Suited for the screen: formal wear in German films
Updated: Jan 31
You are what you wear
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it always helps if you’re seen in something worth talking about. After all, brightly-coloured belts and oversized silk shirts are called “statement pieces” for a reason. Every item carries a story, or at least prompts a question, so a good outfit always speaks for itself.
But if there’s one country that knows how to stand out in some funky threads, it's the nation that birthed Bauhaus and Kraftwerk. Yes, the Germans know how to put a suit together, plenty of which can be found on screen.
Here are few contemporary examples of some seriously slick suits…
Der amerikanische Freund (1977, dir. Wim Wenders)
Image property of Filmverlag der Autoren, sourced via Medium.com
An unlikely adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel Ripley’s Game, this release from German auteur Wim Wenders features a typically haunted performance by the great Bruno Ganz. A decade before the two collaborated on their mutual career highlight, Der Himmel über Berlin, and in the year before the collapse of the Wall, Ganz stars here as a terminally ill assassin making a gloomy procession through Hamburg and Paris. The film is cloaked in desaturated colours, while Ganz is clad in a cloak-like camel trench coat that clings to his slumped shoulders like a piece of damp bacon.
Ganz’s filmography is well-decorated with long overcoats, with recent entries including his role in the Liam Neeson action-thriller Unknown and of course, in his acclaimed role as Hitler in 2004’s Downfall. This particular coat from Der amerikanische Freund is a noteworthy gem, with its wide, limp lapels as much a signifier of the male fashion trends of the era as they are a sartorial reflection of the character’s wavering mental state as his health deteriorates in his battle with leukaemia.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997, dir. Roger Spottiswoode)
Image property of United Artists and MGM, sourced via 007store.com
Thanks to the borderline obsessive level of interest in the formal attire of 007, with numerous blogs dedicated to the superspy’s outfits, there is plenty to be said about this particular suit’s cut, colour, use of materials and original vendor. The tie, for instance, was a design specially conceived for this film by Turnball & Asser, accenting a grey three-button (so ‘90s) two-piece suit from the Italian fashion house Brioni, baring slightly exaggerated shoulder pads that are as much as a feature of late-90s menswear as a compliment to Brosnan’s broad frame.
Worn as 007 infiltrates a Hamburg newspaper press, the outfit is fitting to his cover as a British banker abroad, but the shirt’s large silver cufflinks are a particularly flashy accessory that draws attention to the Omega Seamaster diver’s watch on his left wrist. Even deep undercover, Bond can’t deny himself a little sartorial flair.
Cloud Atlas (2012, dirs. The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer)
Image property of Warner Bros. Pictures and X-Filme Creative Pool, sourced via Chez Lorraine
From the creators of The Matrix Trilogy and the acclaimed German director of Run Lola Run comes an ambitious adaptation of the centuries-spanning David Mitchell novel, filmed largely on Berlin soundstages. Thanks to its funding from numerous German production companies, Cloud Atlas held the record as the most expensive German release of all time when it hit theatres in 2012.
Reuniting Ben Whishaw with Tom Tykwer after their 2006 adaptation of Das Parfum, Tykwer casts him as a young composer in 1930s Edinburgh. Dressed in high-waisted tweed suits with suspenders and rolled sleeves, a flurry of long brown curls perched atop a ponderous, ageless face, Whishaw is the picture of dashing intelligentsia on the make. Though his journey is one of the more tragic among the film’s ensemble, Whishaw’s performance is the most enchanting – and devastating – within a misunderstood masterpiece.
The saying goes that "clothes make the man", and this is a maxim applied with no greater profundity than on the silver screen. From the first moments of a character’s entrance into a scene, what they wear can inform their personality just as much as what they say and how they sound. Clothing communicates history, geography and society, the styles of the time as well as their place in the world, and when it comes to simple, honest-to-goodness coolness, there are few nations that can hold a candle to the Germans.