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SYFY WIRE Look of the Week

Look of the Week: The timeless style of Tenet

By Emma Fraser

Welcome back to Look of the Week! Celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics! 

Christopher Nolan movies overlap thematically, but they also have a penchant for well-dressed characters, from Arthur’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) impeccable three-piece suits in the mind-bending Inception to Bruce Wayne’s classic rich guy tailoring. Joining the stylish ranks is John David Washington in the (maybe) soon-to-be-released Tenet. The plot of the forthcoming thriller is still a mystery on the whole; the new trailer threw up even more questions than answers. Nevertheless, it is clear the Protagonist — Washington’s character has not been named beyond this moniker — will be serving up sartorial wins throughout. 

Tenet poster

This is Nolan’s third project with the Oscar-nominated costume designer Jeffrey Kurland (they have previously worked together on Inception and Dunkirk), and while we know very little about Tenet, the marketing campaign is drawing some comparisons to the 2010 dreamscape heist of Inception. Reuniting with Kurland, there are some visual links between the two movies, featuring the Protagonist in timeless costumes that could easily fit into the world (and wardrobes) of Arthur, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Eames (Tom Hardy). There is even a costume that is a near match to one of Arthur's — more on this below.   

Rather than traveling into the subconscious or even through time, he will experience a world that goes beyond this familiar sci-fi device. Armed with the word “Tenet,” an inversion of reality and time is up for grabs and maybe also how the world will end. Again, details are spotty, but what we do know is Washington is set to join the ranks of stylish secret agents, which cinema has long been drawn to.

From James Bond to Ethan Hunt (Kurland also designed Mission: Impossible - Fallout), a spy requires a GQ-ready closet, as well as the physical abilities to endure the challenges an antagonist dishes out. In the case of Tenet, the open collar/no tie casual leaning vibe adds to the menace of Kenneth Branagh's villain (the jury is out on his Russian accent). The quick flashes of Washington rocking a series of suits and tailored separates indicates he is up to this challenge. 


John David Washington covers the Esquire Summer 2020 issue, which features a few exclusive new images from Tenet. One of the stills underscores that it is not a neutrals-only suit show for the lead. The dusty pink suit instantly stands out, but the trailer and on-set photographs (some from the paparazzi) have previously revealed other colorful flourishes, including a burgundy casual jacket and a separate shirt. For a sci-fi thriller shot across seven different countries, a closet to match this jet-setting spirit is a must. It isn’t all formal attire either; the speedboat moment showcases a cool AF Washington rocking a fitted gray polo shirt. A dark chambray shirt, a white henley, and tactical gear also pepper the quick flashing imagery of the trailer.

"Tenet" is a word the Protagonist is told will “open the right doors” but is there a dress code demanding swish attire? Or did everyone involved with this covert operation already favor high-end garb? 


Trying to prevent something worse than armageddon requires a steady hand, a level head, and access to the best tailors. But the Protagonist isn’t the only character curating a striking image via clothing, and while Robert Pattinson hasn’t quite got a hand on describing the movie — both his GQ profile and the comments he makes in Esquire reveal the struggle of promoting this movie — his debonair look indicates his eccentricity in comparison to the Protagonist.

The scarf detail and one-button jacket give him a vacation aesthetic while also seemingly nodding to director Christopher Nolan’s personal clothing preference. This cosplay of sorts is further enhanced by the floppy blonde ‘do RPatz is sporting. The exclusive Esquire shot shows this also unnamed character sporting a light linen suit, which gives the air of a gentleman who wouldn't look out of place in a Hercule Poirot story. His unconventional suggestions including crashing an airplane — Nolan did actually crash a 747 into a building for his sequence — do mesh with his man-out-of-time attire. 


Briefly appearing in the new trailer in a scene with Washington and Pattinson, Himesh Patel quips, “Bold I’m fine with. I thought you were going to say nuts.” Again, there isn’t much to explain what the hell is going on in this scene or even what role Patel is playing; however, his brown leather jacket and plaid shirt are more casual-cool than his counterparts. This '70s-adjacent ensemble doesn’t say a lot about the time inversion but it does showcase the cyclical nature of clothing trends. You don’t need a secret phrase or technology to manipulate quantum physics when fashion can do this with ease.

This look suggests a degree of effortlessness, so perhaps he is up for (almost) anything. In fact, Patel’s character is dressed similarly to Arthur in the first dream layer of reality in Inception. Considering it is the same designer, it is hard to believe this is a coincidence. Sure, it is a pretty ubiquitous combination of garments, but Nolan's meticulous nature would suggest this is no accident. 


It is no secret that the women of Nolan's movies don't tend to fare too well — don't expect a wife character to make it to the end of the film, for example — and Elizabeth Debicki appears to be in a sticky predicament. She isn't only subjected to stressful scenarios, as Debicki does get to chill in the back of the sweet looking speedboat with Washington at the helm, wearing pretty boat-ready attire (though not quite as glam as her Man from UNCLE villain). She also gets a taste of the Kurland's exquisite tailoring in a red skirt suit, which is notable as the only bold use of this color within the costume palette of the trailer.    

The new trailer also removed the July 17 release date, and while it has yet to take the same delayed route as every other summer blockbuster, it will not come as a surprise if it does (as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic). The press tour rolls on with pre-arranged magazine covers featuring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, and neither is giving much away about the world of Tenet. No matter how much time and reality are manipulated within the narrative, there is nothing confusing about the sharp sartorial points these mind-bending movies are dishing out.