It’s the new Nordic Noir crime drama everyone’s talking about: Det Parka, starring an attractive heroine who is tough on the outside, but with a fluffy interior. Men love her and women want to buy her - sorry, be her. I jest, but such was the hype surrounding Marcella’s £535 Woolrich parka before ITV’s new thriller had even aired that its real star, Anna Friel, might have some justification for feeling a lilttle envious. The fur-trimmed khaki parka would, we were told, “spawn a new fashion obsession” and “be the next fashion must-have”.
It took Sex And The City for brands to wake up to the idea that TV programmes could be an effective marketing tool through which to sell women clothes. Back in 1998 I used to picture the men in suits saying, “Whoa – Sarah Jessica Parker might look like a horse, but she’s shifting Jimmy Choos by the thousand." Those men (and it was always men) who were so swift to criticise SJP’s appearance completely missed the point: that her appeal rested on the fact that she wasn’t Gisele / Angelina Jolie-style perfect.
Anna Friel’s Marcella isn’t perfect, either, and while she’s got a long way to go before she becomes as iconic a character as Carrie Bradshaw (or, more appositely, Saga Noren), I don’t think proclaiming her parka as a must-have is the best way to endear her to her audience. Telling women to like something a TV character wears is like giving away the ending of a 10-part thriller: you just don’t do it. Sarah Lund’s Faroe Island jumper became iconic precisely because it wasn’t trying to be: ditto Saga Noren’s knackered green coat. Both characters’ clothes looked organic, as though they’d reached for whatever was clean that morning and set off for work without giving it another thought. By contrast, I struggled with Marcella’s look – because it felt too much like A Look. How many women outside of the fashion industry actually wear a “uniform” of white shirt and navy jumper? And whose shirt collars are that white and pristine? Surely not those of a gritty, work-obsessed detective.
Sarah Lund’s Faroe Island jumper became iconic precisely because it wasn’t trying to be
“How the female protagonist dresses is important. We spent quite some time on it,” said Hans Rosenfeldt, the creator of Marcella, who is also behind The Bridge. “We ended up with the parka. We tried on a lot of parkas before we chose that one. We chose it carefully.” Maybe they chose it too carefully. While plenty viewers liked how “relatable” she looked (“Right now I am mostly enjoying Marcella because she wears my uniform. Shirt, jumper, glasses, bad ponytail,” tweeted the novelist Jojo Moyes), for me, that was precisely the problem. Marcella was styled in the manner of someone who’d been lab-tested for maximum relatability.
I have no objection to my TV heroines looking relatable – but it won’t make me want to dress like them. To inspire true wardrobe envy, I have to perceive a character as “other”, with a yawning gap between me and them which can be bridged by copying their look. In The Night Manager, had Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Jed, wafted through Roper’s 17th century Mallorcan fort dressed in mom jeans and a Uniqlo sweatshirt, I wouldn’t have wanted to be her, on the basis that you don’t tend to want to be someone you already are. Instead, Jed looked like a fantasy version (okay, a fantasy version so extreme that it might have had to involve hallucinogenic drugs) of me on holiday in Deia. Which is why, like much of the country, I’ve spent more time than is seemly googling “floaty cream maxi dresses for under £100”.
Like Stella Gibson’s blouses in The Fall, Jed’s long, languorous dresses became a thing of envy without being prescribed. As we hunker down in front of the telly with red wine and crisps to watch our favourite TV shows, we all know that the clothes are as important as the plot and the characters. We just don’t like being told.