A History of Luxury Prop Making on Film

The Swaine London Group Family of companies including Swaine Adeney Leathergoods, Brigg Umbrellas & Herbert Johnson Hatters represents over 250yrs of quality craftsmanship in equestrian equipment, leather goods, headwear and elegant personal accessories.  Innovation twinned with great respect for old knowledge and traditional methods to create beautiful items of desire from only the finest quality natural materials.

Iconic items from our brands have marked their place in history being featured in the times most poignant news events, being carried by Royalty & Rock stars alike and having graced the silver screen with the worlds most beloved characters on film. Join us on a journey of our most famous accessories…



The tragic event of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on the 14th-15th April 1912 has been etched on the world’s consciousness and retold through countless documentaries and films.  A detail not so well known however, is that many of the items from the wreckage have since been recovered in recent years.  Among these items were many of the lost passengers’ belongings including a Herbert Johnson collapsible silk top hat and bow tie.  The fine condition of these items after having spent so long in the seas embrace is unfathomable and remarkable, even the label is still clearly visible.

This top hat & tie are now on display at the traveling museum exhibition of TITANIC: THE ARTEFACT EXHIBITION.



The 1952 celluloid gem that is the Romantic musical comedy ‘Singing in the Rain’ has enjoyed enduring fame. Perhaps one exceptional scene in particular which has been referenced and imitated again and again since is Gene Kelly’s famous song & dance in the rain.  The original scene had Gene Kelly singing and dancing in a studio created rainstorm with only his Brigg umbrella for protection.  Fierce debate has ensued ever since over the legend of whether or not the rain was actually created using milk and although there is validity to the old studio trick of adding powdered milk or ink to the simulated rain water to help it show up better on film, it is not however known as fact whether this was used in this instance or not.  What is known though is that as you may recall, our famous umbrella becomes a large part of the dance in that scene

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In 1957, World Championship grand prix racing history was made when a British driver (in fact, two British drivers) won a race in a British car. Completing the deal was that this milestone moment also came on British soil held at famous horse racing venue Aintree. Tony Brooks crossed the winning line besides Sir Stirling Moss in their Vanwall cars to share first place and have written their own chapter of formula 1 world championship history.  For this momentous race, Sir Stirling Moss wears a white version of a Herbert Johnson helmet invented by Geoffrey Glazier. The famous helmet was later crafted into a trophy which was auctioned for £23,000 in 2009.




The ever popular British television drama ‘The Avengers’ graced our screens from 1961-1969.  Patrick MacNee’s character of ‘Steed’ instantly recognisable from his silhouette bringing together 2 of our iconic products, namely his Brigg umbrella and Herbert Johnson bowlers.  We still make his famous accessories today.  Steed carries our ‘The Brigg’ model of umbrella with a whangee handle and his distinctive bowler hat is a style called the ‘Churchill’ which boasts a tall straight sided crown with a squared off classic bowler brim, now made for us by our Traditional hats team in London.




The character of 007 James Bond is renowned for his gadgets & accessories.  With Sean Connery inhabiting the role in the 1963 spy adventure film ‘From Russia With Love’, 007 has his trusty Swaine Adeney black and red attache case.  The case is described as standard issue equipment for all 007 agents and features heavily in the Ian Flemings Bond novels. Faithfully reproduced by Swaine Adeney’s leatherworkers for the character and especially customised for filming, we get a guided tour of the cases added features by Major Boothroyd of Q-branch during a short scene in M’s office.  He notes its hidden features such as a flat throwing knife at the top corner, 20 rounds of ammunition stored in 2 cylinders hidden in the base, 50 gold sovereigns concealed in the lining on either side, an anti-tampering mechanism with magnetised tear-gas cartridge disguised as a tin of talcum powder and a folding sniper rifle with infrared scope stored within.  Needless to say, although we still handcraft these same fine attache cases today, they do not come as standard with any of the custom concealed weaponry as in the film.  They are no less a supreme quality case to be used and enjoyed and a stunning piece of film memorabilia.




The much loved classic British TV series ‘Dad’s Army’ ran from 1968 to 1977.  Set during World War II, with a German invasion looming, the defence of Walmington-on-sea falls to a local bank manager and his motley collection of volunteers of the local home guard unit.  Arthur Lowe in his role playing Captain Mainwaring wears our famous Herbert Johnson Military floating bevel peaked cap.




In the beloved 1964 musical film, My Fair Lady, the pompous phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) strives to transform Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) a cockney working-class girl and have her pass as a high society lady.  The signature hat style worn by Rex Harrison in both the stage and screen productions was supplied by Herbert Johnson. The Higgins hats were made from dogtooth check or glenuquart plaid depending on the production, the hat was reinforced with lines of concentric stitching around the brim and was styled with a permanent centre crease without any pinch.

MyFairLady  SellersPinkPanther



A very similar style of Herbert Johnson hat to that of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady was commissioned to be featured in the 1964 film ‘A Shot in the Dark’ and again in 1975 for 'The Return of the Pink Panther’, the second and fourth installments in Blake Edwards ‘The Pink Panther’ film series.  Peter Sellers’ character of Inspector Clouseau now totally synonymous with his Herbert Johnson hat.  Seen as a felt version then later a version in tweed, Sellers referred to it as his ‘lucky hat’.



Regarded as perhaps the most popular of all the classic reincarnations for the role of Dr Who in the science-fiction TV series was that portrayed by Tom Baker from 1974 to 1981.  He was the 4th to inhabit the role of the Time-Lord spanning seven consecutive seasons which remains the longest tenure of any actor to portray Dr Who counting both the classic and the modern series even returning for a cameo in the 2017 completed Shada Episodes. Tom Baker wore three versions of classic wide brimmed Herbert Johnson poet hat styles as Dr Who, one brown rabbit fur felt and two long haired rabbit fur felt hats in green and burgundy.



This long haired bohemian trend was also made infamous by other prominent wearers of Herbert Johnson hats such as Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger as well as many other rock stars such as Micky Moody and Elton John commissioning custom one-off bespoke hat orders for their collections. David Bowie was also a fan and has been said to have owned several Herbert Johnson Poet hats including that which he wore in the 1976 film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’.




Certainly the most famous of our Herbert Johnson hats have to be our Indy Poets.  In 1981 when Steven Spielberg was working with costume designer Deborah Nadoolman-Landis, he wanted a specific look for the action hero character for his film Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Harrison Ford was brought onboard and the team came looking for the perfect iconic hat to embody the character of Indiana Jones. You can read the full story about this on our website.  One of our classic signature poet styles was chosen and adapted to create the infamous Indy Hat for Raiders and we were later commissioned to provide all the hats for the following 2 sequels, ‘Temple of Doom’ in 1984 and ‘The Last Crusade in 1989 working with costume designers Anthony Powell and Joanna Johnston.  Much debate still rages on all aspects of this adventure series that has a huge and ever growing fan-base, a great deal of it surrounding the hat(s) which now have legendary status and hailed by many as the all-time greatest film prop ever!  All manner of discussions are had including those on the phenomenon of ‘Easter eggs’ which are intentional inside-jokes, hidden messages, images or props featured in a work which link or reference to a different film or work. Including Easter eggs in his works are a Spielberg favourite and a lesser known reference to Indiana Jones is made in the introductory sequence to his 1985 film ‘The Goonies’ whereby the character Jake Fratelli is wearing a HJ Indy poet during his getaway from prison at the start of the film.

Raiders TOD  LastCrusade


In  January 2021, the Herbert Johnson Team were again honored to be brought on board to work with costume designer Joanna Johnston on the upcoming 5th Indiana Jones film.  You can discover more about this experience and how the Destiny Poet came to be further in our upcoming blogs.



More classic Herbert Johnson creations were featured in 1988’s beloved mix of live and animated film action that is ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ including the boundedge brown trilby hat worn by Bob Hoskins as his character Eddie Valiant and Judge Dooms black wide brimmed poet worn by Christopher Lloyd.  We at Herbert Johnson lovingly recreated a handcrafted version of the ‘Valiant style’ hat from the film earlier this year which is now available in 2 colour options Bourbon or Whisky.




In 1989 Tim Burton brought DC Comics dark superhero adventure ‘Batman’ to the big screen which was set to be the first of many feature films and reincarnations of the character spanning to the modern day.  In this installment of the franchise, Jack Nicholson brings the character of Batman’s supervillain protagonist to life in a very colourful and unsettling performance as The Joker. Jack Nicholson's Joker wears a Herbert Johnson topper as part of his monochrome mime costume which was provided by Herbert Johnson for the film.




The 1990 film ‘White Hunter Black Heart’ was based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Peter Viertel and was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood. In his film set in 1950’s Zimbabwe, Clint Eastwood’s character wears a high crown Herbert Johnson cotton twill trilby.




In 1990, P.G. Woodhouse’s beloved ‘Jeeves’ stories were adapted for the small screen into a British comedy drama series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as the title characters ‘Jeeves and Wooster’. The series follows the misadventures of a well-to-do British bachelor, Bertie Wooster who relies on his talented valet to extricate him and his friends from their social mishaps.  Running for 3 years this series was filled to the brim with fashion and social etiquette tips of the 1920’s and 30’s and featured many Herbert Johnson hats.



Reprising our role in providing the silver screens best British secret agents finest spy gear, Brigg were commissioned to create the famous ‘Kingsman Umbrella’ for the 2014 film ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ and for the sequel in 2017 ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’.  As well as our Brigg umbrellas we also provided several other prop leathergood items featured in the films.  Please be aware that our Kingsman umbrellas are handcrafted to order but unfortunately do not come with any of the tactical features and bulletproof canopy portrayed in the film, you can however use it for the fine quality umbrella that it is and have it assist you in breaking up any bar fights at your own risk.




In the summer of 2018 the costume designer for the popular BBC Peaky Blinders season 4 series, Alison McCosh, walked into our London store looking for new costume accessories for the next season of filming. She immediately fell in love with our hats and she contacted our hatters to work with her for season 5.  We are incredibly proud to have designed such a wonderful collection of bespoke hats for Helen McCrory's character in season 5 along with a varied range of flat cap and bakerboy cap worn by Cillian Murphy, Finn Cole, Paul Anderson and many more of the cast in Series 5 & 6 and we look forward to collaborating further with this great designer.

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In 2018, we were approached by the costume design team for the new BBC/HBO series adaptation of Philip Pullman's epic 'His Dark Materials'.  We were asked to create a bespoke trilby hat to be worn by Mr Lin Manuel Miranda who would be playing the character Scoresby in the series. The hat style would be based on the design of a small vintage hat sample they liked.  We of course obliged and created several copies of the hat design for filming purposes and for the stunt teams for Series 1 (2019), Series 2 (2020) and Series 3 (2022).

Scoresby 5  Scoresby 2



In 2019, a collection of bespoke Brigg Umbrellas were commissioned by Vivienne Westwood for the upcoming Paris Fashion Week show.  The Brigg team of umbrella makers were delighted to create these custom designs that graced the catwalk in Paris.  Here you can see Bella Hadid walking in the Vivienne Westwood womenswear collection spring/summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week 2019. (Image:Richard Bord Getty Images)
Vivienne Westwood x Brigg



We hope you enjoyed our brands journey through history and film and discovered something new along the way.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of all our brands collaborations and commissions to provide top quality props & hatting to the costumiers for television, film, rock stars and royalty, a list that will continue to grow. In fact we have been approached recently on 3 separate commissions and have new projects currently in production in all our umbrella, leather and hatting departments.  As all collaborations are kept strictly confidential, we cannot share the details with you until these projects are on public release so please stay tuned to find out more.

The Swaine London Group Family of companies encompasses its highly skilled craftspeople including our Swaine leatherworkers, Brigg umbrella-makers and Herbert Johnson hatters.  Everything we produce today is meticulously handcrafted from only the finest quality materials by our teams of craftspeople in our British workshops.  We pride ourselves on the bespoke nature and quality of our luxury goods and the talent and innovation of our teams of makers.  We are now truly able to provide the custom service required, the ideal resource for both individuals, companies and filmmakers to work with in designing film props and costume for featuring in their work or personal wardrobes.  With so many skills under one roof, we are a one-stop-shop for an incredibly wide range of top quality products that can be designed and made to your own personal style and specifications.  So if you are an individual desiring to own one of our iconic products for yourself, a company wanting something custom-made branded to order or a filmmaker or costumier looking for that perfect prop to bring your characters to life, we look forward to creating something special for you!