The man in the white suit: Alexander Mackendrick (1951)

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The Man in the White Suit (TMITWS) is rarely mentioned in relation to design practice, beyond its relevance to “smart fabrics,” but every design professional should see this cautionary tale of an individual battling an industry. [1] The film’s obsessive protagonist, Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) works as a cleaner at Corland textile mill while secretly pursuing chemical experiments. Upon discovery, he is sacked and moves to Birnley mill where his technical expertise gains him access to the research lab. Birnley’s daughter (Joan Crawford) persuades her father to give Stratton a contract and facilities. He no longer needs to improvise his experiments on borrowed bench space and is granted exclusive use of lab facilities, to avoid industrial espionage. The dangerous nature of his experiments (and his disregard for personal safety) ensures that the physical destruction of his workshop serves as a visual manifestation of the fate of his invention. His fabric, which never gets dirty or tears, can mimic a range of existing applications. Its durability threatens the entire textile industry and it is opposed by trade unions and mill owners alike. The title suggests both savior (as Stratton’s champion/love-interest Crawford sees it) and madman (The Man in the White Straightjacket?): ultimately, Stratton’s determination to realize his invention remains undefeated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-225
Number of pages3
JournalDesign and Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2009


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