The V.I.P.s: Richard Burton’s Astrakhan Coat and Holiday Red

Richard Burton as Paul Andros in The V.I.P.s (1963)

Richard Burton as Paul Andros in The V.I.P.s (1963)

Vitals

Richard Burton as Paul Andros, millionaire industrialist

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)

Background

As December continues and plans are being made to travel home for the holidays, we’d be well-served to recall Anthony Asquith’s paean to the Jet Age, The V.I.P.s, a lavish and star-studded drama released five years after more passengers were making their transatlantic crossings by air than by sea.

Also known as Hotel InternationalThe V.I.P.s was released in September 1963, just three months after Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton scandalized the silver screen in Cleopatra. Though Cleopatra met with polarizing reviews, the buzz around Taylor and Burton’s illicit affair generated enough buzz about their subsequent cinematic collaboration, though The V.I.P.s was a relatively tame effort when compared to the Egyptian epic that had been the most expensive movie ever made at the time of its release.

It was, in fact, a Hollywood scandal that inspired Terence Rattigan to draft his screenplay, taking cues from his friend Vivien Leigh’s attempt to leave Laurence Olivier and abscond with her lover, Peter Finch. When Leigh and Finch’s flight out of London was delayed by fog, Olivier was able to confront them at the airport and convince Leigh to return home with him.

V.I.P. couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on set in London, circa December 1962.

V.I.P. couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on set in London, circa December 1962.

Though Burton and Taylor had been cheating on their respective spouses with each other, Burton was ironically cast in the Olivier role as the jealous husband while the debonair Louis Jourdan co-starred as Taylor’s paramour. You can read more about this lavish production in Sam Kashner’s 40th anniversary retrospective for Vanity Fair, “A FIrst-Class Affair”.

What’d He Wear?

Acclaimed as a Shakespearean actor who excelled in period productions such as Henry V of England, Hamlet, and King Arthur on the stage and Alexander the Great and Mark Antony on screen, Richard Burton descended onto the tarmac during this century in The V.I.P.s, providing the opportunity for the actor to show off his tailored duds in full Metrocolor.

A client of the esteemed Douglas Hayward in real life, Burton portrays a wealthy and successful magnate who outfits himself in the latest finery though with an eye for timeless taste rather than adhering to trends. Burton’s attire is anchored by a charcoal flannel suit, an undisputed staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe.

A dramatic moment between husband and wife.

A dramatic moment between husband and wife.

The single-breasted suit jacket has lapels of a moderately narrow width that gently roll to the center of his three-button front. The double-vented jacket is rigged with three buttons per cuff.

In addition to the requisite welted breast pocket and flapped hip pockets, Burton’s suit jacket has a flapped ticket pocket above the right hip pocket. This hallmark of English tailoring is quite suitable for Burton’s kit here as his character is, indeed, traveling and could make good use of this pocket for his BOAC boarding pass.

THE VIPS

A shirtmaker’s respective talent can make or break a simple staple like a plain white shirt, so Burton opted for the best by seeking the wares of his usual shirtmaker, the esteemed Frank Foster of London. Frank Foster confirmed via two Instagram posts (in February 2017 and March 2019) that they crafted Burton’s elegant white cotton shirt with its semi-spread collar and double (French) cuffs that he fastens with a set of gold links, each adorned with a silver sphere in the center.

Some consider it gauche for a pocket square to exactly match the color, pattern, and fabric of the necktie, but Paul Andros unapologetically does just that, sporting a crimson silk pocket hank folded into a single point emerging from the welted breast pocket of his jacket. His straight crimson silk tie is held to the chest by a black tie tack.

Evidently, red silk pocket squares are the uniform of Frances Andros' lovers as both Paul and Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan) wear them.

Evidently, red silk pocket squares are the uniform of Frances Andros’ lovers as both Paul and Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan) wear them.

The charcoal suit’s matching trousers are finished with plain hems that break just below the tops of his shoes, a pair of tragically under-showcased black calf double monk shoes that appear to be similar to the ones he was photographed wearing with a similar outfit while escorting Taylor to the June 1963 fight between Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper and during their 1964 wedding.

A pair of black dress socks cover any exposed leg line between the trouser bottoms and shoe tops.

THE VIPS

Arguably the most distinctive piece of Burton’s wardrobe in The V.I.P.s is Paul Andros’ grand topcoat, a black knee-length affair lined in burgundy silk with a shawl collar made of black astrakhan fur, derived from the pelts of the now-endangered Karakul sheep, native to Central Asia. The most valuable astrakhan was considered to be from newborn or fetal lambs, which produced the tightest and shiniest of this fleece-like fur.

THE VIPS

As Sir Hardy Amies would pen the following year in his seminal sartorial tome, ABC of Men’s Fashion, “Astrakhan used to be used only on the collars of the overcoats of passé actor-managers. Now reappears on the gayest of youthful overcoats and of course as fur hats.” You can read more about the history and process of extracting astrakhan fur in this well-researched piece for The Dreamstress.

When worn closed, Andros’ single-vented coat fastens high on the chest with a three-button single-breasted front. The set-in sleeves are roped at the sleeveheads and finished at the cuffs with a single-button strap.

THE VIPS

Should the astrakhan fur collar prove inadequate for wintry insulation, Andros dons the additional seasonally appropriate layer of a dark red scarf, made of a soft wool that is likely a luxurious cashmere. Fringed at the edges, Andros’ scarf is just a slightly deeper shade of crimson than his tie.

THE VIPS

Paul wears a gold ring with a square diamond-studded face on the third finger of his right hand, though I’m not certain if this is meant to be a character affectation or was Burton’s own property. He also wears a gold square-cased watch on a gold bracelet on his left wrist.

THE VIPS

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, photographed by Everett during their 1964 wedding.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, photographed by Everett during their 1964 wedding.

The outfit must have been particularly meaningful for Richard Burton, as he wore a similar ensemble—if not the exact same suit, shirt, and tie—for his wedding to Elizabeth Taylor on March 15, 1964… his second wedding and her fifth.

The two were married at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal, though Burton’s garb tended to be ignored in favor of the actress’ canary yellow “babydoll” dress that was designed by Irene Sharaff, who had also designed the costumes for Cleopatra, the film that brought Burton and Taylor together.

Given their bond through Roman history, the two should have taken greater stock in the fact that the first of their two marriages was on the Ides of March.

The Gun

“I didn’t know people ever really carried these things,” comments Marc after Paul places his FN Model 1910 (“that thing in your pocket”) on the table. It’s a sign of the times that Paul Andros is just casually walking around Heathrow Airport with a loaded handgun… perhaps if The V.I.P.s would be remade today, Paul would be a considered a security threat if he was walking around the terminal carrying toothpaste in a tube larger than three ounces.

Marc Champselle inspects Paul Andros' Browning pistol.

Marc Champselle inspects Paul Andros’ Browning pistol.

Also known as the “Browning Model 1910”, this unique semi-automatic pistol marked a departure for American firearms designer John Browning. Browning had previously enjoyed business on both sides of the Atlantic with Colt Firearms producing his designs in the United States and Fabrique Nationale (FN) of Belgium manufacturing his goods in Europe. As Colt was already producing the wildly successful Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless pistol in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP, the manufacturer ostensibly had no need for Browning’s latest blowback-operated pistol that would be chambered in both calibers. On the other hand, FN was interested in producing Browning’s latest design, so he elected to patent the Model 1910 to be produced exclusively by FN for the European market.

The striker-fired pistol contained the “triple safety” hallmarks of Browning’s designs—namely a grip safety, magazine safety, and external lever—though it differentiated itself from earlier models with an innovative location for a spring surrounding the barrel, a design aspect that would be later found in successful pistols like the Walther PP and PPK and the Makarov PM.

FN Model 1910, serial #530203, currently on display at Morges military museum. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

FN Model 1910, serial #530203, currently on display at Morges military museum. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The FN Model 1910 was revolutionary both in its design and its execution, used in at least three infamous political assassinations across the early 20th century: Gavrilo Princip and his fellow Black Hand conspirators were armed with .380 ACP Model 1910 pistols when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in June 1914, Paul Gorguloff used one during the assassination of French President Paul Doumer in May 1932, and a .32-caliber Model 1910 was reportedly in Carl Weiss’ hand when he shot Louisiana Governor Huey Long in September 1935.

At the time of the Model 1910’s development, the word “Browning” was virtually synonymous with semi-automatic pistols due to the ubiquity of the designer’s groundbreaking weapons around the world, including its less sophisticated predecessor, the FN Model 1900. First manufactured in October 1912, the FN Model 1910 would be produced until 1983 with several longer-barreled variants introduced across its lifetime. You can read more about the FN Model 1910 and how it compares to the Browning “Old Model” in Ed Buffaloe’s entry for Unblinking Eye.

What to Imbibe

Pay no attention. Drunks cry very easily. It’s only the whisky.

Not unlike the actor potraying him, Paul Andros is often at his most comfortable with a drink in his hand… even when it’s a glass of White Horse that his wife’s lover had brought to her hotel room. Paul later orders yet another glass of White Horse when he’s penning his letter downstairs in the hotel lobby, turning away the soda that is offered along with it.

Paul Andros pours himself a dram.

Paul Andros pours himself a dram.

White Horse blended Scotch whisky was first produced by James Logan Mackie in 1861, a hundred years before it would be famously drank by Jackie Gleason as pool hustler Minnesota Fats in The Hustler (1961) opposite Paul Newman. Bottles of White Horse can also be spied poured by presidential candidate Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy) in Frank Capra’s State of the Union (1948), and enjoyed without ice by gangster Nicky Grillo (Jamie Grillo) in the fourth episode of Magic City‘s second season. Perhaps as a nod to the whisky’s wartime role as a favorite of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 467th Bombardment Group, the British spymaster Colonel Cadogan (Julian Glover) drinks a dram of White Horse from a bottle in his office in the underrated World War II espionage series Wish Me Luck.

How to Get the Look

Richard Burton as Paul Andros in The V.I.P.s (1963)

Richard Burton as Paul Andros in The V.I.P.s (1963)

While The V.I.P.s was not explicitly set during the holiday season—indeed, I believe I pinpointed the action to be January—Richard Burton’s charcoal suit and red accessories would be a sleek and unquestionably fashionable alternative to the legions of tartan plaids and ugly Christmas sweaters you’ll doubtlessly encounter at an upcoming holiday function.

  • Charcoal flannel tailored suit:
    • Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets and ticket pocket, 3-button cuffs, and double vents
    • Trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms
  • White cotton shirt with semi-spread collar and double/French cuffs
    • Gold cuff links with silver spherical centers
  • Crimson red silk tie
    • Black tie tack
  • Black calf leather double-monk shoes
  • Black dress socks
  • Black knee-length topcoat with astrakhan fur collar, high single-breasted 3-button fastening, set-in sleeves (with 1-button tab cuffs), and single vent
  • Crimson red cashmere scarf with fringed edges
  • Gold ring with square diamond-studded face
  • Gold square-cased watch on gold bracelet

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

With the truth, we don’t have much hope, but with lies, we have none.

Safe travels!

Safe travels!

One comment

  1. rasputin1066

    Excellent as always!
    I’ve never seen this. Need to check it out.
    Have you considered a profile of Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth? Irons supposedly based his portrayal on J. Paul Getty’s bodyguards, many of whom were ex-SAS members.

    Like

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