The Unexpected Inspiration Behind The Killer's Style

What’s the story, morning gory? Cate Adams, David Fincher’s costume designer, explains how Our Kid ended up on the mood board of The Killer
BY
 Johnny Davis
Published: 15 November 2023

David Fincher’s new film The Killer stars Michael Fassbender as a ruthless hitman with a penchant for process, a drive for revenge and a high threshold for boredom. It’s a stylish movie, as you’d expect from the director of such gloomy noirs as Fight Club (1999), Zodiac (2007) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Except maybe when it comes to The Killer’s own wardrobe. As we see our protagonist move from Paris, to the Dominican Republic to New Orleans to Florida and finally New York, his wardrobe is an oddball mix of Hawaiian shirts, sensible slacks, anoraks and bucket hats.

Less John Wick more dad-at-Wickes. That, apparently, was the point.

To tell us more, Cate Adams, costume designer on The Killer, who previously worked with Fincher on the 2017 Netflix series Mindhunter, shared her mood board and inspirations. And helpfully provided actual sources for anyone wanting to ‘Get The Look’—including Fassbender’s bucket hat, shirts and comfy slip-on shoes. Enjoy!

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David Fincher is famously exacting. Presumably this extended to your brief for The Killer’s wardrobe?

Right from the start he said he wanted him to look like a German tourist in Paris. And he wanted him to look dorky. And not cool. Like he did not want him to look like ‘James Bond/Tom Cruise-in-Collateral’ – he didn’t want anything like that. He was very specific about that. We talked a lot about clothing [The Killer] could take on and off. Everything he has could be purchased from an airport. He doesn’t think a lot about the clothes. But strangely, he has good style.

What labels does he wear?

If you’re in a ‘walking city’ like Paris, there’s a few shops on every block where you could find something [The Killer wears] easily. In the States it’s, like, [mid-range, off-the-peg brand] JoS. A. Bank, Hugo Boss… those brands that have ‘ND’ jackets—nondescript, they don’t have logos on them. JoS. A. Bank is a mens’ store that’s been around forever. They have Oxford shirts. Jackets. Trench coats. My dad actually shops there.

Is The Killer meant to blend in, or stand out? There’s scenes in crowded airports where if someone said ‘Which one’s the assassin?’ I think people might say ‘It’s him—the weirdo in the sunglasses and the bucket hat’

I think that’s open to your interpretation, right? In Paris, when I started doing mood boards, I was, like, ‘Ok, I know David doesn’t want him in black. He doesn’t need to look ‘bad’’. So, I originally had him in the colours that were coming into play for the season—honey colours, tans and browns. I had my crew in every city go around and take pictures of what everyone was wearing. David likes to have mood boards with just one image—instead of using collages, which is what I usually do. And he wanted a chino khaki that was, like, eggshell or cement, so [The Killer] weirdly stands out. So we started with Paris and just played off of that.

Cate Adams’ reference for ’nerdy german tourist’. IMGUR

So, he’s meant to look a bit… off?

My take in Paris is that he is meant to stand out. He’s meant to look weird. ‘What is he wearing? Why is he wearing all these light colours? He’s clearly not from here.’ But no one wants to talk to him.

The Killer, in Paris. RICHARD MERRITT

He’s been compared to a dull dad. Is that a compliment?

Yes, it is. I think that’s exactly what we were going for. David had mentioned ‘dad vibes’ early on. Like, dad sneakers. He really wanted Skechers because they’re so universal and the über-dad shoes. We also went to every bucket hat shop that existed in North America. And we finally found one online which is a cotton poly roll-up hat from an army surplus store that comes in packages of 30. The point was it was so nondescript.

There are opportunistic retailers online now selling ‘The Killer Michael Fassbender Jacket’.

Oh, I hadn’t seen that! Isn’t that every costume designer’s dream? If I have people showing up like Michael next Halloween, I will die and go to heaven.

Let’s talk about some of the people on your mood board. Jack Nicholson in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). Paul Newman in Absence of Malice (1981). Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond (2006). What was it about those characters?

It was not so much the characters, more that I liked the look of them. David had mentioned Le Samouraï to watch, the French film [starring Alain Delon as hitman Jef Costello; 1967]. He wears a trench coat and has a nice hat on. But he didn’t want that [look]. So I went through so many movies. I also watched American Gigolo (1980), because it’s so tonal – that was a big inspiration. I loved Leo in Blood Diamond. If you watch any of David’s movies—and I knew this from Mindhunter—he wants everything to looked lived in and worn and real.

Why the bucket hat?

‘Bucket hat’ just played in to the ‘German tourist’. [Fincher] wanted a bucket hat that was waterproof, or water-resistant.

That really is quite specific

He didn’t want him to have to carry an umbrella. It’s really hard to find a waterproof one that wasn’t black. I found one from a vendor in Thailand that was green. David didn’t want green.

There’s some good bucket hat references on your mood board

If you Google references for ‘bucket hat’ then Hunter S Thompson is going to be the obvious one. And I found that sketch of the ‘nerdy German tourist’. I thought that was funny.

Also, we couldn’t help noticing: Liam Gallagher

He’s always wearing bucket hats and oversized windbreakers. It’s, like, ‘Are you kidding?’ You can look at him through the decades and he’s aways wearing something similar.

Liam Gallagher. CARLOS ALVAREZ

What do you think of Liam’s look?

Um, well, I mean, I think that Oasis is timeless, obviously. I fucking love Liam Gallagher. I figure he’s a douchebag but I thought that documentary [Liam Gallagher: As It Was (2019)] was really well done. I’m sure he’s a complete asshole. But I do love his look. I mean, he was playing Glastonbury and I don’t even think it was raining but he was wearing this, like, ginormous, oversized windbreaker. And I was, like, ‘What is going on? Aren’t you sweating to death?’ But maybe that’s his schtick, you know. He’s trying to burn calories.

He's been called ‘Britain’s most effortless style icon’.

Oh! Cool!

I guess all the people we’ve just talked about embody a certain… attitude?

‘I don’t give a fuck’, right? Isn’t that Liam? That’s The Killer. There’s nothing in there. He doesn’t care. Couldn’t really care less about what anyone thinks of him. He doesn’t really need anyone to survive. It’s just him. I feel like Liam’s kind of like that, right? He didn’t give a fuck about his brother. He’s, like, ‘I’m the man. I really don’t care about all of you’.

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What else can you tell us about the clothes?

David said at the start that everything had to be functional. So the Barbour jacket is water-resistant. He wears Lululemon. He wears Patagonia as a lightweight knit in Chicago. That had a little bit of cashmere in it—so he can sweat in it. [Fincher] kept saying [technical outwear brand] Ather. Like, Ather was a big thing. We didn’t use it but we definitely shopped it and tried it. So, yeah, everything had to be accessible. Everything had to be ready for any climate. All the layers—you could take them on and off and use them again. A lot of Gap, and then, randomly, Tommy Bahama.

The Killer, in the Dominican Republic. RICHARD MERRITT

We don’t have Tommy Bahama in the UK

Tommy Bahama is, like, a Key West-Florida-Aloha Hawaiian shirts brand. It’s dad vibes. It’s the almost-retired 55-year-old, upper-middle class man… What he thinks is ‘dressing up’ for vacation. It’s, like, ‘I’m going to get my Hawaiian shirt for vacation and my linen pants, and I’m going to look great at my all-inclusive resort in Mexico or Florida’. That’s what that’s about, basically.

When he gets to New Orleans, he has a stash of shrink-wrapped Dickies in his lock-up

Yes. That’s when we see him pushing a garbage bin into the building. He has a whole rolling rack of ‘disguises’ behind him. So that’s the one time he looks ‘brand new’ and ‘out-of-the-packaging’. And we dyed a belt and a hat to match.

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He does have one more traditionally ‘stealthy’ look, on a mission in Florida

That black look was for the [big set piece] fight scene. So everything is black, techy, zippy—the navy zippies from Lululemon. He’s got different kinds of track pants. He puts on a ski-mask. And it was Michael’s idea to roll it up, fisherman’s-style. So he looks kind of…. trendy? But he’s not meaning to. Really, his whole wardrobe is anything slim-fitting that he could pack in his suitcase. And obviously he didn’t need to iron.

No umbrella, no iron.

Right!

Originally published on Esquire UK

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