More than any movie in recent memory, Tom Ford’s 2009 film A Single Man captured the imagination of jaded urbanites sorely in need of a style fix. The script, based on a critically acclaimed Christopher Isherwood novel, was poignant, witty, and smart. But it was the movie’s visual aesthetic—everything from locations to costumes to props to hairstyles and makeup—that had the above demographic riveted. The art direction and production design, filtered through Mr. Ford’s unerring eye, conjured a vision that is exceedingly rare in contemporary entertainment. At last, here was a restrained 1960s period piece that was stylish, classic, and as aspirational as any glossy ad found in the pages of Vogue. High on the list of coveted set pieces is the protagonist’s modernist house, a John Lautner design that played a memorable supporting role in the film. The vintage Mercedes-Benz coupe also scores style points. Julianne Moore’s black-and-white column dress, Colin Firth’s La Dolce Vita suits, the gray cashmere robe, first editions of Aldous Huxley and Truman Capote (with original dust jackets), white shag thick enough to choke a goat. The list is exhaustive. Providing aural stimulation is a pitch-perfect soundtrack sprinkled with ’60s standards ranging from Memphis soul to French pop. Tom Ford’s figment of modernist LA cool is as alluring as it is hypnotic. “I want to live in that movie!” was a typical review voiced on the Manhattan cocktail circuit. Increasingly, this is what filmmaking and television production is about today: creating aspirational cocoons that people want to inhabit. In essence, the manner in which popular entertainment is being consumed has changed radically. A movie is no longer disposable, two-hour escapist fare.
Tom Ford, explaining his choice to feature the modernist classic now known simply as the “Schaffer residence” in ASM, said, “I knew that I wanted George Falconer [Colin Firth] to have a modern house. What he likes about America is that this is a country in which you can create your future. So I feel that he would have wanted a piece of modern architecture. But since he came from England, grew up in darkness in wood-paneled rooms with a fireplace and scotch, I felt that he wouldn’t have wanted a cold glass-and-steel modern house.” Although George Falconer lives in Santa Monica, the Lautner house is actually in Glendale—527 Whiting Woods Road—a salubrious suburb of Los Angeles. Pour a glass of single malt and submit a bid. Asking price: $1.39 million. Architectural trivia: Considered a modernist classic, the Schaffer residence languished on the market for some four and a half years. The original asking price was $2 million. After several price drops, it eventually sold for $1.395,000 in December 2012. Perspective buyers didn’t complain about the size (1,698 square feet), the lack of amenities (what, no pool?) or the expensive reno work (the original radiant-heat floors had to be replaced). The sticking point was the long commute between Glendale and West Hollywood. Location, location, location.
When Charlotte (Julianne Moore) drops the needle on an Etta James and “Stormy Weather” wafts across the white shag carpet like a fog, the unrequited-love vibe is palpable. The 1961 hit can be found on Etta’s signature At Last! album Other standout titles on the soundtrack include Jo Stafford’s “Blue Moon,” Serge Gainsbourg’s “Baudelaire,” and the Memphis soul standard “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the MG’s.
Pretty-boy actors have finally embraced the counterintuitive idea that wearing glasses does not necessarily detract from their looks. Indeed, a strange and mysterious fashion phenomenon dictates that a stylish pair of spectacles can actually enhance the angular planes of their handsome mugs. Marcello Mastroianni was a trailblazer in this department. Ditto James Dean. Now it seems every leading man in Hollywood is opting for frames over Lasik: Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Richard Gere, Justin Timberlake, Ashton Kutcher, James Franco, and yes, Colin Firth. In ASM he wore a pair of vintage Nalco No. 44s. Manufactured in the USA during the 1960s, these frames are consistent with the period and retro-cool. According to a BBC Radio 5 interview, Firth found his Nalcos while rummaging through a box of props and convinced Ford that these chunky black frames with their trademark bow-tie temple rivets were exactly what George Falconer would wear. Vintage models can be found online, but since their cameo in ASM, prices have spiked. Ford admired these glasses so much that he designed his own version after the film wrapped.
You have to put something on the Danish Modern coffee table in that new John Lautner house. Be faithful to the source material and pick up a dog-eared copy of Aldous Huxley’s After Many A Summer . That’s the tome Professor Falconer hoisted from his briefcase and read aloud to a class of surprisingly attentive English Lit students. Released in the US as After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, this novel was written soon after Huxley left England and settled in California. The book’s title is borrowed from Tennyson’s poem “Tithonus,” about a figure in Greek mythology to whom Aurora gave eternal life but not eternal youth. Who does tragedy better than the Greeks? The plot revolves around a Hollywood millionaire who fears his impending death. Awarded the 1939 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, this is a real page-turner. Read it and you too can expound at length about “the fear of the other in society.” Other literary works showcased in the film include Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, $17 at amazon.com
There probably isn’t much in your grandmother’s house that Tom Ford would approve of—except of course that wind-up alarm clock on the nightstand, next to the soaking dentures. It’s the exact same clock that resides beside George Falconer’s impossibly chic platform bed: the Westclox Big Ben Style 8 (black/plain), better known as the “Classic.” Manufactured between 1964 and 1980, this tanklike piece of industrial design is an exercise in restraint: black face, Arabic numerals, nickel trim, non-luminous dial. The going rate for a vintage model on eBay is ten bucks. OCD types opposed to patina can purchase a factory-fresh Style 8 repro for for $19 and up at amazon.com
Gentlemen don’t text. They jot down their profound thoughts in cursive script on sober yet elegant bespoke paper, the kind of fancy stationery offered by Smythson of Bond Street for the past 125 years. George Falconer favors the monochromatic look: White Wove stock printed with the black Hamilton Hall font, a proprietary design only available through Smythson boutiques. Sheaf prices can vary greatly, depending on the paper quality and printing. Not to mention fancy extras like tissue lining and hand-dyed bordering. A basic no-frills sheaf of 100 sheets and envelopes will set you back $410 at smythson.com.
George Falconer’s BFF is the ridiculously sexy Charley, played to perfection by Julianne Moore. The Brit expat divorcee chain-smokes throughout the film and looks fabulous doing it. Naturally the smokes are color-coordinated to match her boudoir: they’re pink, with gold-foil-wrapped filters. Certainly not something for your breast pocket, but they do make a charming gift. A carton of “cocktail” cigarettes by Sobranie of London can be had from online retailers for about $50. Like many British luxury brands, Sobranies have a storied history and royal warrants galore. Founded in 1879, the company supplied tobacco products to the royal courts of Romania, Greece, Spain, and Great Britain. To quote Charley: “More smoking and more drinking and screw it all.”
Charley to George: “Be a darling and pick up some gin for me. Tanqueray. I love the color of the bottle.” What’s not to like about a woman who chooses her liquor because the color of the bottle brings out her eyes? Memo to all Brooklyn hipsters picking juniper berries in the forests of Denmark and crafting artisanal gin in steampunk stills under the Williamsburg Bridge: The color of the bottle matters. $20 at finewinehouse.com
If one lives in a redwood-and-glass jewel like the Schaffer residence, much thought must be given to the type of automobile that will be parked beneath the carport. It can’t be too flashy. Forget the Porsche. Nor can it be overly modest. Forget the Prius, too. Anything less than perfection on wheels would be an insult to the architecture. In the film’s opening shot, we get a glimpse of what automotive perfection looks like. Not surprisingly, it takes the form of a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 220S Coupe. As far as vintage Benzes go, this model is relatively rare. Fewer than 3,500 coupes and cabriolets rolled off the assembly line in Stuttgart during its four-year production run. The bodywork is impeccable, the leather interior looks as if it were hand-tooled by Hermès, and the exotic burlwood on the dash is something even Larry David would respect.
The bottle didn’t actually have a cameo in the film, but Colin Firth wore Creed’s Bois du Portugal aftershave during the entire shoot. Tom Ford was convinced that the rich, warm, mysterious scent would help his leading man delve deeper into the complex and tortured character that is George Falconer. What does it smell like? Top note: bergamot. Middle note: lavender. Base notes: cedar, sandalwood from Mysore, vetiver, and ambergris (whale vomit, to the uninitiated). One industry nose described Bois du Portugal thusly: “The rich man’s version of Old Spice.” This was Frank Sinatra’s favorite scent, which pretty much confirms what the nose just said. “Soft, exotic woodiness” is the catchphrase fragrance connoisseurs trot out when extolling the genius that is BDP. Although this is a classic male scent, women who appreciate a bold fragrance have been known to wear it, too. $260 at creedboutique.com