SWANLEY, England (Reuters) - It’s not quite like finding the grail but in their quest for the perfect jacket for Indiana Jones, props procurers for Hollywood director Steven Spielberg tracked down leather coat maker Peter Botwright to a small barn in the English countryside.
And just like a Hollywood happy ending, nearly a quarter-century on from the movie whose hero played by Harrison Ford can deal with anything but snakes, Botwright still sells between 1,000 and 1,500 replicas a year.
“It is one of ‘the’ jackets, it’s an iconic jacket. There are only about half a dozen jackets that are like that,” Botwright said.
“The Brando motorcycle jacket is probably the top one but I wouldn’t put the Raiders’ jacket far down the list.”
Marlon Brando’s image as an outlaw biker in the 1953 film “The Wild One” inspired a craze for sideburns, tilted caps - and leather motorcycle jackets.
Based in the county of Kent, southeast England, Botwright’s Wested Leather made the jacket Ford wore in Spielberg’s 1981 film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the first in the franchise.
Orders are filled for customers as far afield as Australia and the United States, with around 80 percent of them sold on the Internet.
“Customers are always surprised the jackets are made here, but we stitch in a ‘Made in England’ label and a Union Jack flag, just so they know,” said Botwright, who made the original coat himself.
Having taken 165 pounds ($270) for the jacket, Botwright’s staff can kit out customers in matching shirt, trousers and belt, as well as a whip similar to the one used by Ford’s relic-hunting professor in the movie.
His name may not be on many people’s lips, but Botwright’s work has featured on the silver screen for decades.
His list of credits is diverse, including making the German army uniforms for the submarine disaster thriller “Das Boot”, elf costumes for a Santa Claus movie, outfits for super-spy James Bond and clothes for the “Mission: Impossible” films.
With more than 30 years of movie work under his belt, Botwright has recently made costumes for the Marvel comic Thor films and the second series of the television fantasy biopic “Da Vinci’s Demons”.
Wested’s barn, as well as housing the workshop, hosts a shop containing a treasure trove of leather goods, ranging from iPad covers to saddle bags to custom-made trousers.
And Wested has a somewhat surprising sideline - a roaring trade selling hand-made costumes to Elvis Presley impersonators.
“They’ve got to fit right, it’s not something you can just wear off the peg. They come down, we fit the jacket and then they stand in front of the mirror for about an hour like an old tart, going ‘unh-huh-huh’, bending down, getting up, doing all the movements.”
“There’s not one of them doesn’t do it - if you are an Elvis you have to give it the full treatment.”
($1 = 0.6090 British pounds)
Editing by Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones