Huntsman sits down with English actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter, Julian Fellowes to discuss his revival of the shooting cords
So Julian, why is Huntsman your go to tailor?
“Huntsman really came into my life as my father had a cousin who used to come here. So, it was one of the names I suggested at the beginning of Downton [Downton Abbey]. I didn’t feel the men’s clothes were fitting quite well enough because we were trying to use ready made costumes, yet we were much depicting an era when those men did not buy off the peg, those clothes were made for them. So our wonderful designer Susannah Buxton agreed and did a certain amount of research, choosing Huntsman. We began having all of Hugh’s (Hugh Bonneville) clothes made here as well as others. Lots of Huntsman clothes appeared in Downton Abbey, by the end. So of course, I then became fully Huntsman aware.
What interested you in having cords instead of the usual plus fours or trousers?
“I’ve always shot in cords actually because I find them more comfortable, flexible and less restrictive. Also, somehow those thick tweeds and tartans are sort of poised on the edge of comedy. On the whole, I think you have to be a better shot than I am to wear eccentric clothes.”
So, wearing cords actually is a thing of functionality?
“Well, it is really but also comfort. I think they’re a lot more comfortable than a lot of the tweeds and tartans, which I find too stiff. The one thing I like about country clothes is the English fashion of wearing colours that blend into the surroundings; not only in sport but for ordinary living. So, you wear these soft browns, greens etc. I find that very attractive. I’m not a fan of sharp colours in the country, and I think cords have a natural way of blending in, even in ordinary trousers.”
Do you have any other style trousers?
“I have almost nothing but cord trousers! I’m either in cords or a suit, that’s it for me!”
Do you have any eccentric coloured cords? Salmon?
“No, I can’t quite go to Salmon. My nearest is a sort of maroon; but only when I’m feeling very socially confident!”
Your favourite Tweed?
“My favourite Tweed that befits an Englishman are those milder tweeds. Almost one colour but with a slight line going through it – I find them gentler.
One of the great changes in my life is that in the old days, I always had winter suits and summer suits. Around October, you would get into your winter suit and you’d stay in that until probably April. That doesn’t work any more because all the houses are too heated – everywhere you go is too heated! If you try to wear a winter suit during an ordinary day’s activity, you are sweating like a pig! Now I find I have a winter suit but I wear it when I’m going to be outside for 9/10ths of the day. During an ordinary working day, if I’m working at home, going to meetings, or off to Parliament, it’s too much!
I believe it’s up to places like Huntsman to find a new way of expressing the change of winter to summer, which doesn’t involve getting into a coat three times as thick.
It’s like a Tweed Jacket, which I find is a lighter thing now, it’s no longer stiff. Even when I was young, houses in the country were still freezing because the Edwardian comfort of a fire burning in every room, down every passage and every hall, was all gone. Proper central heating hadn’t really arrived so we were caught in the middle of this sort of Ice Age between the two eras of comfort. Then, you didn’t mind extremely thick clothing; we all had dinner jackets that were as thick as an eiderdown, it was hilarious.”
Who do you try and channel in your style?
“The truth of the matter is, at a certain point of your youth, some of us realise we’re going to have to make it without any help from our looks, and after that, style becomes more a question of comfort and confidence. On the whole, I try not to stand out. I think when you want to stand out in your looks, you must have some product at the end of it worth presenting and I didn’t have that. I never had any looks to speak of and on the whole, the most I could aspire to was tidy and clean. So, with that in mind, I tended to stick to traditional shapes. There is a sort of look of an English man, I think we all rather like and kind of aim at in entirely different ways. I think when you see someone who is both well turned out, but completely relaxed about it, that’s something we should all live by.”
So, it’s a mixture of smart, comfortable and tidy?
“I think comfortable with yourself, as much as comfortable in any other way.”
How old were you when you started shooting?
“Oh gosh, I think I was given a course at the West London Shooting School when I was about thirteen. Although my father wasn’t very keen. He had given up shooting when he had spent four days on the borders without hitting a single bird. He decided God had spoken to him and said that in fact this sport on which his own father had been very keen was not for him. However, he and my mother still very much considered shooting a part of our equipment. I then shot as a young man until shooting departed my life when I became an actor. I was very dedicated and I, to some degree, gave up my old world. I think in many careers if you’re serious about them, there’s a moment where you have to let go of all that stuff, like partying with your friends and running around with your university gang; and I did. I would say that lasted 6 or 7 years whilst I went through drama school and so on. I came back into London, doing my first play in the West End with Hailey Mills; a play called Touch of Spring. My old pals would come along and have a great time. I could then have dinner with them and pick up with them again.
I took up shooting again around my 30th birthday, and really, I’ve shot ever since! But I’m not a compulsive, I don’t shoot 60 days a year. I shoot probably a dozen, which suits me.”
What makes shooting so special for you?
“It’s the people. I tell you what else it is. It’s the fact you have a day when you’re completely concentrating on something other than your career or the professional demands. It’s kind of an escapism, but of course an escapism in the open country, which is very attractive. You go all over England and you stay with lots of terrific people.
I think the actual sport is less important than the day for me. Of course, if I had been a terrific shot, I might feel differently!”
What do you feel about women shooting?
“That doesn’t bother me at all. Nevertheless, I think you’re better prepared for all this stuff when you’re in show business because there are no allowances for women, but at the same time, there are no prejudices against them. They are expected to pull their weight. You don’t say ‘oh poor thing! I don’t mind if she forgets her line she’s so good looking’, there’s none of that. If you’re an actress you’re expected to pull your weight quite as much as anyone else. I think it generates an unsentimental equality as opposed to a sentimental equality. That, I would guess, is healthier to live with. Although it’s tough on them because there aren’t enough parts. I always try and write good strong women characters in my stuff.”
Did you dress differently when you were trying to give people an impression of taking yourself seriously as an actor?
“I had to find a kind of costume that worked for being in the theatre, films and television, and yet wasn’t untrue to me. I’m not a jeans guy, I just look ridiculous. In the end, I found my way to a kind of cords and blazer look, which could every now and then make me look like the secretary of a rather unsuccessful golf club. Somehow being in a suit all the time didn’t really work for me.”
“However in showbiz, you work with people from all different backgrounds that hold many different beliefs. Some people reinvent themselves. I wanted to fit in but without being false. It doesn’t bother me when people hold different opinions from my own. I needed to find a costume that presented a non-aggressive version of myself and that is sort of what I came up with: cords and a jacket of some sort.”
Where’s your favourite place to shoot?
“I’m very lucky to live in a very beautiful county, which is also a natural shooting county. This is convenient as I like sleeping in my own bed! On the other hand, I do like going to the proper shooting parties, with the great dinners, pretty women dressed to the nines… The whole thing.
I have a kind of taste for formality; I don’t like too much chaos, I find it rather undermining. While I don’t live a particularly formal life at home, I do like a touch of formality every so often – a reason to get dressed up. You also see the houses well presented and properly lit; I enjoy all that.”
What is your go to shooting accessory?
“I had a hip flask that I absolutely adored but my wife broke it. The centre of it was glass, and it sat in a silver cup, with a silver top and a leather encasement. It had belonged to my great, great grandfather who had his initials engraved on it and I absolutely loved it. Very unfortunately, I put it in the basket of my wife’s bike, and she was taking it up the front steps of our house and ‘bosh’ – I’ve always meant to have it re made.”
What drink did it have in it?
“Well, I think it was mainly sloe gin, that was about it really.”
Are you a wellies or walking boot man?
“I have my Hunters, I don’t know if they still do them, but they had zips down the side. I have had them for, I should think, twenty years or more and I haven’t done them up once. I wear them with the zips open so my legs don’t feel all trapped and encased. Sometimes they come off in mud, that’s the only problem, apart from that, they work well enough.”