Gregory Peck's Son Anthony Recalls Late Actor's Love for Old-Hollywood Bespoke
"My father had tremendous respect for those who knew their craft, the guys who do it with their own two hands," the younger Peck said of his father's appreciation for H. Huntsman & Sons' impeccable tailoring.
Amid the more flamboyant garments in LACMA's current 300-year survey of masculine style, Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, one archetype stands out: an understated, impeccably tailored gray flannel suit. As a 20th century uniform of sorts that embodies the classic male virtues of strength, consistency and a certain self-effacing confidence, it’s doubly meaningful that this bespoke version comes from the personal wardrobe of the legendary Hollywood star Gregory Peck, whose onscreen image reflected those same enduringly dependable values.
And it's no accident that the suit, dating from 1954, was custom-tailored by Savile Row's H. Huntsman & Sons. Peck discovered Huntsman in 1953 and was a loyal customer for the next 50 years until his death in 2003, having his entire wardrobe made exclusively by the British firm. Recalling this longtime collaboration during which Peck placed more than 160 orders, his son, screenwriter Anthony Peck, recently shared his memories at LACMA's sixth R.L. Shep Symposium on textiles and dress and subsequent interview of a golden era when Hollywood’s male icons had their own personal style, long before the celebrity endorsements and red-carpet peacocking for designers that are de rigueur for actors today.
"In many of his films and in his finest hours — winning two Oscars, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, several Golden Globes, the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, the Légion d’Honneur, the David Donatello in Rome, the National Medal of the Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors; when besieged by paparazzi in Rome and London; with my mother in Cannes at the Film Festival; at state dinners at the White House — everywhere he went, my father wore Huntsman," said Peck.
But Gregory Peck also wore tweed jackets and gray flannel trousers from Huntsman in his everyday life, visiting "the office" (as he referred to the studio), running errands and dropping off Anthony and his sister Cecilia at school. And the arrival of a new addition to the actor’s wardrobe was always a family affair.
"The way it worked then, it was usually nine months, a year or a year-and-a-half from the time of placing the order and receiving the clothes," the younger Peck recalled. "And they would arrive to our home in Los Angeles and there was the box, the sturdy brown cardboard box, with the crisp Huntsman label. My dad would come home from the studio and we’d be upstairs doing our homework and before dinner we’d come down and Greg would try on the new piece and my mother [Peck’s late wife Veronique] would take a look, with her appraising eye. They’d have a glass of wine together and there would be discussion about the excellence of the craftsmanship."
With a film career that encompassed classics like Roman Holiday, The Guns of Navaronne, Gentleman’s Agreement, Spellbound, Cape Fear and of course his Oscar-winning performance in To Kill a Mockingbird, the artist in Gregory Peck was drawn to the fabled workmanship at Huntsman.
"My father had tremendous respect for those who knew their craft, the guys who do it with their own two hands," said Anthony. "At Huntsman, he discovered a quality and style of tailoring that enabled him to present himself as who he had become — a leader in the film community, a humanitarian, a storyteller and a family man, striving for excellence in every aspect of his life. He and Huntsman were a perfect match."
The younger Peck got his first somewhat confusing glimpse into that world when he visited Huntsman’s quarters in London at the age of 10 with his father. Opened by Henry Huntsman in 1849, the shop that bears his name to this day had originally specialized in riding britches and equestrian clothes. Soon after, Queen Victoria commissioned Huntsman to make clothes for the court, and those royal warrants made the tailor fashionable. Huntsman eventually became the clothier for the likes of Winston Churchill, Gianni Agnelli, Fred Astaire and Clark Gable, along with several U.S. presidents, foreign leaders and diplomats.
"We went to buy clothes and there were no clothes, just shelves and shelves of cloth. There were a few suits and coats, orders ready to be picked up, but that was about all," said Peck. "Discussion ensued, bolts of these prized fabrics were unfurled, details were agreed upon, notes were made, a shake of the hand and we were gone."
Pointing out a Huntsman journal from 1973 that shows his father’s appointed time followed by a reservation for Queen Elizabeth, Peck recalled a recent return visit where little had changed over the intervening years.
DAPPER DUDE: Gregory Peck standing in front of Savile Row's H. Huntsman & Sons. (Photo: Courtesy of BPCM)
“I saw the appointment books in their beautiful handwritten calligraphy dating back to the 1800s. I held a pair of shears that are still in use today, that are 125 years old,” he said. “They are the shears that were used to cut all my father’s suits by the legendary Colin Hammick.” (The late Hammick was the head “cutter,” as the tailors are called, at Huntsman and an eccentric figure in his own right, well-known for changing his own suit as he worked at the shop two or three times a day and his shirt three or four times.)
"I asked Mr. Carnera [Dario Carnera, the current head cutter] how the Huntsman line changes year to year and he said, 'Oh, it doesn’t change. We don’t do that here.' And they don’t," the writer-producer said. "I have some of my father's clothes made for him in the '50s and and they’re indistinguishable from new in cut and quality and fabric. And I have tweeds from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s, all of them cut in the same classic and timeless Huntsman style. In truth, there’s a slight variation in the '70s, when the lapels were about a half-an-inch wider."
How Gregory Peck originally came to Huntsman in 1953 is still a bit of a mystery, his son said. The tailor had made Peck’s costumes for a movie that year called The Man With the Million Pound Note, but he may have been introduced earlier by another client and friend, movie director John Huston. Peck even wore his own Huntsman clothes in at least three of his movies: Arabesque (1966) with Sophia Loren, The Chairman (1969) and The Omen (1976).
Though he prizes pieces from his father’s wardrobe that he still wears today, the younger Peck remembered a time as a teenager when he thought the actor needed to update his style.
"I thought it would be cool to give my dad a pair of jeans. I put them underneath the Christmas tree in about 1975," he said. "He opened them and he gave a wholly convincing performance. He tried them on with a Huntsman tweed and made me believe I’d given him the greatest thing ever. Only in my adulthood did I realize that I had never seen them again. As I said, my father knew who he was."
CHIN-TO-CHIN: Gregory Peck with son Anthony (Photo: Courtesy of BPCM)