Obsession: The Prisoner

Published January 21, 2009

Right: Bottega Veneta, SS 2009. Courtesy of Bottega Veneta.

 

Part sci-fi spectacle, part critique of Cold War authoritarianism, Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner wasn’t just a spy show. With a cult following and its influence still felt in today’s TV, McGoohan’s death last week reminded pop culture enthusiasts just how groundbreaking this show was. Lost is deeply indebted, as is Austin Powers’ classic line, “Who does Number 2 work for?” On top of its poignant discussion of the loss of individualism and skepticism of intitutions, The Prisoner was a fully realized world of high-tech gadgetryâ??set in idyllic country houses, and complete with psychedelic, nautical-inspired resort wear for the entire community.

Brief plot synopsis: McGoohan’s character (referred to only as “Number Six”) resigns as a spy, but because of his crucial knowledge, he is sent to a “retirement” community known as The Village. There, he is greeted by candy-striped ladies and a dapper figure (whose striped scarf has been  endlessly copied, by Hanii Y most recently) who tell him there is no escape. His clothes are burned in a “fire,” and a fashion icon is born: Number Six’s piped sailor blazer became a mod must-have and a symbol of the show.

Right: YSL. Courtesy of YSL.

 

Despite being nearly brainwashed, The Village’s residents are exceedingly well-dressed. Futuristic color-blocks and polyester are paired with capes and brightly colored trilbies. Costumer Masada Wilmot also tackled the thematically similar (and equally lush) The Wicker Man, and her knack for eerie color combinations is evident in both projects. As time has passed, the striped boatnecks and bright slacks of the pedicab drivers feel more like D&G’s SS09 than an identity-erasing place of captivity. Last year’s YSL Paris show had a series of large inflatable balloons reminiscent of The Prisoner’s Rovers.

 

Courtesy of AMC; Dolce & Gabbana SS 2009. Courtesy D&G.

This year, AMC is working on an updated version (with Sir Ian McKellen as the nefarious Number Two) with more locations and a larger budget. Hopefully McGoohan’s modernist vision won’t be replaced, and sickly-sweet pantsuits will be more Gucci than garish and designers will keep looking to the masterpiece for cues on the perfectly mod cape. Until then, we are glad that Patrick McGoohan has reminded us all that its so much better to be a free man, no matter how well-dressed the other option may be.