FOR THE last three Indiana Jones films, Indy has served as the franchise's sole fashion plate: the bullwhip curled at his hip, the dusty leather jacket, the messenger bag slung across his chest. And of course, the trademark battered brown fedora.
But now, with the release of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," the filmmakers have introduced the heir apparent to the Indy legacy by throwing another hat in the ring -- and don't be surprised if you think you've seen it before. The look is less about being original than carbon-copying the past.
"We were inspired by [Marlon] Brando's look in 'The Wild One' and modeled the look of Shia [LaBeouf's] character after him; right down to the leather jacket, the Levi's, the motorcycle boots -- and that cap," said the movie's costume designer, Mary Zophres.
The cap is the distinctive, jaunty, pillowed biker's cap Brando wore in the 1953 film that made an instant icon of Johnny Strabler, rebellious and bike-riding hooligan. In "The Crystal Skull," LaBeouf's teenage Mutt Williams character is a motorcycle-riding rebel who is wearing the same hat when we first see him racing alongside Indy's train.
"This movie is set in 1957, so the theory is he'd probably seen 'The Wild One' as a kid and modeled himself after Brando," said Zophres, whose credits include "Catch Me if You Can" and "No Country for Old Men."
Few items define character as indelibly as a hat. Costume designers have known it for years -- think Charlie Chaplin in "The Tramp," Clint Eastwood in "High Plains Drifter," Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady" -- and today the cachet of the hat is even more charged. "Because people don't wear them anymore," said Zophres. "They make a big statement."
Which brings us to the doorstep of Baron Hats in Burbank, Hollywood's hatter, in one incarnation or another, for more than 75 years.
Baron's current owner, Mark Mejia, who bought the business from founder Eddy Baron in 1995, believes Brando's cap was Baron's handiwork, but concedes that determining any hat's cinematic provenance is tricky, "because there are usually multiples of each piece and some can even be made by different companies." (Mejia knows this all too well: His company made an Indiana Jones fedora for the "Temple of Doom" sequel in 1984, and although he submitted screen-testing samples for "The Crystal Skull," another company's hats were ultimately chosen.)
To fashion LaBeouf's hat, Zophres used a reproduction of the "Wild One" cap as a starting point: an eight-panel, soft-crown cap with a button at the top, made of Irish camel-hair textured wool, with a black leather visor and chrome-plated hat band secured over the temples with American eagle buttons. (Mejia said Baron plans to sell a limited-run reproduction of the cap from "Crystal Skull" in wool for around $500, though a lower-priced cotton twill version is available at Baronhats.com for a less rebellious $89, authentic weathering extra.)
"It was almost perfect, we just had to tweak it a little to balance the face because Brando's face was a completely different shape," Zophres said. She had Baron shorten the visor and reduce the height of the crown, and the hat was weathered. "We wanted it to look like he had owned it for a few years and worn it every single day," Zophres said.
Although most of the viewers may be unaware of the cap's cinematic pedigree, Zophres thinks the end result will resonate nonetheless. "Here's this young kid with a lot of confidence and swagger, and he's going to stand side by side with Indiana Jones -- at least when it comes to attitude."
And with George Lucas' comment at the Cannes Film Festival that he could see Shia's character leading the next installment of the franchise, there may be a lot more swagger under that hat.