March 17, 2009


One of the iconic outfits for spy guys in the 1960s, the Nehru Jacket was named after Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister from 1947 to 1964. Adapting the original to meet the early-to-mid 1960s taste for minimal design, the coat was shortened and given a cleaner, jacket-like look. The Nehru Jacket became highly visible in the mainstream with support from trendsetters like The Beatles and Sammy Davis Jr. (who was reported to have had more than 200 of the jackets hanging in his closet!). Designer Oleg Cassini, whose clients included Jackie O and Marilyn Monroe, is said to have claimed responsibility for making the jacket popular. He designed a line of clothes for Johnny Carson, who is also said to have captured audience attention dressed in a Nehru. Nehru himself, of course, was often seen around the world in His Jacket with the movers and shakers, including the Kennedys.

The design was a central element in establishing the tone of James Bond in the first film in the series in 1962. To accentuate both the modern, minimal look of Ken Adam's sets and to give the baddie a more Asian tone, Dr. No was dressed in a Nehru Jacket. He even wore it under his plastic radiation suit! In the film, Bond is captured and stripped of his contaminated clothes, and given a jacket to wear to his dinner appointment with the good doctor. As a film, Dr. No established Bond's larger-than-life take on the spy thriller with a dash of sci-fi, and the Nehru Jacket added to its modern, exotic flair.

But Dr. No was not the only villain to wear the garb. The Nehru Jacket returned many times as the look-of-choice for James Bond villains. In some cases, slight Mao collars were added, rather than a strict stand up collar, but the look maintained its essential qualities. Nehru-sporting baddies include Blofeld (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever), Jimmy Bond (Casino Royale), Drax (Moonraker), Khan and Henchman (Octopussy), and, of course, the Blofeld-spoof, Dr. Evil, in Austin Powers.

The Spy Vibe show that implanted the Nehru look on my brain, however, was Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-1973). Anderson’s first live-action series got under way just at the end of the 1960s. Production design really started with the film project, Doppelganger/Journey to the Far Side of the Sun in 1969. As with other Anderson efforts, his wife Sylvia was the guiding force as a designer. Watching UFO on a black and white set as a kid, I never realized that the jackets (and the wigs!) were sometimes quite colorful. The minimal, stand up look really gave UFO a cool style. Straker and his fellow SHADO agents used a movie studio as their cover, so they had a great excuse to look hip! Images from the excellent UFO Series Site.

Writer & Spy Vibe creator Jason Whiton in a Nehru Jacket (Zara), white shirt (Armani), and a vintage thin black tie.