It’s a grey mid-October morning when I arrive at the Museum of London for my interview with Benedict Cumberbatch’s dressing gown. Striding through the main entrance, I am met by a row of bright-eyed staff, one of whom leads me downstairs to the museum’s new Sherlock Holmes exhibition – the largest collection of Sherlockian manuscripts, artwork, props and memorabilia assembled in the UK for over 60 years. I am early, so I sip coffee, munch on a mini croissant – approximately a third of the size of a normal one – and go over my questions.
During my journalistic career I’ve interviewed numerous stars, including several Hollywood A-listers, but I must admit to being a little nervous about today’s meeting. Benedict Cumberbatch’s dressing gown has a reputation for being a bit of a diva.
The sartorial star of BBC1’s detective drama Sherlock was catapulted to fame when actor Benedict Cumberbatch first wore it in series three. Viewers admired its opulent folds and proximity to Cumberbatch while critics pointed to its languid movement, 10% cashmere wool blend and of course its Savile Row heritage (Cumberbatch’s dressing gown is by luxury loungewear producer Derek Rose, who also made the striped silk number Sherlock wears in other episodes).
When I’m finally ushered in to meet the dressing gown – via a secret door in a bookcase and through the atmospherically lit exhibition – any worries I had quickly fade away. The gown seems relaxed and happy, draped insouciantly over a chair looking well groomed, if attractively tousled.
Many a Sherlock fan would like to be the one to do the tousling, but I resist. Also, there is a pane of glass between us. It’s the only reminder that I am meeting one of TV’s biggest sartorial stars (and, if the whispers of interest from Hollywood are true, soon to be much more). But there’s something about being in the presence of the dressing gown that quickly makes me forget the glass is even there. It somehow has a knack for making you feel special, as if you’re the only person in the room. I suppose that’s one definition of star quality.
“Welcome to the exhibition, it’s wonderful to see you, I’m so glad you could make it,” the dressing gown seems to be saying.
“This dressing gown was worn by Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as Sherlock Holmes,” reads the card inside the glass case. “It is one of many items in the BBC series that makes reference to the original stories, in which Holmes is often described as wearing a dressing gown when relaxing at home. By the late 19th century, presenting Holmes in a dressing gown was a direct correlation with his bohemian lifestyle, as such garments were closely associated with leisure and artists.”
Over the next 30 minutes I venture questions ranging around a wide variety of topics, from the effects of sudden fame to the best way to clean cashmere (watch this space for the full interview). By now there are several other interviewers waiting for an audience with the dressing gown so we reluctantly wind things up.
As I stroll around the rest of the exhibition – taking in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hand-written manuscripts, Sidney Paget’s original Sherlock Holmes illustrations, rare movie posters, old photographs and an array of Baker Street paraphernalia – I spy Sherlock’s famous Belstaff coat looking haughty on the other side of the room. The coat, I’m told, really is a diva and one-on-one time with it was out of the question. I expect they’re giving the exclusive to Entertainment Weekly.
Taking a detour through the museum shop on my way out, I spot a strikingly familiar garment. Copies of Benedict Cumberbatch’s dressing gown are on sale here, at £670 a pop. But as similar as they are, there’s no imitating the real thing. They are too perfect – neat, unworn and with none of the personality that comes from being draped around the shoulders and hips of Benedict Cumberbatch, take after take.
They say clothes make the man, but in the case of Benedict Cumberbatch’s dressing gown, it’s definitely the other way round…
Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die runs between 17 October 2014 and 12 April 2015 at the Museum of London. It is the UK’s largest exhibition on the consulting detective in over 60 years
Visit the Museum of London’s website for further details and to book tickets