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.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
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

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Representative

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To promote and sell the Company...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: Project Manager - Civil Engineering

    £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Business: This company is going thro...

    Tradewind Recruitment: KS1 & KS2 Teachers Required

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind Recruitment are currently working...

    Day In a Page

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea