendent (François Périer) remains suspicious of the laconic young man, and the game is afoot!
Jef easily loses the police tail, but an additional complication arises when he meets a representative of his client on an overpass near the elevated rail station. “It’s done,” Jef informs him, but there’s still more to be done in the eyes of the client, who attempts to tie off loose ends by double-crossing Jef and shooting him. Jef overpowers the gunman, who escapes, but not until after getting a shot off that tears into Jef’s left arm… tearing a hole into the sleeve of his trench coat and penetrating the hitman’s protective armor.
What’d He Wear?
The killer is described as tall, young, wearing a raincoat and hat.
Despite being more than a half-century old, fashion writers still take the time the explore Le Samouraï‘s killer style every few years: Sarah Maher for Refinery29 in 2008, Calum Marsh for Esquire in 2013, Style in Film in 2015, and Jonathan Heaf for British GQ last year. Now, after several requests from BAMF Style readers, it’s my turn to take a comprehensive look at Jef Costello’s trench coat and fedora, updated by Alain Delon a generation after Humphrey Bogart had established it as a staple of the “noir hero” uniform in movies like Casablanca, The Big Sleep, and Sirocco.
The trench coat is one of the most enduring and iconic pieces of men’s outerwear, tracing its unquestionably British origins back to the middle of the 19th century where Aquascutum and Burberry continue to battle for credit of the initial creation. John Emary of Aquascutum (Latin for “water shield”) developed a groundbreaking water-resistant wool ankle-length coat in the 1850s that the company cites as the precursor what we call the trench coat, though it wasn’t until 1879 that Aquascutum’s competitor Thomas Burberry invented the innovative gabardine fabric that would make the garment so effective against the elements and was meant to replace the stinky rubber that was used to construct most raincoats up to that point. The War Office received Burberry’s design for an officer’s raincoat in 1901, intended to be a lighter weight alternative to the heavy regulation great coats already authorized by the British Army that blended in the functionality and wearability of the waterproof regulation cape.
What emerged as the classic “trench coat” was modernized during World War I, optimized for protecting wearers during trench warfare with oversized pockets and D-rings for accessories. An additional wartime modification was the addition of shoulder straps (epaulettes) for rank insignia, though these have remained an enduring characteristic of civilian trench coats.
Thanks to marketing shortcuts and colloquialism, the term “trench coat” is often inaccurately applied to simple raincoats or dusters, but Jef Costello’s coat is a classic trench coat in every sense, detailed with the storm flaps, shoulder straps, D-ring belted front and belted cuffs, and traditional ten-button, double-breasted front associated with the garment.
Costello’s coat is made from a tightly woven cotton gabardine twill in a light sandy shade of khaki, one of the most traditional colors for a trench coat. There is a storm flap (or “gun flap” as it would cover the butt of a shouldered long arm) over the right shoulder and a straight-bottomed storm flap across the back. The two external pockets are slanted and positioned just below the belt, each with a storm flap detailed with a small button at the top and bottom that can be buttoned up from the outside to protect the contents from rain.
The double-breasted front consists of ten mixed beige plastic four-hole sew-through buttons, arranged in two parallel columns of five buttons each, with two rows below the belt and three above it up to the neck, where a hook-and-eye throat latch closure can securely fasten in addition to the top row of buttons, though Costello typically leaves this undone even when he wears it closed over his chest. There is also a tab under the left side of the collar with three buttonholes that could be used to close the collar around the neck.
Costello’s coat has the traditional double-layered shoulder straps that button onto the coat at the neck. The self-belt extends around the coat’s waist line with the brass D-rings added during World War I to carry equipment like map cases, swords, and—perhaps apocryphally—hand grenades. The end of each raglan sleeve is fastened with a mini-belt that closes through a single-prong buckle. Like the belt around the waist, the belted cuffs have a brown leather-covered buckle.
Costello only wears the trench coat for the first half of the movie, hanging it up after the left sleeve is damaged by a bullet during a scuffle with the unnamed blonde gunman representing his client.
The popularity of Delon’s costuming has endured for more than a half-century and remains a popular subject of discussion regarding iconic movie menswear, though some question remains regarding who manufactured the coat. Aquascutum and Burberry have both been suggested as possible contenders due to their respective roles in the trench coat’s development, with Jonathan Heaf writing for British GQ that he leaned toward the former, citing the centralized and closer placement of the buttons.
Aquascutum and Burberry continue to be contenders in the modern trench coat game, with the closest classic examples being:
- Aquascutum Bogart Trench Coat in a camel polyester/cotton blend (Aquascutum, $1,250)
- Aquascutum Corby Double Breasted Trench Coat in a camel polyester/cotton blend (Aquascutum, $1,105)
- Burberry Long Chelsea Heritage Trench Coat in honey cotton gabardine (Burberry, $1,990)
- Burberry Long Kensington Heritage Trench Coat in honey cotton gabardine (Burberry, $1,990)
- Burberry Westminster Heritage Trench Coat in honey cotton gabardine (Burberry, $2,190)
Some indication may come from the brief glimpse we get of the lining when Costello is asked to exchange his coat and hat with another man when Jane’s paramour, Weiner, is called in to review the lineup. Interestingly, Costello’s coat from the mid-back down is lined in a brown shadow plaid that looks to be neither the distinctive Burberry house tartan plaid or the Aquascutum brown, navy, and tan club check, though this latter check—the Club 92—was reportedly not introduced until 1967, the same year that Le Samouraï was produced and released.
While every noir-esque anti-hero needs his badass longcoat, a smart fedora is equally as important. Jef Costello opts for a self-edged fedora in gray wool felt with a wide black ribbed grosgrain silk ribbon. The low crown is less pinched than the traditional fedora with more than an inch across the front separating the dent on each side.
Given Alain Delon’s then-upcoming role opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo in Borsalino, it would be reasonable enough to assume that Jef Costello topped his head with a sharp gray fedora from that iconic Italian hatter; however, we get a glimpse of the gold branding on the inside of Costello’s hat when he surrenders his fedora to the hat-check clerk at Martey’s nightclub before the final scene.
Appropriately enough, there had also been an ongoing discussion at The Fedora Lounge regarding Delon’s hat, where brighter minds and better informed hat-spotting eyes than mine may be able to best deduce from the hat’s profile and gold manufacturer’s mark who crafted the distinctive hat atop Delon’s head in Le Samouraï.
Much as he wears the trench coat and fedora associated with the American noir protagonist, Jef Costello also wears the quintessential American men’s shirt, a cotton button-down shirt.
After John E. Brooks had spotted English polo players buttoning their collars to the bodies of their shirts, Brooks Brothers introduced the button-down collar shirt to the American menswear market, where it became a respected and oft-duplicated staple of Ivy and “trad” style. Costello’s white cotton shirt has a button-down collar with an elegant roll, a breast pocket, and single-button rounded cuffs.
Simplicity is the key of Jef Costello’s style game, and he opts for a solid dark textured tie that can’t fail with any outfit, particularly his preferred white shirts and dark gray suits. Costello’s go-tie tie appears to be a black grenadine silk, though the harsh lights of the garage make both the tie and his second overcoat appear to be a dark, inky shade of navy blue.
You can find quality black grenadine ties for less than $100 from many reputable neckwear experts, including:
- Aklasu ($80)
- Beckett & Robb ($98)
- Elizabetta ($88)
- J. Press ($98)
- John Henric ($69)
- Kent Wang ($75)
- Sam Hober ($95)
Costello’s first suit, the one he wears under the trench coat, is a shark gray pick-and-pick wool, apropos his profession and reputation as a silent killer.
The single-breasted suit jacket has moderate notch lapels that roll to a two-button front, a welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back.
Costello’s single reverse-pleated trousers have a fitted waistband with a narrow tab that extends to close on one of two buttons placed to the right of the fly. The trousers have slightly slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and wide turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
With both of his suits, Costello wears black leather cap-toe oxfords with thin black silk socks.
After he returns home from the scuffle that got him shot in the arm, Costello strips off his trench coat, suit jacket, and white shirt to reveal a plain white short-sleeved undershirt. This cotton crew-neck T-shirt has ribbed sleeve ends.
On Sunday night, having slept away most of the day after treating his gunshot wound, Costello hangs up his damaged trench coat and changes into a charcoal wool Chesterfield-style coat that becomes his outerwear of choice for the remainder of the film.
Costello’s coat also a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, three-button cuffs, and a single vent. We get a glimpse at the manufacturer’s label stitched above the inside breast pocket, revealing what appears to be “EDDY” stitched in light gray with red bars along the top and bottom of the label. Though this overcoat has notch lapels that lack the formal velvet collar associated with the traditional Chesterfield, the covered fly on the single-breasted front is a traditional element.
Costello also changes out of his shark gray suit for the second half of the film, wearing a similarly tailored and styled suit though in a dark charcoal worsted just a shade away from black, communicating his deadly business. This charcoal gray suit with its single-breasted, two-button jacket and pleated trousers is almost identical to the lighter gray suit except that the bottoms are plain-hemmed rather than cuffed.
No matter which suit or coat he’s wearing, Costello always prepares for a hit by donning a pair of white cotton unlined dress gloves. It’s a darkly humorous choice when one considers the idiom “taking off the white gloves,” which means preparing to ramp up a fight; in Costello’s case, putting on white gloves mean that he’s about to carry out his deadly duties.
Jef Costello supplements his simple and elegant sartorial approach with a cushion-shaped Baume & Mercier wristwatch, worn on the inside of his right wrist on a black textured leather band. The round white dial has black Roman numerals.
In some shots, there is a plain gold ring—likely a wedding band—on the third finger of Delon’s left hand. It’s likely an oversight, though it does add an interesting suggestion to Jef Costello’s unexplored personal history.
The blonde gunman (Jacques Leroy) who ruins Jef’s trench coat and gray suit with a bullet through the left sleeve dresses similarly to Jef, first seen in a gray flannel suit, white shirt, and black tie not unlike Jef’s Saturday evening attire.
The next day, the gunman is waiting for Jef in his apartment, dressed in a trench coat very similar to the one that Jef famously wore through the first half of the movie, though the gunman’s coat appears to be a Burberry product as evident by the brand’s distinctive tartan plaid lining seen as Jef kicks him into his kitchen.
Are these the de facto “uniforms” of assassins in the Melville cinematic universe? Or is the blonde gunman himself trying to be more like his target?
Despite the French production and setting, Jef Costello is armed for each assassination with a classic American police revolver, the Smith & Wesson Model 10 with a four-inch barrel. Introduced in 1899 as the “Military & Police Model”, Smith & Wesson was still producing this tried-and-true .38 Special six-shooter nearly three quarters of a century later. Other silver screen killers may have favored more modern sidearms by the 1960s, such as James Bond with his famous Walther PPK, but Costello characteristically opts for a trusty, reliable piece like his spiritual predecessors in his shadowy subgenre.
Costello actually uses two different Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolvers over the course of Le Samouraï, each one issued to him by the garage keeper. He uses the first one to kill Martey, disposing of it by tossing it from a bridge into the river.
While the profile of both revolvers look mostly identical, note the slight changes in the front sight and hammer to differentiate between the two props.
The first revolver (above) is likely an older model manufactured before the mid-1950s when Smith & Wesson transitioned from the rounded “half moon” front sight as seen above to the ramped front sight of the second revolver (below). The first revolver also has a straighter hammer while the second revolver has a more ergonomically friendly spurred hammer.
When Costello checks the load in his Smith & Wesson, we see that it’s loaded with six Gévelot rounds of .38 Special.
What to Imbibe
When Jef returns to Martey’s, he requests simply “a whiskey” and is given a highball glass filled with ice and what appears to be Scotch. The bartender places a bottle of soda water next to the drink, but Jef never gets a chance to actually imbibe as the chief bartender (Robert Favart) who was in on the plan to hire him greets him with: “If you were the man wanted by the police, you could say the criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.”
Jef Costello doesn’t seem to be much of a drinker as it is, instead stocking up on plenty of bottled Evian water and packets of Gitanes cigarettes at his home.
How to Get the Look
Alain Delon channels classic film noir anti-heroes with his trench coat and fedora, worn over a simple but effective gray business suit, white button-down shirt, and black grenadine tie.
- Shark gray worsted wool suit
- Single-breasted 2-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, ventless back
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with extended waistband tab, slightly slanted side pockets, button-through back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with button-down collar, breast pocket, and 1-button rounded cuffs
- Black grenadine silk tie
- Black leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Black silk socks
- White crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Khaki gabardine cotton trench coat with 10-button front, epaulettes, storm flap, self-belt (with leather-covered single-prong buckle), slanted storm pockets, belted cuffs, back storm flap, and single vent
- Dove gray wool felt fedora with wide black grosgrain silk band
- Baume & Mercier platinum cushion-cased wristwatch with white round dial (with black Roman numeral markers) on textured black leather strap
- Gold wedding band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. It would influence scores of filmmakers to come, and many elements of the plot would be adapted by Walter Hill for the great 1978 neo-noir The Driver starring Ryan O’Neal.
Can’t get enough of Delon in a trench coat? Check out Le Cercle Rouge, also directed by Melville!
I never lose. Not really.
Awesome post! An all-time favorite, and perfectly suited for the bamfstyle treatment of course.
Could not agree more with josephcrobertson! Well said sir. I first watched this film on BBC2 late one night in the early 90’s and have loved it ever since. Delon had some great roles but this was the best. If there is a cooler gents outfit in the history of cinema I don’t know what it is. Thank you BAMF style.
ps. Its pouring with rain in London today, so I’m now popping out to buy a new trenchcoat….