The High-Octane Hipness and Enduring Nostalgia of "Drive"
The High-Octane Hipness and Enduring Nostalgia of "Drive"
- Words Brenden Gallagher
- Date June 5, 2018
Nicolas Windig Refn’s 2011 film Drive plays like the cinematic version of a chillwave remix of an ‘80s synth-pop song. Every aspect of the film deconstructs tropes and cliches of ‘80s schlock, reckons with them and imbues them with an aura of meditative artistry. This is true of the neon pink titles, the ambient soundtrack, the souped up vintage cars and the familiar mafia stereotypes. For our purposes, of course, we are interested in the clothes.
Ryan Gosling’s getaway driver look is full-on vintage, down to his souvenir jacket and driving gloves. But rather than the garish color palette we might expect from an actual ‘70s or ‘80s speedster, the look of Gosling’s “Driver” offers an updated, chic take on the idea of mob-connected speed racer.
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The iconic look presented by costume designer Erin Benach at once evokes late-‘70s and early-‘80s motifs while also speaking to a broader nostalgia, allowing for hints of other eras in order to create a timeless look.
The most iconic wardrobe piece from the film is Gosling’s white satin driving jacket with the gold scorpion embroidered on the back. From the beginning, Benach knew the jacket would be an important element of the film, and set out to create something iconic. “I read the script and I knew we needed something iconic—something that people would never tire of watching throughout the film. Driver [the character] wasn’t going to be changing his clothing very much—it’s not one of those movies. The character is really more of a superhero than he is a person—although we wanted people to think he’s a real person so that they would feel more attached to him,” she said to GQ.
While the jacket evokes a punk-vintage thrift look, it is actually inspired by post-World War II Korean and Japanese 'souvenir jackets.' As it happens, Gosling was wearing one around during the time, and it left an impression. While the jacket he wore was “definitely very '50s and slouchy,” Benach decided to design her own interpretation, integrating models from different era to produce the exact look she wanted. Richard Lim at High Society Tailors in LA was up to the task, ultimately producing 27 identical jackets for the film. “We felt like Driver was really buttoned-up, clean and streamlined and we didn’t want there to be much billowiness to him. So we built it piece by piece. We knew the collar had to be able to pop up, we wanted the knit around the wrists and waist to be 100 percent wool as opposed to stretchy nylon. We wanted every element to be perfect. We went through 15 to 20 iterations until we got it right. Which was down to the wire—about an hour before shooting,” Benach said to Grantland.
Refn has referenced a number of influences on the jacket design in interviews, providing deeper insight to Benach’s approach. Some inspirations include Kenneth Anger’s 1963 motorcycle heavy experimental film Scorpio Rising and KISS’s “I Was Made For Loving You.” With KISS, the influence was purely mood-based, as Refn felt for some reason that jacket related to the track. “Driver had to have a satin jacket that was like an armor, and the image of a scorpion evokes that sort of protection, I think. And, for some reason, the jacket feels like it fits perfectly with a KISS song. I can’t really explain why,” Refn said to Highsnobiety.
Vibe aside, the jacket has deep historical and cultural connotations, which Refn and Benach made sure to incorporate. Technically referred to as a souvenir or “Sukajan” jacket, the style was first brought to America by soldiers returning home from the Pacific theater after World War II. The jackets, embroidered with cherry blossoms, tigers, and other imagery favored by the Japanese, were literally “souvenirs” for Allied soldiers. As US style gained a foothold in Japan in the ‘60s following the end of American occupation in the ‘50s, the Sukajan jacket grew in popularity as a counterculture symbol of resistance to Western influence. When the US Army returned to East Asia during the subsequent Korean and Vietnam conflicts, there were even more Sukajan jackets floating around, and many wound up making their way home with US troops. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the last of the souvenir jackets came back stateside, instilling the style with a distinctly ‘70s vibe—much like the film itself.
Though the jacket is clearly the star of the show, the rest of Driver’s costume exhibits similar themes, a push and pull between ‘70s and ’80s specificity and a more generalized nostalgia. From the tortoise-shell Ray Ban aviators to vintage slub-cotton henleys and leather driving clothes, Gosling’s entire outfit eschews a sense of aged cool.
Gosling’s Stacy Adams boots further establish this approach. While Stacy Adam’s has been around since 1875, and still thrives today, it hit a pop culture high mark in late-‘70s through the early-‘80s. Tom Waits references the brand on his 1976 album Nighthawks at the Diner and Morris Day and the Time shout them out in their 1982 hit “The Walk.”
The leather driving gloves that Gosling wears in the film were also chosen for a similar purpose. Designed by Gaspar, an LA-based company famous for warming the hands the biggest popstar in history: Michael Jackson. Though Dorothy Gasper is a third generation glove maker, she emigrated from Hungary to open her Hollywood glove shop in 1985 and has been a go-to for her extensive roster of celebrity clients since. The particular gloves used in Drive were based of those made famous by film icon Steve McQueen. Here, again, we have the intersection of ‘80s style and a more general nostalgia. While Jackson dominated the ‘80s, McQueen is a eternal symbol of movie machismo. “I was very inspired by Steve McQueen. He was a driver and a very sexy, iconic male, and I’d seen him wear similar gloves with the holes in the knuckles in a lot of the photographs I’d come across in research,” Benach said..
Immediately following the release of Drive, the Driver’s particular style enjoyed a widespread resurgence, no doubt in large part due to Gosling’s portrayal. In particular, the souvenir jacket seemingly exploded, with Louis Vuitton , Gucci and Valention all offering their various iterations. However, it is difficult to credit this entirely to the film. While the movie was impressive by indie standards, returning $78 million on a $15 million budget, it wasn’t exactly a cultural dynamo. It may be more fair to say that the timeless nostalgia is always appealing in menswear, and what drew Refn and Benach to their design choices is equally appealing to actual designers.
That being said, more than a few customers endorse the souvenir jacket trend, with some even seeking to buy exact replicas of Gosling’s jacket from the film. In 2014, The Hundreds blog included Drive on their list of the “10 Films That Influenced Modern Streetwear Culture”.. Indeed, brands as wide-ranging as Schott NYC, Saint Laurent, Our Legacy, Haider Ackermann and Paul Smith all produced iterations eerily similar to the one that appeared in the film. By 2016, every segment of the menswear market, from PacSun to Valentino were selling clothing heavily influenced by Japanese aesthetics, and similar jackets were lining shelves across the country.
How much credit we can give Drive, is up for debate. What is clear, however, is that Refn, Benach, and Gosling managed to create a timeless look for the film that will continue to resonate in the menswear world for years to come. There’s a reason that it’s hard to think of a costume piece more iconic than that white satin jacket.