Opulence on the Orient Express

Rachel Farrell

Dress event, hosted by the film costume designer Alexandra Byrne at Claridge's, London, Tuesday 24th October 2017.Joel Ryan/Twentieth Century Fox

AgathaChristie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ recently hit theatres with its enthralling characters, dark mystery and decadent costumes. Set in 1939, the movie is a vintage paradise not only for costume lovers, but for those looking for a Hollywood twist on the Christmas party dress this year.

‘Murder on the Orient Express’ tells the tale of a shocking murder on a lavish train trip. Its twelve passengers hail from all parts of the world, but their clothes share a common tale of the 1930s. While many reach for a 1920s flapper costume for Halloween, the 1930s is its underrated counterpart.

Speaking with Vogue UK, Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne said her favourite character to dress was the widow Caroline Hubbard, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Byrne tried to remain historically accurate with the costumes, as seen with Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, Judy Dench’s aristocrat counterpart. “Even though the Thirties was the era of ‘paste’ jewellery, as popularized by Chanel, there’s no doubt that every one of the Princess’s knuckle duster of rings is genuine. She would have brought them with her from Russia,” Byrne said.

The roaring twenties brought a new era of freedom behind the meaning of ‘fashion’. Women and men alike took new risks with their personal style. The 30s, as a result, followed a similar suit but in a more relaxed fashion. Irish fashion historian Ruth Griffin, of ruaruth.com, explains that there was a great contrast in the different styles of the 1930s.

“Dress from this time was contrasting from prim and proper floral dresses or costumes (a jacket with midi length skirt) and neat little hats, to daring backless dresses which clung to the body and showed off the new trend for ‘sun-tanned’ skin to perfection,” Griffin said.

Griffin believes that Christie always managed to capture a “fashion moment in time” with her stories, which were mostly set in the 1930s. “Like Murder on the Orient Express, her female heroines showcased the era’s slinky femininity with Hercule Poirot always looking beneath a glamorous or slippery veneer to the true motives and hearts of the ‘suspects’ in question”.

Halloween may be over but shops and online retailers alike are pulling out Christmas collections as we speak. The Christmas party, whether it’s with colleagues or friends, is an annual event that can often spread the shopping fear. Recreating this timeless look of the 30s has become easier than ever. “The 1930s girl was modern and on the move and VERY influenced by Hollywood. Something we still have today is an influence from the silver screen,” said Griffin.

“I think we can recreate the look this party season for 2017 with the trend for Kimonos – a very easy way to work a 1930s look today – as seen on Countess Elena Andrenyi in the movie it still has masses of appeal when worn with denim and finished off with lashings of costume jewellery,” she continued.

If ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ was recreated on a student budget, ASOS would be the first call for costumes. With the release of their new party wear line, an outfit Christie would be proud of is not hard to find.

As Griffin said, the first port of call is the kimono. While many will associate it with floral prints and fringing from the summer, the kimono is set to be a must-have winter accessory too. A kimono in rich hues of burgundy or navy would be the perfect winter cover up.

A different take on the kimono is the kimono dress, like the ASOS sequin kimono midi dress. With a similar wrap over fashion and plenty of bling, this dress is something many of the female characters would wear.

Brocade prints are another nod to the 30s. Such luxurious colours and prints replicate Countess Andrenyi’s style. “Even though her garments were made from these beautiful vintage fabrics, it’s never particularly easy to tell what she’s wearing: a set of pyjamas or an elaborate satin two-piece,” designer Byrne told Vogue.

For a modern take, Missguided sell a satin floral brocade two piece, combining the perfect night out outfit with a hint of Orient Express.

Both Griffin and Byrne mentioned lashings of jewellery, and costume jewellery is as glamorous as ever on the high street. Chandelier style tassel earrings can add some luxury to even the simplest of outfits. For the die hard vintage fan, the ASOS filigree hair clip is the must-have addition to any up-do.

As for men, a strong suit is all that’s needed. For an extravagant soireé, an embroidered velvet blazer is bound to make a statement. In a more relaxed setting, a pussybow shirt adds a vintage twist to the classic collar.

The 1930s were all about the glitz, the glamour and the extravagant parties, and we’re all aboard the Orient Express this season for the Christmas party of the year.


Rachel Farrell 

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox