Robert Wagner as George Lytton, smooth con artist and aspiring jewel thief
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Winter 1963
Film: The Pink Panther
Release Date: December 19, 1963
Director: Blake Edwards
Wardrobe Supervisor: Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca
Given the ridiculous nature of the later entries that focus more heavily on the madcap misadventures of Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers), it may surprise first-time viewers to see The Pink Panther so fashionably depict the elegance of winter jet-setters as they take to the Alpine ski resorts of Cortina d’Ampezzo in northern Italy, spending days on the slopes and evenings by the fire.
As February extends into the Olympic games and ski-trip season, I had wanted to revisit the stylish skiwear seen in The Pink Panther, only to realize that Robert Wagner’s 92nd birthday today coincides with the timing of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Wagner appeared in The Pink Panther as George Lytton, a small-time con man and nephew of the suave Sir Charles Lytton (David Niven). After George discovers his urbane uncle is actually a master jewel thief known as “The Phantom”, he sets out to learn from Sir Charles… even attempting to seduce his mistress, Simone Clouseau (Capucine), who just happens to be the wife of the bumbling Sûreté inspector on their trail.
Simone: You should be ashamed of yourself!
George: I’m planning on it!
Of course, if you’re going to call yourself David Niven’s apprentice in anything, you’d better dress the part. Whether he’s in a tailored suit or turtleneck, George displays a fashion sense signaling that he’s more than ready to follow in his larcenous uncle’s footsteps.
What’d He Wear?
Shortly after making her acquaintance, George joins Simone on the mountain for an intended ski lesson… though he quickly reveals that he has seduction on his mind instead.
George dresses appropriately for skiing in a down jacket layered over dual knitwear, consistent with Sir Hardy Amies’ guidance the following year in ABCs of Men’s Fashion that “it should be noted that two thin sweaters are warmer and far less cumbersome than one thick one.” The base layer is a thin-ribbed chocolate brown turtleneck, worn under a gray wool cardigan, of which all we see is the top of the wide-ribbed placket under George’s jacket.
The puffer jacket’s outer shell is dark charcoal-gray quilted nylon, insulated with down feathers arranged in the grid-like quilting to create pockets retaining the warm air in a relatively lightweight package. The hip-length jacket has a front zipper extending all the way from the hem to the top of the funnel-neck, though George wears the top unzipped so the soft gray lining around the neck lays flat like a conventional collar. The set-in sleeves are un-quilted with knitted cuffs that close with a single button. Each side of the jacket has a hand pocket with a vertical opening that zips closed.
George wears fawn-colored flat front ski pants, made from a tight stretchy material, likely treated to resist water. The plain-hemmed bottoms are tucked into his hefty black lace-up ski boots.
George also wears all-black leather winter gloves with insulated lining, reinforced backs, and elasticized ribbed-knit cuffs to keep them snug and prevent snow from getting inside. Each glove has a small silver-toned hook on the inside of the wrist to connect them to each other.
After his run-turned-dog rescue down the mountain, George joins his uncle and the rest of the ensemble for a Fran-tastic evening in the main hotel lodge, where the group is serenaded by Fran Jeffries performing “It Had Better Be Tonight” in the tradition of many a ’60s comedy requiring a random musical interlude. As the parties relax around the fire, resplendent in eye-catching sweaters with warm libations in hand, we’re looking at the epitome of après-ski culture… quite literally in George’s case, as we’re seeing him after he was skiing.
George wears the same brown turtleneck and fawn-colored ski pants, though we see significantly more of the latter, specifically the zip-closure up each of the vertical side pockets and across the two back pockets.
Most significantly, George has changed out of his puffer jacket and cardigan into a bold mustard-yellow shaker-stitch ribbed sweater with a wide-ribbed neckline, hem, and cuffs, which he turns back once over each wrist. The deep V-neck shows plenty of the brown turtleneck that he continues wearing as his base layer.
George and Simone’s screwball antics to hide both him and his uncle throughout the Clouseau suite during the inspector’s return land George in the full bathtub, keeping his sweater submerged for more than a few minutes, giving the water time to weigh down the fabric until it has stretched the entire garment out to comical proportions. By the time George sprints from the bath and tries to make his escape, the sweater has been elongated to Wagner’s calves, clinging to his frame like a dress.
No longer wearing ski boots, George has changed into black suede ankle boots that—appropriately enough, given his lifestyle and aspirations—appear to have the heavy charcoal crepe soles characteristic of the “playboy”-style boots that Steve McQueen famously wore around the same time, albeit with a long zipper up the front rather than laces. George wears black socks with these boots.
George wears a smooth large gold pinky ring on his right hand, with a small amber stone shining from its indented setting.
As noted in an earlier post looking at Niven’s style on the slopes, Sir Charles had also worn a yellow ribbed V-neck sweater while skiing, albeit in a heavier cloth and a brighter neon than the golden hue of George’s sweater.
What to Imbibe
George brings a bottle of Martini & Rossi sparkling wine to Simone’s hotel room after luring Clouseau away, chasing the Phantom on a false lead to Brunico. The choice is regionally appropriate, as Martini & Rossi is headquartered on the other side of northern Italy in Turin, where it originated in the mid-19th century in a Pessione vermouth bottling plant.
Though Martini & Rossi is widely known for its vermouths, it also offers a limited range of northern Italian sparkling wines including Prosecco from Veneto and Asti Spumante from Piedmont; it’s the latter variety that George brings to Simone’s room.
How to Get the Look
The Pink Panther stylishly depicts the après-ski culture of the mid-century “jet set”, with George Lytton living up to the term by actually coming in from the slopes of Cortina d’Ampezzo, adapting his functional skiwear of a tight turtleneck and ski pants into a fashionable fireside fit by swapping out his puffer jacket and gloves for a warm sweater and playboy-soled boots.
- Chocolate-brown lightweight turtleneck
- Mustard-yellow shaker-stitch V-neck sweater with ribbed neckline, cuffs, and hem
- Charcoal-gray quilted nylon “puffer jacket” with zip-up front, funnel-neck, zip-up side pockets, and single-button knit cuffs
- Fawn-colored stretchy flat front ski pants with waist adjuster tabs, zippered vertical side pockets, zippered horizontal back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black suede top-zip crepe-soled ankle boots
- Black socks
- Gold pinky ring with amber stone
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I never make plans, I just sort of follow my instincts.