The Indiana Jones Jacket: Raiders of the Lost Ark




The Raiders Jacket
This jacket has one of the more complicated—and controversial—histories of any item of gear. It is one of the unique identifiers of “Indiana Jones.” The leather jacket was central to the concept Steven Spielberg and George Lucas formulated for their protagonist, and it is the one significant item of wardrobe that is wholly unique to Indy and not based on any preexisting pattern. As preproduction activities moved forward, it became clear that the jacket needed specific design features.

RotLA IndyEnter Deborah Nadoolman. Deborah was chosen as the wardrobe designer for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as she had previously worked with Spielberg on "1941", prior to which Spielberg had never used a costume designer. Nadoolman was his first, and Spielberg enjoyed the ideas she brought to the production process and the extra dimensions she might add to his characters.

Before the work began, Spielberg screened two movies for Deborah and assistant Kelly Kimball: “Secret of the Incas” (1954) and “China” (1943). Indy was directly inspired by Charlton Heston’s adventurer Harry Steele in “Secret of the Incas.” Indy is a more charismatic version of Steele, who was a somewhat unlikable plunderer. Steele and Alan Ladd’s character, David Jones—a callous opportunist profiting off the Japanese invasion of China—were the molds for Indiana Jones. Based on these screenings, Nadoolman and Kimball generated conceptual sketches for the costume requirements.

Based on these sketches, “ten military-style plain cuffed and plain hemmed leather jackets” were ordered from Wilson’s Leather in Los Angeles. This was the extent of the original specification, and Wilson’s responded with an altered A2-like jacket design that removed the jersey knits from the hems and cuffs.

Test fittings done at Western Costumes with Tom Selleck, the actor first cast as Indy, made it clear there were functional problems with the Wilson’s jackets. The jacket would get caught on the gun belt and bullwhip. Additionally, the leather used did not artificially age well and the finish would flake off. Western Costumes interceded and provided a full mock-up jacket in a denim-like cloth, the design of which included an open action pleat that resolved the pattern issues. While it has been reported that Western Costumes provided finished leather jackets, this is not quite accurate. The only complete jacket made to Nadoolman’s specifications was the cloth jacket, which was in fact used in one Raiders sequence where Ford is being chased downhill by the Hovitos. This jacket was used “on the spur of the moment” because the Fuller's Earth adhered to its surface better than its leather compatriots.

raiders bwThe only leather jackets presented by Western Costumes to Nadoolman were historically accurate World War II-style A2s, which WC carried in its inventory. The A2 design did not satisfy the requirements for Indy. Western Costumes did not provide any finished jackets in leather, only the cloth mock-up. By this time, the leading man was changed from Selleck to Harrison Ford, and Nadoolman and Kimball left for London. The Wilson’s jackets and the cloth mock-up went with them. The final production jackets for Indy would ultimately be obtained through Berman and Nathans in London.

Berman and Nathans had secured an exclusive contract to supply the entire wardrobe for Ford, his stand-ins and stunt doubles. Under this agreement, any and all work with wardrobe vendors and subcontractors was to be done through Berman and Nathans. While apparently it was not unusual for Berman and Nathans to ask for such a contract, it was not usual across the industry to see such a contract actually in place. Wardrobe departments generally have more latitude under which to operate and Nadoolman was operating accordingly. Under this more restrictive agreement, however, the work done directly with Wilson’s by Nadoolman was in violation of the terms of the contract and resulted in an unfavorable budget variance—the wardrobe budget being based upon the exclusive contract with Berman and Nathans. The situation came to the surface when Western Costumes refused to make finished jackets directly for Nadoolman, as they understood that they needed to work through Berman and Nathans. The work Western Costumes did in providing mock-ups, etc, was still appropriate under the agreement with Berman and Nathans, but under that agreement, the mock-up (as well as all wardrobe items made for or used in the production) became the property of Berman and Nathans. Berman and Nathans would then bill the production company for the work done by Western Costumes as their subcontractor. No such exclusivity agreement was ever signed for subsequent Indiana Jones productions.

Raven pub shotUpon arrival in the UK, Nadoolman and Kimball visited Berman and Nathans. Nadoolman considered the jacket to still be very much a work-in-progress. She assigned Kimball to meet directly with the Berman’s jacket person. Berman delegated Noel Howard to provide a jacket maker, and Peter Botwright was brought in. Botwright was presented to Kimball as somebody who worked for Berman, though he was in fact the owner/operator of Leather Concessionaires and had worked on many films through Berman’s before Raiders, having fitted Ford once before with an A2 for the production of “Hanover Street.”

Botwright met with Howard and Kimball, and later Ford was brought in for fittings. However, Botwright never actually met with Nadoolman, just Kimball. Nobody on the production can recall Kimball being formally introduced and it seems Botwright assumed she was Nadoolman. Botwright's assumption was not a stretch. Generally, the wardrobe designer would not delegate a task this important to an assistant. Additionally, Nadoolman stated she does not remember ever meeting anybody named Peter Botwright. These subtle points bridge several differences in the recollections provided by Botwright and Nadoolman over the last several years. This also points out certain selective disconnects with the details on the part of Nadoolman. As will be illustrated with Anthony Powell (“Temple of Doom” and “Last Crusade”) and Bernie Pollack (“Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) there are degrees of involvement that costume designers will actively take in the design process, and over time Spielberg gravitated towards designers who took a more active role as opposed to those who delegated.

Botwright brought several jackets to the session, and it was determined that he would use his existing James Dean pattern with the addition of A2 pockets and an action pleat based on the Western Costumes mock-up. From all reports, Botwright was never given or presented with the mock-up because it appeared that the changes to the James Dean design were fairly straight forward for him. In support of this, Botwright was able to deliver the Raiders hero jacket the very next day. This jacket was much lighter than the Wilson’s jackets – a "plus" in Nadoolman’s mind given the locations they were to shoot. The Wilson’s jackets had been made from cowhide, while the Leather Concessionaires jacket was lambskin.

The pattern was correct, therefore the final test was in how well the jacket aged. Nadoolman did this personally using Ford's Swiss Army knife and a wire brush while sitting by the pool at her hotel the night before shooting was to begin at the Nazi U-Boat pier in La Rochelle, France. The aging test was a success and this jacket became the hero jacket.

raiders colorA total of 14 jackets were provided by Leather Concessionaires for “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Some modifications were made to these jackets by the wardrobe staff during production, but it has been confirmed that no further jackets were ever requested or provided for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” by Leather Concessionaires beyond three separate orders placed prior to the commencement of shooting, as follows:

Modifications performed by the wardrobe staff on all jackets were as follows:


The Wilson’s Jackets
During shooting, a Wilson’s jacket was used to outfit Terry Leonard for the truck dragging stunt. The Wilson’s jackets were heavier and had been made from “pre-distressed” leather. An added benefit to the Wilson jacket design was that there was no action pleat. Because of this it was thought that the jacket would fare better with Leonard being dragged on his back while under the truck. Also, because the Wilson jackets were fitted to Selleck they were a bit trimmer than the Leather Concessionaires jackets and provided a tighter fit to hold body padding and armor in place for Leonard’s extended time under the truck.