As far back as he can remember, Scott Fraser Simpson always wanted to be a gangster.
Or, rather, dress like one. The vintage-loving British designer’s eponymous clothing line could be described as “wise-guy chic,” with wide-legged pleated trousers and knit shirts aplenty. And while his limited-edition clothing was often inspired by vintage pieces, some very particular knit shirts had eluded his grasp — until now.
“I’ve been collecting Italian-American knitwear for over 10 years now, and there’s always those elusive pieces that you know of, the ‘Holy Grail’ types,” Simpson says.
For the designer, no find could be more desirable than either of the knit shirts Ray Liotta wore as Henry Hill in Goodfellas.
“The Goodfellas knits have been iconic for so many years and are always referenced when you talk about the knit shirt look,” Simpson says. “I must have been 16 when I came across the picture of Henry Hill wearing the iconic blue short-sleeve knit, and from that moment I made it my mission to try and find something similar.”
Simpson got his white whale when he was tipped off that a New York City costume house was liquidating some of its stock — including that striped blue short-sleeve Liotta wears open over a tank top undershirt. Simpson says he cannot confirm whether it was merely the same model of shirt or the exact piece that graced Liotta’s upper arms on set, but says he has “every reason, to believe so, based on its origin.”
Not content with achieving one grail quest, Simpson then tracked down a vintage dealer selling a striped long sleeve knit identical in every way but color to the grey one Liotta wears as he waits outside a diner for news of the Lufthansa heist.
“It’s a scene that really focuses on Henry’s outfit and one that I can’t fault,” Simpson says of the knit’s screen time. “The camera pans up from his black loafers over the sharpest pressed trouser crease I think I’ve ever seen and ends on the knit shirt collar proudly sitting over the graphite grey sharkskin suit.”
Simpson set out to recreate them as the second installment in his “Icon Series,” which he had launched in 2020 with recreations of Jude Law’s knitwear in The Talented Mr. Ripley. For this Goodfellas-themed “Icon Series II,” which launches as a pre-order today with an expected April delivery, he’s dubbed the blue shirt sleeve “The Salerno,” after a restaurant featured in the film, while the grey is called “The Idlewild,” in reference to the original name of John F. Kennedy International Airport, where the Lufthansa heist occurred.
But as Simpson would learn over a two-year production period, sourcing the originals was the easy part. “It is both a blessing and a curse having the original vintage pieces,” he says. “Having every single detail in your hands for you to compare against your own version can make for quite a lengthy process for a perfectionist like myself.”
The process began with finding the correctly colored yarns for each shirt, which proved so difficult in the case of the Salerno that Simpson had to revert to custom dyeing. Both recreations were made in Portugal from fine-gauge merino wool, after a great deal of trial-and-error to ensure accuracy. Simpson says it typically takes two samples to get things right, but that the Goodfellas knits required as many as nine until he was satisfied.
The end result is knitwear that’s nearly indistinguishable from what can be seen on screen. “From stripe placement, pocket width and button sizing, it would be hard to come across a difference when comparing the two.”
However, changes were made in terms of fit, as Simpson found their original proportions to be “unflattering.” As a result, the reproductions have a modified balance between the front and back hemline, and a slight increase in sleeve length.
“Our intention for these small changes was to make the knits more wearable and better-fitting garments overall,” he says.
And what is one to do, after acquiring a piece of Henry Hill’s wardrobe? “Wear simply over a vest and paired with some high-waisted trousers and loafers, and the beauty of these knits will speak for themselves,” Simpson says. “They also look amazing underneath a suit jacket if you wanted to dress up — pop the collar over the lapels for extra style points.”
In the words of a young Henry Hill, “Hey Ma, what do you think?”
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