Doctor Who and Crombie: Mod man with a box

The latest regeneration of Doctor Who could do more than invigorate the series – he looks set to become a promotional vehicle for two venerated British brands. Peter Capaldi as the suited and booted twelfth Time Lord means business, finds Stephen Bayley

Why does Peter Capaldi, in character as the twelfth Doctor and striking a memorable pose that he will surely soon regret, look like an ageing mod?

I am asking this question in my studio just off London's infamous Carnaby Street, as fine a place as you could imagine to consider the absurd comings and goings of fashion. From here on the third floor, the entire prospectus of human folly is free to view daily.

Of course, it was long before my time, but once on the street outside, models modelled bell-bottoms, tie-dyed tank tops, hot pants and crushed-velvet loons the colour of a bruised aubergine. Boys, meanwhile, might be in mohair suits with an Italian cut, thin reveres, Clarks Desert Boots and a Ben Sherman button-down held down by a "Slim Jim" tie.

Alas, a recent victim to rent reviews was Sherry's, a mod outfitter defiantly unchanged since the Sixties, but until last year still selling every item of the costume you would need to ride your Lambretta to Brighton and throw well-formed pebbles at long-haired rockers with sexual-identity problems camouflaged by biker jackets, jailhouse tatts and grease.

But now that Capaldi is in a well-publicised dark-blue Crombie overcoat, drainpipe trousers in matching colour, plain white shirt and stamp-on-your-head black DMs, it may not be too soon to say that the closure of Sherry's was premature. I care nothing for Doctor Who as television, but am alert to contemporary portents. Are we having a mod revival? Is the Doctor going to summon up the sensibility of 1966 among us all? The art-school-educated Capaldi was born in 1958, so the question is not beyond his personal experience, nor his intellectual range.

If you want to understand the public's status anxiety and its closely related hunger for symbols – and how clothes express these states of mind – you need only take a look in Doctor Who's dusty and cobwebbed wardrobe. I was under 10 when it first aired, but was alerted to it by a vigilant schoolmate and dutifully watched a later edition. And what I saw in black and white was horrifying. A crusty old spitting and hissing actor called William Hartnell had a flowing white mane, windowpane trousers and a scary black frock coat.

I was spontaneously reminded of gloomy pictures from the Brothers Grimm or Struwwelpeter, with a disturbing admixture of Billy Bunter and Alice in Wonderland. A young subconscious was pitilessly dredged. I suppose, looking back, this fearsome spectre was entirely congruent with the fretful spirit of the age.

Doctor Who: First photo of Peter Capaldi's new costume released

Capaldi and his advisers must be aware of how heavily-freighted the Doctor's costume is with meaning. You doubt it? Consider, then, the alternatives available. Capaldi's Doctor Version 12.0 might have been dressed in an embroidered Afghan coat, beads and sandals. He could have had flowers in his hair and worn a bandit-style moustache. He could have been going to San Francisco. Instead, he looks as you might if queuing for an early performance by The Who at The Marquee Club. The mods were the first of their social class to acquire a uniform and the uniform they chose had hints of military conformity, just as their personal style spoke of discipline and obsession.

In this, the smartly cut Crombie overcoat played its part. At just the same moment, Brian Epstein put the scruffbag leather-trousered Beatles into smart Cardin suits, they also wriggled into Crombies. Here was a coat that worked like social armour.

Crombie has become an eponym; a generic. The name goes back to a woollen mill founded in 1805. Bolts of Crombie cloth were displayed in the epochal 1851 Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, and later at Paris's Exposition Universelle of 1885. These bolts of cloth were to become materials of expression. In The Great War, Crombie manufactured a tenth of the greatcoats and they became known as the "British Warm". In 1932, a coat was made for the visit to the Scottish mill by the future King George VI. You can buy a re-issue of it today.

Associations with formalised violence and political control were enhanced when, in the Seventies, Crombie began, I do not know quite why, advertising in the Soviet Union.

In one poster, a model, apparently chiselled from stone, looks like a dimple-jawed Richard Burton. Hoping to play the same stunt, Mikhail Gorbachev wore a Crombie on his first visit to this country in 1984.

The always dapper Cary Grant The always dapper Cary Grant Three years before, President Reagan was wearing a suit made of his favourite Crombie cloth when he was shot. All of this adds, in delightful measure, to what Capaldi's fly-fronted, pillar-box red-lined "Retro" Crombie (with velvet collar) actually means.

I am not going to watch the new series of Doctor Who, but I am going to keep a very active look-out for the dramatic press releases which will surely create a theatre all their own.

The way I see it, what we are looking at here is the relaunch of two venerated British brands; three if you count Doc Martens.

A lot is being said about the public's appetite for heroes and for brands (although in our perplexed historical moment, human heroes and trophy brands are almost inextricably confused... perhaps the more so after today).

Crombie already has a commercial relationship with Globetrotter, the maker of idiosyncratically expensive suitcases, restored from neglect by an ironic revelation that vulcanised fibre board could be chic. I wonder if it is too daring to speculate that Doctor Who might now become a promotional vehicle for that sleeping army of forgotten British brands not yet acquired by voracious private equity?

What is a brand? It's that mixture of expectations and associations that all successful products possess.

Our expectations of Doctor Who include effortless time travel and subjugation of foreign or alien evil genius through cunning application of high intelligence.

Of course, that's just what's needed to revive the British manufacturing business. I don't see Peter Capaldi in his smart new Crombie as inconsequential telly PR.

I see it as a manifesto for business.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
ebookAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    (Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

    Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Principle Geotechnical Engineer

    £55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices