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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The most important thing about BBC Sherlock's "A Scandal In Belgravia".

I love Sherlock Holmes. Not just the new adaptations where Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law slap-fight in 14 layers of tweed and drive a steampunk rocketship into Benjamin Disraeli (or whatever pseudo-Victorian thing it is this year). Those movies are great and everything, but I also like to read the books. In fact, once I made a timeline bookmark for my Complete Sherlock Holmes so I could read them in chronological order from "GLOR: 1875" (The Adventure Of The Gloria Scott) to "LAST: 1914" (His Last Bow). Simply put, the reason why there's less plot/characterisation analysis than usual in this post is because if I started I wouldn't be able to stop. I'd just hulk out into an ultimate Sherlock nerd and start word-vomiting a treatise on why Mycroft's cigarette choices indicate that he and Sherlock were neglected as children.
Photo from one of GQ's many articles about Sherlock's (apparently) endlessly fascinating coat.
The costumes of Sherlock are, to be honest, not hugely exciting. In the first series they establish Sherlock Holmes in a uniform of dark, expensive designer menswear, and John Watson in a selection of porridge-coloured jumpers and dumpy cardigans apparently chosen to make him look as nondescript as possible. You could probably knit John and Sarah Lund from The Killing together into some kind of BBC crime-drama knitwear Megazord.

Because of the way Sherlock works, there's not much hidden meaning in any of the costumes. Everything important will be deduced by Sherlock right there onscreen anyway, so whilen in another show there might be some subtextual characterisation hint hidden in a character's dress-sense, in Sherlock you get a direct explanation from the protagonist as to why someone's cufflinks prove them to be an adulterer. Which isn't to say that I dislike the costumes -- what's not to love about Sherlock's wardrobe of skin-tight D&G shirts and his deliciously swoopy, red-buttonholed greatcoat? -- but there's not much depth to plumb.

A Scandal In Belgravia: the great wallpaper conspiracy. (Oh yeah.)

Sherlock: starring Mark Gatiss, Bilbo Baggins, pantsless Benedict Cumberbatch, and a lot of upholstery patterns.
A Scandal In Belgravia = 90 minutes of pure glee, give or take a few moments of "WTFeminism, Steven Moffat?" Right now reviewers and participants in internet fandom appear to be locked in an ouroboros-like debate over whether Irene Adler makes sense as a character in a 21st century context and whether or not the showrunners really meant to imply feelings of attraction between an asexual man and a woman who self-identifies as gay. However, having spent several days mulling that over, I've now moved onto the real focus of the show: WALLPAPER.
This promo picture is spot-on. Sherlock looking creepy and narrow-eyed; John looking harmless and wry and dressing like somebody's grandpa; the yellow spray-paint smiley lurking behind Sherlock like the devil on his shoulder. BUT CHECK IT OUT: Wallpaperrrrrr. I know very little about interior decoration but I still think that's some awesome wallpaper. The camera people over at BBC Sherlock love them some twirly curlicue patterns, it seems.
Apparently Irene Adler and Sherlock have quite similar taste in interior decoration. I suspect this wallpaper was chosen because it looks stylish and chic while still retaining that whole busy Victorian aesthetic found in British houses of the original Sherlock Holmes period. Patterned carpets and walls and throw-cushions and horrible little paintings of flowers galore. They occasinoally do that with other things in Sherlock, in fact -- neat little Victorian throwbacks like Sherlock's timeless greatcoat and Irene Adler's bouffant hair. And Mrs Hudson's awesomely Victoriana-esque high-collared blouses:
OMG, I just noticed: Is Mrs Hudson's shirt-pattern part of the WALLPAPER CONSPIRACY as well?
In Irene Adler's promotional photoshoot they had her practically making out with the wallpaper. Even Mycroft was photographed in front of it, even though I don't think he ever steps into Irene's house. THE WALLPAPER IS JUST THAT IMPORTANT.
Irene/Wallpaper. DO YOU SHIP IT?
I'm pretty sure that the design is by Timorous Beasties, a Glaswegian wallpaper/textile design partnership who make all sorts of slightly weird-looking riffs on classic Victorian pattern work -- the only interior design company I can name, actually, for no reason other than because I live in Glasgow and have walked past their HQ like three times in the past week. I took a gander at their website and Irene's flat seems to be papered in Devil Damask (£228 per roll to you, mate). Timorous Beasties are ideal for Sherlock since they purposefully play off the look of fussy Victorian interiors but add darkness and modernity to their designs by incorporating images like bugs and decaying Glaswegian tower-blocks into the patterns.

Elsewhere in Irene's melodramatic yet stylish boudoir we have matching curtains:
 ...And Irene looking magnificently retro-burlesque in some sort of early-20th-century-style peignoir in Slytherin green. Irene looked absolutely stunning throughout the episode, although it does of course help when one has a flawless figure and an unlimited clothing budget (ie, much like Sherlock himself). If only the one female antagonist/main character we're likely to see in BBC-Sherlock wasn't a Sexy Dominatrix, no matter how well she was written compared to most of television's other Sexy Dominatrix characters. It just makes me think of Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters cartoons.
The downstairs of Irene's hopelessly palacial London house is done up in gold paper of a similar but slightly more conventional style. Meanwhile, Sherlock is wrapped in another one of his sprayed-on tailored skinny shirts:
Draw your own conclusions, Internet. What is the meaning of the Great Wallpaper Conspiracy? Is it merely that the person who does set design for BBC Sherlock has a share in Timorous Beasties? Is it a throwback to the Victorian aesthetic? Or have you, like me, stopped thinking about Sherlock and started thinking about how awesome it is when clothes look like upholstery? Hmm, I wonder whether I should try and find some Sherlock-esque wallpaper print for my next pair of Shakespearean knee-breeches... after all, one can never have too many. 
Try not to hate me too much for making you notice the wallpaper next time you watch Sherlock. (pic from here.)
Finally: The makers of Sherlock were evidently so keen to get their money's worth out of Irene Adler's boudoir wallpaper that they even included it in the background of her website:
THE PLOT THICKENS. Also, that website is kinda tacky. (pic from here.)
Postscript: I may be quite a big Holmes fan, but compared to some Sherlockians I'm barely dipping my toe in the water. For example, I just came across this mind-bogglingly exhaustive Tumblr dedicated to sourcing every prop and costume from BBC Sherlock, from hand lotion to nicotine patches to Mycroft Holmes' umbrella to... wallpaper. They haven't managed to track down much stuff from A Scandal In Belgravia yet, but I have every confidence that if anyone can do the legwork to uncover the rest of the Great Wallpaper Mystery of 2012, it's them. Wow.

38 comments:

  1. I was right to look forward to this :)
    I'm not sure whether I find the Baker Street wallpaper pretty or hideous, it's so cluttered, but it's also kind of awesome.
    Mrs Hudson's blouse is so pretty! I covet it.

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  2. Wow they can even track down where the couch cushions are from...

    Most of the costumes may not be flashy, but I really love Adler's white coat and dress. Especially since for most of the episode, ppl are wearing dark clothing or nothing at all...
    Now we just need a pic of Moriarty in front of broody-looking wallpaper.

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  3. BTW, wearsherlock is a Tumblr that not only sources the clothes and accessories from Sherlock but also some of the furnishings. She pinpoints the wallpaper in Irene's bedroom here as well as other incredible wallpapers that have appeared on the show. I covet ALL of them.

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  4. So much <3 for this post!

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  5. *Steven Moffat, not Stephan

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  6. Hiya, wearsherlock's owner here. Thank you for your submission to the blog, I love this article, especially the way you write - it's so much fun to read! And thank you for your little mention of us at the end, bought a big smile to my face. The wallpaper in Sherlock is absolutely magnificent and I'm so glad that you've brought attention to it in your article. I'm still desperately trying to find the paper around the fireplace (and am constantly being asked about it!) but have had no luck. Every paper they've chosen for the show fits perfectly, especially Irene's. (How can we not ship Irene/wallpaper!) So yes, lovely article and lovely blog, it's most interesting! If you ever find anything we haven't please let us know, our credit page (currently being created) has a "brilliant blogger" space which i'm sure you could fill!

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  7. Thank you, glad you liked the blog! :) I'll let you know if I stumble upon any other Sherlock costume/decor info.

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  8. oh, damn! thanks for pointing that out! :)

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  9. i knowwww, SO AMAZING.

    ahh, an expert! or... someone who knows more than my big fat zero about interior design. ;) well, i'm glad that timorous beasties style rooms are in, anyway! i love that stuff. :)

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  10. i know, right?

    yeah, i loved adler's white dress too. all of her costumes looked fantastic, but i decided not to post about them because there wasn't much to say outside... "this beautiful woman looks good in a £2000 dress, no shock".

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  11. haha, look forward to the post or to sherlock?

    i love the baker st wallpaper. but i think i have a higher clutter threshhold than a lot of people -- my childhood home = 12890123 books and paintings on every wall.

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  12. For wallpaper porn, I'm all about The new Upstairs Downstairs and The King's Speech, that is art deco all the way. Great, witty post. Loved your description of the new Holmes movies.

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  13. Ever since I saw the first episode, I was in lust with the wallpaper. Not something you will get in the average rental apartment, and just stunning looking.

    And at something close to $400 USD per roll, not something I get to have.

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  14. i've seen both of theirs! wallpaper isn't... a particular interest of mine... but i definitely loved EVERYTHING in upstairs downstairs and wish they'd continued with more of the new series. ://

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  15. welll, you might be able to get knockoffs of the 221B wallpaper since it's more generic. but on the whole all the "we have to have a flatshare because we're poor" thing is nonsense, since john and sherlock could both probably have found somewhere WAYYY cheaper. ;)

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  16. Google a bit and you can read many articles from the show's design staff, including costume, and they relate to having to deal with creating the first series on a budget, and how they developed the aesthetic of Sherlock's clothing (inspired by the canon stories) and John's clothing (where Martin Freeman had input) particularly in John's case, clothing that was military in style, and as urban camouflage. Some of the wallpapers in Sherlock are vintage reproductions, so check those sites as well.

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  17. As most of the wallpapers in SHERLOCK are vintage reproductions (some with a modern twist) they could be considered original to each location, The wallpapers in 221B are already extant when Sherlock and John move in, and Sherlock mentions to John that Mrs.Hudson is giving them a 'discount' to this centrally located (and HUGE for London) flat. Let's not forget this is a show from a classic series of books, how could you not have Holmes and Watson in Baker Street?

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  18. cool! i was aware that the first season was pretty low-budget, but i don't recall having read much more than a couple of cursory articles about sherlock's coat outfits etc. the victorian-inspired slimline aesthetic of sherlock's outfits are fairly obvious, though. :) they copied quite a lot of the interior of 221B from canon illustrations and previous shows, didn't they? or am i just imagining that?

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  19. oh, definitely agreed regarding sherlock having to live in 221B. i think it's perfectly acceptable to handwave mrs hudson's "discount". i lived in a flatshare round the corner from where "221B" (ie, Speedy's in Gower St) is a few years ago, and even a TINY room was extortionate.

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  20. Wallpaper is apparently an obsession, that became a sort of signature, of Paul McGuigan, the director of 4 of the Sherlock episodes. In the audio commentary of the first season Gatiss and Moffat comment on it, and how strange the pilot looked afterwards, without the crazy wallpaper everywhere. So, you can thank him (or not) for the wallpaper. :)

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  21. Ahaha, I will definitely notice the wallpaper next episode and be extremely distracted by it, but on the other hand I want to order all the Timorous Beasties wallcoverings now (also, that name, AMAZING). So. Thank you?

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  22. lol

    the more things change -

    Fifteen years ago, It took my husband and I ages to remove the hideous flocked wallpaper from our first house. I would guess the wallpaper was from the 1970s... black fluer de lis on a matte red background and in a different room black basket-like pattern on a glossy silver background.

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  23. i fear that now i've written this post and answered all these comments, i, too will be distracted by wallpaper. :/// WHAT HAVE I WROUGHT.

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  24. huh, cool! i didn't know that but i can well believe it. i should watch the audio commentaries some time! i usually tend not to because commentaries are so often crashingly dull...

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  25. haha, my dad said exactly the same thing. he was like, "flocked wallpaper? is that a thing now? didn't you used to get that in grotty takeaway restaurants?" evidently he hadn't noticed the existence of timorous beasties being in walking distance of our house...

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  26. Now I have to look for the wallpaper too... I would also love to hear the analysis about the Holmes' brothers childhood. :)
    Fascinating wallparer in Irene's house...

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  27. I fell in love with the interior design in 221b instantly. That wallpaper is gorgeous. The interior of the flat has like four different wallpapers and still manages to look great, warm and welcoming, and yes, a little bit Victorian.

    But I think you're wrong about the wardrobe choices. There is definitely characterization there - Sherlock and Mycroft are always in very nice tailored suits with never a crease on them, which means looking good and proper was probably something that was drilled into them growing up. Sherlock's suits are very modern and sleek, but Mycroft prefers the classic 3-piece suits. John is always in clothes that are comfortable and very practical for almost anything. And he looks good in those jumpers.

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  28. Regarding the costumes of Sherlock, I agree that they do definitely have a well-chosen wardrobe for each of the characters, and I definitely picked up on things such as the conservatism of Mycroft's suits, John's urban-camouflage, misleadingly harmless-looking outfits, but I didn't feel there was really enough to say about them to fill an entire post. The costumes aren't dull and they fit well with the characters, but they aren't a major selling-point for the show, in my opinion, although Sherlock's coat is wonderful. ;)

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  29. I noticed this wallpaper obsession in Sherlock too. I agree that this episode was very fun, but as someone who likes Irene in the books and yeah "WTFeminism" was what I got out of it. Anyway, I noticed Irene's fabulous wallpaper as well and her wardrobe too. British shows/films tend to have much better wallpaper or ones that I take note of. I remember watching the P&P (2005) DVD commentary and they discussed how expensive the reproduction wallpaper of one of the rooms were. This is my first time at your blog and I'm enjoying it! Thanks.

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  30. I hope you don't mind, but you inspired me to make an LJ icon about the wallpaper.
    http://belladonna.org/wallpaper.gif

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  31. sherlock´smindpalace11 February 2012 at 10:54

    The Sherlock´s show is awesome.

    I have a blog aroud of sherlock´s live/theories. I hope you there.

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  32. sherlocksmindpalace11 February 2012 at 10:56

    My blog is that:

    http://sherlocksmindpalace.blogspot.com/

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  33. I can't take my eyes off the wallpaper. Have a look at Florence Broadhurst's wallpaper designs from the 60's, 70's and 80's. I am sure the set designer is in love with her designs.

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  34. The wallpaper is Deco and quite sophisticated--nothing to do with fussy Victoriana.

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  35. Don't apologize, you didn't turn me on to this. I've just finished the 3rd episode (season 1) here in the US and I am OBSESSED with the wallpapers used on the interiors in this show! I haven't even gotten to the episode you describe above.

    Thanks to you and your commenters for pointing me in the direction of where I might find the maker, and also for proving that I'm not the only one whose imagination has been set afire by the art directors on this fantastic show!

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  36. No, that black and white flowered wallpaper in 221b is definitely Victorian-inspired. Updated and enlarged, but those flowers do not have the geometric shape that defines art deco.

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