Now you see it, now you see it again
Pt 11 - Carte blanche
“Women think of all colours except the absence of colour. I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony.”
― Coco Chanel
Phryne’s white textured wool crepe overcoat makes several appearances in Series 1 and 2. The coat flares slightly from the waist giving it movement, the oversized fur shawl collar oozing the luxury and style we associate with Phryne Fisher. She wears it both with a white felt cloche and a leopard print with feather detail, and white, pale yellow and black accessories.
It first appears in The Green Mill Murder (S1, Ep3) in the ‘who dunnit’ reveal at City South towards the end of the episode. The coat contrasts the night club evening wear of sleek black fringing and sparkling rhinestones. It is warm and elegant and appropriately formal for an interview:
Phryne reveals the modus operandi first to an impressed Jack:
Phryne: See, he’s made modifications here and here.
Jack: I don’t know who has the more fanciful imagination… Rogers for coming up with it, or you for working it out.
Phryne: Jack! Me, obviously.
then to the perpetrator, Rogers:
In Raisins and Almonds S1 Ep5, two episodes later, the coat and hat reappear, as Phryne tracks down the relationship between a flower garden and deadly poison. The coat with its soft trim and felt cloche blend with the cottage garden and the painted backdrop of the terrace house.
The outfit is part of the reveal of this episode too:
as Phryne reveals a little more of herself to Jack:
and Jack reveals a little of himself to Phryne:
Jack: I went to war a newlywed.
Phryne: But you came home.
Jack: Not the man my wife married… 16 years ago.
Phryne: War will do that to you.
Jack: My wife’s been living with her sister for some time now. But a marriage is still a marriage, Miss Fisher.
Phryne: Especially to a man of honour.
In S1 Ep7, Murder in Montparnasse, the personal intrudes but this time it is Phryne who must divulge something of her life. Phryne wears the white hat and coat as she insinuates her way into an investigation of a motor accident that ultimately leads to memories of a very painful episode in her past.
Her light-hearted response to Hugh’s recreation of the scene of the crime has Jack too letting down his usual reserved guard.
The following scene shows Phryne and Jack in comfortable rapport.
The white coat provides a stark contrast to the later scene in the restaurant where Phryne wears all black - and Jack and Phryne’s rapprochement continues…
Flowers and revelations recur when Phryne wears this outfit in Queen of the Flowers, S1 Ep9.
Jane’s mother reveals herself, with devastating impact:
The image above shows the detail on the cloche, bronze flower motifs with hand-painted beading, so appropriate for episodes with flowers as a thematic motif.
Phryne wears the outfit to her appointment in the hall where the flower maidens are preparing for their festival performance, where we see the line and fall of the coat. But not for long…
Phryne removes hat, coat and gloves to ensure the girls in her care are better prepared to face an, at times, hostile world than finishing lessons can provide:
Phryne: And I wish I could have taught Kitty something more useful than dancing or deportment or etiquette. …Take your coats off, ladies, and I’ll show you.
Jack too appreciates what she shows them:
Then on to Season 2, Episode 8, The Blood of Juana the Mad.
Phryne wears the coat with the leopard print hat with feather corded detail, and black accessories - gloves, bag and shoes. Phryne’s outfit appears to pay homage to the surrounds and the dress regulations of those within the medical faculty.
Her estrangement from Jack is most marked at the beginning of the episode with some settings foreshadowing a later resumption of more harmonious relations.
The exchange between the two highlights the tension between them - Jack determined to separate himself both personally and professionally from Phryne as he realises he can no longer isolate each of the two facets of their relationship; Phryne on the other hand believes they can and should.
Jack: I know Dr MacMillan is an old friend, but it would be easier if you left me to investigate.
Phryne: Without me? What about the safe? You couldn’t have opened that without me.
Jack: Not as easily.
Phryne: Or the blood trail.
Jack: Not as quickly.
Phryne: What about Hugh? I helped him to…
Jack: Helped what?
Phryne: Do you really want me to go?
Jack: I don’t want you to go. I need you to go. Please go home.
Phryne: Very well. Sayonara.
Phryne, in profile and framed by pillars, provides the third figure in the stained glass panelling after Jack’s exit.
Fortunately the episode ends with them in tandem - so to speak - on a motorbike, and there’s more talk of what the future might hold:
Jack: I think we’re more of a waltz, Miss Fisher.
Phryne: Not a tango? A good waltz is slow, and close.
Jack: I’ll try to stay in step, all the same.
And that’s the last of the beautiful white coat although the colour, style and trim may well foreshadow another scene or two with another white coat… but that would be another post!