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ROCK THE PLANK

Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most unexpected, enduring fashion icons of the past decade. But what on earth is he wearing?

LIANNE GEORGE June 18 2007
THE BACK PAGES

ROCK THE PLANK

Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most unexpected, enduring fashion icons of the past decade. But what on earth is he wearing?

LIANNE GEORGE June 18 2007

THE BACK PAGES

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THE LAYERS: In each successive Pirates film, Sparrow’s penchant for layering intensifies. He accumulates more belts, scarves, and weapons—presumably those of his enemies—along with bits of fabric, such as a piece of lace he wears around his wrist, a gift from a never-revealed lover.

THE RINGS: “We gave him a big selection of rings,” says Rose, “but he also showed up with a couple of his own and said, what do you think?” Among the four Sparrow wears is a favoured green thrift-store ring Depp purchased himself in 1989.

THE CHARMS: Miscellaneous talismans and charms hang off his person at all times. This rabbit’s foot, or something, was added by Depp for the third film. “I asked him, ‘Where did that come from?’ ” says Rose, “and he said, ‘I ate it. Now I’m wearing a bit of it.’ ”

THE HAT: Depp snapped up this tricorne hat out of a range of samples shown to him by costume designer Penny Rose. “He just picked this one up, put it on his head at an angle, looked at me and said, ‘Right, this is my hat,’ ” she says.

He wouldn’t try any others.

THE BEADS: The multicoloured hair beads were a tribute to Rolling Stone Keith Richards, who, says costume designer Penny Rose, “wears beads and all kinds of tchotchkes in his hair.” Theoretically, she says, Jack Sparrow plundered them. “They’re treasure from ships he’s boarded and pirated.”

THE BOOTS: “If you’ve seen the films you’ll notice that Johnny moves very, very well,” says Rose. “His boots give . him a certain kind of /’ walk. He’s got a kind of swagger, an attitude.”

ROCK THE PLANK

fashion

Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most unexpected, enduring fashion icons of the past decade. But what on earth is he wearing?

LIANNE GEORGE

In popular fashion, the skull and crossbones motif has always held a certain appeal for those looking to telegraph a ‘you’re not the boss of me” type of hostility—like bikers or 13-year-old existentialists or Axl Rose. And yet the actual style of dress common to pirates in popular culture— the knickers and the stockings and the billowy blouses—couldn’t be any less threatening if they were made of pretty white lace, which they oftentimes are. Jerry Seinfeld illustrated this point best in the classic 1993 “Puffy Shirt” episode of Seinfeld, wherein his character unwittingly agrees to wear a pillowy Captain Hook-inspired blouse, designed by Kramer’s “lowtalking” girlfriend, to a Today Show appearance. He looked like a Harlequin romance novel. Who could blame Jerry, the world’s most prolific cynic, for whining, “But I don’t wanna be a pirate!”?

These days, with the advent of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the final instalment of the blockbuster trilogy, everyone wants to be a pir ate. Or rather, one pirate in particular: Johnny Depp’s mildly androgynous, Keith Richards-esque rock ’n’ roll grunge pirate Jack Sparrow, who remains one of the most unexpected and widely emulated fashion icons of the past decade. Just as the swashbuckler look seemed to be losing steam, runways are once again awash with draping blouses, striped nautical tights, gold hoops and chains? oversized belt buckles, and things layered over other things. The skull and crossbones graphic, once a vaguely threatening symbol of nonconformity, is now a common pattern on children’s hoodies and Alexander McQueen headscarves, donned by Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie. Disney itself has issued a range of Pirates-themed clothing and accessories, including a US$389 men’s leather jacket and US$250 Disney Couture Jack Sparrow rings designed by the films’ makeup artist, Joel Harlow. In a matter of three movies, Depp has simultaneously sexed-up the pirate’s image and tamed it to the point of domestification.

Originally, the task of bringing Jack Sparrow to life was charged to British costume designer Penny Rose, who was later nominated for a handful of awards for her efforts. Her first move was to can the billowy white shirts. “We all felt that we didn’t want to be likened to an

Errol Flynn movie,” says Rose, whose other films include Mission Impossible and Evita. “We weren’t setting out to make pirate films that were just about glamorous men hanging off the bow of a ship. Our boys are really not that nice. They’re vagabonds. We wanted to make them just as the pirates were at the time : the highwaymen of the oceans.”

From the outset, Depp was deeply invested in the look of this character, says Rose, inclined to incorporate his own belongings into the costume, and to make up theoretical backstories for each one. “Johnny has tremendous influence on what he wears,” says Rose. “He knows what works instinctively. He told me immediately he wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll pirate, to which I asked, ‘Got anyone in mind?’ And he winked at me and said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Like many of Depp’s leading roles, Cap-

tain Jack is truly a product of the actor’s peculiar, magpie approach to character-building—that is, finding traits, quirks and artifacts that capture his imagination and injecting them into his performance. Fans of the Pirates films have probably observed that Jack Sparrow sways a lot, like someone who may have yo-hoed a little too much rum the night before. “Johnny moves very, very well,” says Rose, “and so you’ll notice that those pirate coats have a lot of swing in the back of them. And he really knows how to play the swing.” In fact, the entire costume is designed to accentuate his particular boozy style of movement. “His boots give him a certain kind of swagger.”

Once Rose’s team had finished creating exact replicas of 18th-century garments that would have been worn by real, grungy pirate thieves, Depp and Rose set about “Keith Richards-ing” his look. “What we did to get an aura of rock-star pirate was to add things,” says Rose. “The hair is the most significant Keith factor because he wears beads and all kinds of tchotchkes in his hair.” The other essential ingredient was Sparrow’s tricorne hat. “I offered Johnny some samples from the place in Rome where I make my hats,” says Rose, “and he picked this one up, put it on his head at an angle, and looked at me and said, ‘Right, this is my hat.’ I was like, ‘Ooh, try some others on,’ and he said, ‘Nope, this is my hat.’ ”

Layering—belts, beads, rings, talismans and bits of fabric tied around his wrist—is the heart of Jack Sparrow’s aesthetic. “The layering has been added to as the films go by,” says Rose. “He has much more on him in the third movie than he had in the first.” Theoretically, Depp’s character’s overabundance of accessories are treasures he has plundered during years of pirating ships, taking lives and romancing his enemies’ women. In the film, Sparrow wears four rings, one of which Depp brought from his personal collection—a chunky green and gold piece he bought from a thrift shop in the late ’80s.

In the latest film, which broke worldwide box office records with US$404 million in ticket sales in its opening weekend, Sparrow wears what looks like a decomposing claw hanging from a belt around his waist. “It’s a rabbit’s foot or something,” says Rose. “I asked him, ‘Where did that come from?’ and he said, T ate it. Now I’m wearing a bit of it.’ Johnny Depp is a very, very witty man.” She laughs, evidently every bit as smitten as the rest of the world. M