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Article: Herbert Johnson and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Herbert Johnson and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

It is November 2018 and I’m in London at an intimate evening gathering listening to Deborah Nadoolman-Landis speak about her career as a costume designer. We are treated to a  couple of hours of wonderful stories and experiences, including, of course, her work for Raiders Of The Lost Ark. After the set event, I get the opportunity to chat alone with her. I show her my hat and she sees the shield logo inside, prompting her to delightedly exclaim, ‘Oh, Herbert Johnson, how wonderful!’ She signs my hat, we talk for a bit and I tell her a little about myself and my work at Herbert Johnson. I ask her for her tips and best advice on how, as a Hatter, I can best serve any costume designer I’m working for. It was poignant for me as I was working with the wonderful Alison McCosh for season 5 of Peaky Blinders at that time. Deborah looks at me and explains how frantic the schedule is for a costume designer. ‘The very best thing you can do is be available. Any time and all the time, just be available.’ This is advice that has stayed with me: to understand the pressures a costume designer is under during the making of a film and to be as flexible as humanly possible to serve them well.        

Deborah Nadoolman-Landis speaking about her career in costume design, November 2018.

Fast forward to mid-January 2021, and I’m working away in my cosy 5 x 4m workshop in Derby, creating a variety of hat orders as the Master Hatter at Herbert Johnson. I receive a call from my colleagues in our sales team in London. They inform me that costume designer Joanna Johnston’s assistant has contacted the shop and wishes to speak with me about creating the hats for the upcoming 5th instalment of  Indiana Jones, which was to begin filming later that year. My colleague tells me that my contact details have been passed on and they will contact me. I’m stunned when I get off the phone. I pause, unable to move for some time, trying to digest the information just shared with me. Something feels dreamlike about the situation, unreal. I think back to all the times over the past years during all the false starts and rewrites and director changes surrounding this production and how convinced I had been that, if the film ever did come to pass, that a large American outfit was likely going to get the gig for the hat. So, for a few minutes, I don’t think this is real. I check my email:nothing. Surely mistaken. I go back to shaping a customer order for a Poet hat in the style of those made for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Michelle Poyer-Sleeman

Within 24 hours of that moment, I receive a phone call from Joanna Johnston’s assistant. ‘We would like to have a few samples please, do you have stock?’ I explain that everything is created to order and I can make anything to their requirements. What an honour and privilege to be part of the Indiana Jones journey, for Herbert Johnson Hatters to be called once again to be the brand name behind the hero’s hat and to work with such an esteemed costume designer as Joanna Johnston, who herself was so close to the franchise, having worked on both Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade.
Over the following couple of weeks, I was asked for three samples to showcase both the rabbit and beaver felt options in both a Deep Sable and a Sable colour. I was asked to showcase a variety of style bashes including a Raiders Poet hat. A swatch card for felts, ribbons and liner fabrics were all sent to Joanna and her team, who were stationed at Pinewood Studios. I could tell that all avenues and options were being explored and I wished to offer them everything I could to enable them to make their choices and develop the design for the hat. It was an incredibly interesting and complex time to be working with a film studio. Covid restrictions in the UK meant we were in lockdown and social distancing rules applied. I could see that at Pinewood, the team were all working from large outdoor marquees and were socially distanced when many of her team joined our Zoom meetings. Thank goodness we could so easily discuss the hat design that way. Without such technology, it just wouldn’t have been possible.

Sweatbands being assembled

By February, as a company, we had signed NDAs to say we would not speak of our involvement with the film. Joanna and her team kept their cards close on any information regarding the film and the direction they were going in. The only thing she made clear to me was that she wished for the hat to be authentic to what Herbert Johnson would have been selling in 1969. That’s the only insight to the film I ever received. I could see the level of attention to detail Joanna had in mind and I knew that it was in the very best hands, since she was making sure that even details like the address on the sweatband were authentic to the timeline, despite it being unlikely that such a detail would be picked up or noticed in the final film. That kind of dedication sings to me and I was excited!

Destiny Poets being completed

To achieve this, we had a replica of our Herbert Johnson sweatband logo used in 1969, and of course a special dispensation to use this only for hats used in the film, as we would not legally be able to use a false address and logo to our current one for any other product or use. An additional treat was that Joanna Johnston managed to get a screen-used Temple Poet on loan and sent it to Pinewood Studios in order to study it. It very much became the muse for the next few samples. What an absolute joy it was to see it and have all its statistics laid before me. We discussed its properties, proportions and compared it to the Raiders Poet. I could immediately sense Joanna’s fondness for the Temple Poet. This absolutely made sense to me since her involvement with both the Temple of Doom and the Last Crusade films. Of course she would gravitate to those and have a deep love for them. I also could tell that she wanted that DNA to feature, but also to make something with its own character. She chose a shade in Rabbit with a slight warm red tone to it (Nutmeg) and wished us to source the felt supply with a little extra weight to it. She wanted a certain level of tone contrast with the ribbon and so chose our Sable 38mm. I was delighted to know that the liner fabric she liked best was the Olive. So, as we waited for the Nutmeg felt to be manufactured, I created a couple more samples so we could nail the shape and proportions for a remote fitting that Harrison Ford was having over in the US. Joanna wanted some samples with lower pinches and we also played about with the brim width by trialling a wider brim before returning back to 7.5cm for the widest point. A little more like the Last Crusade Poet this time, with a little more taper by extending the side dents back. There were lots of adjustments and experimenting with the shape and dimensions. I was told that the team’s costume department needed to break down the hats ahead of sending them on to Ford. This process of breaking down is used to age and distress the hat. We were still waiting on the new felt, so when I saw shots of the Deep sable sample on Ford’s head, it was transformed and I almost didn’t recognise it. I’m told they used acrylic paint and all kinds of tricks on it. Those people are amazingly talented at what they do!

Several Nutmeg Poets

What a thrill it was to see Ford back in his Indy gear. I think until that point I could have imagined it was all an elaborate ruse, but when I saw Indiana Jones right there peering and scrutinising himself in front of a mirror, it suddenly hit me: Wow, this is real, it’s happening. How utterly wonderful to be a part of this amazing experience.




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