Emma Peel is world famous for her zippered black leather catsuit, which was featured in the opening and closing segments of her first season on The Avengers. Curiously, despite the iconic status of this costume in the realm of television adventure, no one seems to know who actually created it. Fashion designer John Bates is celebrated for the avant-garde outfits he designed for Diana Rigg to wear on the show, but he was not hired until the season was well underway. And in fact, after his arrival, Rigg no longer wore the leather fighting suit in the episodes themselves.
In her 1997 book Fetish: Fashion, Sex, and Power, Valerie Steele suggests that Emma Peel’s costume was inspired by the work of prominent fetish fashion designer John Sutcliffe, whose leather outfits were popularized through his magazine AtomAge. Though Sutcliffe was not directly involved in the program, producers Julian Wintle and Brian Clemens were certainly familiar with his ideas. Furthermore, Steele claims that the producers originally intended Mrs. Peel to wear a leather hood and facemask with her catsuit, but then changed their minds. No source is cited for this statement, so I don’t know where she got this curious bit of information.
The credits on the episodes pre-dating Bates’s arrival name wardrobe supervisor Jackie Jackson, whose job it was to provide costumes for the actors to wear. If anyone were to know the actual origin of Emma Peel’s most famous outfit, I suppose it would be she.
Below, Mrs. Peel makes like a thief in the night in a photo-comic based on “Dial a Deadly Number,” which premiered in December 1965. Diana Rigg wears the iconic catsuit as she plays opposite John Carson as the villain.