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John Malkovich: actor, designer, icon

Before "The New Pope," a look at one of the cult actors of a generation

John Malkovich: actor, designer, icon Before The New Pope, a look at one of the cult actors of a generation

John Malkovich seems to be in that category of actors who, despite their undisputed skill, always recite themselves, giving each character an imprint of their own personality. Malkovich, as well as Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, always brings in his roles the mixture of elegance, darkness and extravagance that has made him famous throughout his career. His next role as John Paul III in The New Pope promises to be one of his pop culture icon roles. In the words of director Paolo Sorrentino:

“The pope is an iconic figure, and John Malkovich is one of the few iconic actors. How many actors can boast of their name being used in the title of a film?” [The reference is to the 1999 film Being John Malkovich directed by Spike Jonze, ndr]

The role of John Paul III, who in the same words of the character is "indolent, presumptuous, irresponsible and vain", is essentially that of a dandy, an aesthete. And Sorrentino, speaking to The New York Times, said he was inspired by the actor's personality to create the character. But that John Malkovich had the traits of the dandy and the aesthete was already well known. 

What is perhaps the highest moment of the dialogue between Malkovich and the fashion world is the campaign shot by the legendary and late Peter Lindbergh for Prada's FW1995 collection, when the actor was already 42 years old. An unusual casting choice for the brand, which used to choose for its campaigns young newcomer actors, such as Joaquin Phoenix, but which testifies to the status that Malkovich enjoyed and that matched perfectly with Prada's tendency to subvert expectations when it came to casting their campaigns. The proclivity of the brand to always choose not obvious but culturally-crucial personalityes has not changed, as demonstrated by the recent campaign starring Frank Ocean.

But the first contacts with fashion had already taken place five years earlier. In 1990, Malkovich was dressed by Giorgio Armani in a series of classic colonial mises for Bernardo Bertolucci's masterpiece The Sheltering Sky, he walked for the Comme des Garcons Homme Plus' SS90 show and starred in the lookbook with the actor Julian Sands and artists John Lurie and Enzo Cucchi.

In the following years Malkovich wrote and directed short films in collaboration with designer Bella Freud, wrote the foreword to Eric Reinhardt's monograph on Louboutin with photos of David Lynch. In 2002 he founded the company "Mrs. Mudd", which the following year launched the "Uncle Kimono" line, for which a curious show was held in Milan during which, instead of showing models, twenty professional judo wrestlers performed in a choreographed fight show wearing the actor's designed clothes. A curious document of the event is the documentary Flipping Uncle Kimono, which you can watch at at this link, and begins with the cartel: "The following program contains coarse language, violence and John Malkovich. Viewer discretion is advised."

In February 2010, Malkovich launched a new luxury clothing line called Technobohoemian that had mixed fortunes and saw the actor collaborate first with Pirelli PZero to create a sneaker line and then, in 2013, with Yoox for a summer capsule of 17 items. Speaking to The Guardian about his passion for fashion, the actor said, with his cold sense of humour::

“It's something I always liked. I don't know where that came from. I always imagine it was from being very fat as a child”.

Malkovich still owns his own clothing brand with a dedicated website, but in recent years its commitment to design has been greatly reduced. His histrionics and extravagance, however, remained etched in the public's mind - a kind of fame that the actor has exploited, for instance, with self-irony by disguising himself as David Lynch's most famous movie characters in the short video Psychogenic Fugue directed by Sandro Miller.

Waiting to see The New Pope on screen, scroll through the galleries above to discover all the best style moments in John Malkovich's career.