cillian murphy

Oppenheimer’s Hat

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The costume designer for multiple oscar winning Oppenheimer travelled halfway around the world to get the right hat for Cillian Murphy.

The recent release of Oppenheimer grabbed slightly more attention than a summer film release, partly by bizarrely being lumped in with simultaneous release Barbie, to the point where cinephiles were attending both films as a kind of doubly-ironic double-bill. The second reason for the heightened excitement over a film that is mostly three hours of people talking in poorly-lit rooms (albeit about the future of the human race), with a big explosion at the end, is that it stars erstwhile Peaky Blinders capo dei capi Cillian Murphy.

Oppenheimer also stars grand darlings of the cinema such as Gary Oldman, Tom Conti, Kenneth Branagh and Emily Blunt, but Murphy’s principal co-star is the grey hat he wears throughout the film.

The real J Robert Oppenheimer was a man of few hats, though not as few as costume designer Ellen Mirojnick wanted him to be. The designer, whose previous credits include Bridgerton, Basic Instinct and Wall Street, started with the principle that Murphy would only wear one hat throughout the entire film, with the lighting making the grayish taupe colour look different in certain scenes. Getting the perfect hat made launched an arduous search that took her halfway across the world. “It had to have a particular thickness to it and a particular kind of felt. You couldn’t move the brim,” said Mirojnick. She describes the hat she eventually settled on as a “hybrid of a porkpie crown with a somewhat Western brim. This particular hat makes such a statement. It completes Oppenheimer’s silhouette perfectly. Even if you just saw his shadow you would know it was him.”

Mark Mejia, owner of Baron Hats, who had previously made the Daniel Day-Lewis hat for There Will Be Blood, started the design process by taking Cillian Murphy’s measurements on an antique conformateur, much like the one still used at Lock & Co hatters in London. This elaborate device, normally used for hard hats such as top hats and bowlers, fits tightly around the client’s head and produces an exact impression of its shape and size from all angles. Once they had the right size, the search for the fabric was the next challenge. Undyed beaver felt is lighter and rarer than most of the felts used at Baron. It was two months until the final hat was ready for a fitting, attended by Murphy, Mirojnick and Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan. They all agreed that it was perfect, and Nolan insisted that no other characters in the film should wear hats, unless they were in the military.

This engages a degree of poetic licence, for in wartime United States nearly every male would have worn some form of hat when outdoors. The other liberty taken with Oppenheimer’s hat is that his original titfer was so battered from over-use that the brim had begun to go floppy and creased. Cillian Murphy’s hat always retains its sharp snap-brim, despite the hat accompanying him throughout the entire Manattan Project until the Trinity Test detonation.

So how can one acquire the Oppenheimer look, if the man’s hat was so difficult for the filmakers to acquire? The answer is that you don’t. You find the right hat for you, and you keep wearing it until it forms such an integral part of your silhouette that people recognise you by your shadow.

The Chap was founded in 1999 and is the longest-serving British magazine dedicated to the gentlemanly way of life, with its own quirky, satirical take on a style that has recently entered the mainstream.

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