Sherlock Holmes cape to get modern fashion revamp

Basil Rathbone in 1939's The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. Picture: 20th Century Fox
Basil Rathbone in 1939's The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. Picture: 20th Century Fox
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IT is a garment as elegant as it is idiosyncratic, made famous by fiction’s greatest ever sleuth.

But now, the cape sported by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation is to receive a timely revamp in the hope of bringing it into the 21st ­century.

Organisers of a Scottish fashion event plan to overhaul the stuffy, Victorian image of the Inverness Cape worn by Sherlock Holmes courtesy of a new design.

The secret new look for the Harris Tweed cape, as seen in various television and film incarnations of Sherlock Holmes’ exploits, will be unveiled next month at Highland Fashion Week.

Those driving the annual event have been working behind the scenes to bring the attire into the modern age, with their creation set to have its debut at the Inverness gathering along with a campaign entitled Bring Back The Cape.

The idea is the brainchild of We Are Giraffe, a creative events agency which is organising the week-long event.

A spokesman explained: “This project is something that we have been working on for months and we are happy to finally share some details with the public.

“The finished product will be revealed during Highlands Fashion Week and we hope the public are happy with the ­result.”

Conan Doyle’s detective, known for his astute logic and mastery of disguise, has long been associated with the Inverness Cape, part of a look for the character that remained unchanged for years.

Yet it was not the author himself who was responsible for the Baker Street detective’s enduring look. In the stories, Watson describes Holmes as having a “bohemian” and “eccentric” appearance, but Conan Doyle did not go into detail and nowhere does he mention the cape.

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Instead, a series of illustrators sculpted the character’s popular image, the first of whom, David Henry Friston, produced work to accompany the publication of A Study In Scarlet. In it, he portrayed him in a deerstalker-like hat and an elongated trench coat which had hints of a cape about it.

Another illustrator, Sidney Paget, was the one who would cement the inimitable Holmes look, with the full deerstalker and Inverness Cape, complete with the sleuth’s angular features. The item first appeared in an illustration for The Boscombe Valley Mystery in 1891 and was used again in The Adventure of Silver Blaze two years later.

According to Timothy Long, fashion curator at the Museum of London, currently showing an exhibition dedicated to the sleuth’s enduring appeal, the appearance was typically English. Clothes, he added, also acted as “lost language,” a means of helping Conan ­Doyle’s readers pick up valuable hints.

Describing Holmes’s wardrobe as that of “a modern English gentleman,” he added: “The greatcoat and the deerstalker were key components of any gentleman’s wardrobe in England at that time ­period. The modern audience reading these stories often overlooks clues that were very obvious to contemporary readers. Putting Watson in a morning coat or a frock coat indicated the time of day, for ­example.”

The elegant vision created by Paget in the pages of Strand magazine has been portrayed by generations of actors who have assumed the role of Holmes. Thespians such as Basil Rathbone, Douglas Wilmer, Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee all wore the cape with aplomb.

When the historian Owen Dudley Edwards was writing a biography of Holmes’ creator, he took to copying his image, wearing an Inverness Cape and a deerstalker hat.

Of late, however, the traditional look has fallen out of favour in new adaptations. In Guy Ritchie’s film version of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr portrayed him as a bare-knuckle boxing dandy, while Benedict Cumberbatch wore a modern overcoat and single-breasted suit jackets when he played Holmes for the BBC. Lee Miller has even appeared in the US version of show wearing jeans and a patterned jumper.

Highland Fashion Week will be held in Inverness from 1 December to 6 December.

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