As far back as he can remember, Scott Fraser Simpson has always wanted to be a gangster.
Or rather, dress like one. The vintage-loving British designer’s eponymous clothing line could be described as “demure-chic”, with wide-leg pleated trousers and knit shirts galore. And while her limited-edition garments were often inspired by vintage pieces, some very distinctive knit shirts had eluded her – until now.
“I’ve been collecting Italian-American knitwear for over 10 years now, and there’s always those elusive pieces you know, the ‘Holy Grail’ types,” Simpson says.
For the designer, no find could be more desirable than either of the knit shirts that Ray Liotta wore as Harry Hill in Freedmen.
“The Freedmen knits have been iconic for so many years and are always referenced when you talk about the knit shirt look,” says Simpson. “I must have been 16 when I came across the picture of Henry Hill wearing the iconic blue short-sleeved jumper, and from then on I made it my mission to try and find something similar. “
Simpson got his white whale when he was notified that a New York costume house was liquidating some of its stock, including this striped blue short-sleeved jersey that Liotta wears open over a tank top. Simpson says he can’t confirm if it was just the same shirt design or the exact piece that adorned Liotta’s upper arms on set, but says he has “every reason to believe it.” believe, according to his origin”.
Not content with having completed a quest for the Holy Grail, Simpson then tracked down a vintage dealer selling a long-sleeved striped sweater identical in all respects but in color to the gray one Liotta wears as he waits outside a restaurant news of the Lufthansa robbery.
“It’s a scene that really focuses on Henry’s outfit that I can’t fault,” Simpson said of knitting screen time. “The camera pans from his black loafers over the sharpest pressed trouser crease I think I’ve ever seen and ends on the knit shirt collar sitting proudly on the graphite gray sharkskin suit.”
Simpson set out to recreate them as the second installment in his “Icon Series”, which he launched in 2020 with recreations of Jude Law’s knits in The talented Mr. Ripley. For that Freedmen-themed “Icon Series II”, which launches for pre-order today with delivery expected in April, he dubbed the blue shirt sleeve “The Salerno”, after a restaurant featured in the film, while the gray is called “The Idlewild,” in reference to the original name of John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the Lufthansa heist took place.
But as Simpson would learn over a two-year production run, finding the originals was the easy part. “It’s both a blessing and a curse to have the original vintage pieces,” he says. “Having every detail in your hands so you can compare it to your own version can be quite a long process for a perfectionist like me.”
The process began with finding the correctly colored yarns for each shirt, which proved so difficult in the case of the Salerno that Simpson had to revert to custom dyeing. Both recreations were crafted in Portugal from fine merino wool, after extensive trial and error to ensure accuracy. Simpson says it usually takes two samples to get it right, but the Freedmen necessary knits up to nine until satisfied.
The end result is a knit that’s almost indistinguishable from what’s seen on screen. “As for the placement of the stripes, the width of the pockets and the size of the buttons, it would be hard to find a difference when comparing the two.”
However, changes were made in terms of fit, as Simpson found their original proportions to be “unflattering”. As a result, the reproductions have a modified balance between the front and back hem and a slight increase in sleeve length.
“Our intention for these small changes was to make the knits easier to wear and the clothes fit better overall,” he says.
And what to do after acquiring a piece of Harry Hill’s wardrobe? “Just wear it over a cardigan and paired with high-waisted pants and loafers, and the beauty of these knits will speak for itself,” Simpson says. “They also look great under a suit jacket if you wanted to dress it down – pull the collar over the lapels for extra style points.”
In the words of a young Harry Hill, “Hey Ma, what do you think?”
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