The Genteel
April 17, 2021


Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger. Source:

James Bond has come to serve as an intellectual and style symbol, possessing countless cultural representations depending on how you read the eponymous character. Among the labyrinth of interpretations, Bond is a literal reminder of the eminence of pre-war Britain; a central character in a glossy dissemination of Cold War realpolitik and the proliferation of nuclear power; or alternatively, a metaphor for a hidden establishment possessed of a misogynistic streak and a licence to kill. Whatever your point of view, the impact and influence of the James Bond franchise on men's style and fashion over the last 50 years remains unquestionably tangible.

Brioni suits were favoured by
Pierce Brosnan's James Bond.

This was made clear as I meandered around Designing 007 - 50 Years of Bond Style, an exhibition at London's Barbican Centre that maps the craft behind the film franchise of the world's most respected fictional spy. A comprehensive visual and sensory exploration of a world full of glamourous adventures, villains and beautiful women, the exhibition amplifies the Bond experience through a series of rooms bearing names such as "Gold," "Gadgets," "Foreign Territories" and "Casino." Underpinned by excerpts from the franchise's 23-strong film archive and accompanied by the trademark Bond music courtesy of the John Barry Orchestra, the exhibition brings the glittering celluloid universe of 007 to vivid life.

Ian Fleming, the author behind the Bond stories, first described the face of the debonair but deadly British secret agent in the 1953 introductory book, Casino Royale: "His features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold." Since then, six actors have taken their turn wearing the Bond mask and each has brought their unique style to a role where being able to carry a suit and, on occasion, look good in a pair of swimming trunks is a prerequisite.  

When James Bond made his first on-screen appearance in the shape of Sean Connery in 1962's Dr No, he was dressed in Anthony Sinclair's superb "Conduit Cut" jacket. A strong first impression was indelibly stamped on the consciousness of 20th century pop culture and fashion. Bronwyn Cosgrave, fashion historian and co-curator of the Barbican exhibition, told the Guardian that, "Sinclair's designs are the male equivalent of a Chanel suit. Its athletic cut inspired designers such as Hedi Slimane, Tom Ford and Thom Browne."

Whatever your point of view, the impact and influence of the James Bond franchise on men's style and fashion over the last 50 years remains unquestionably tangible.

The continual reinvention of Bond means that with each new actor comes a different era and a chance to implement new trends. Connery, the original - and, arguably, the best - Bond, typically wore two-buttoned, single-breasted suits with a lot of blues and greys - a style recently revived off the back of the success of Mad Men. Lapel widths were narrow to medium, common for the 1960s context. Roger Moore's Bond was perfect for the 1970s with his looser-fit sports jackets, colour-contrasting flared pants and wider lapels. Suits in this period tended to be light grey, khaki and patterned and the Moore years also saw the introduction of the double-breasted jacket.

Of the actors who have played Bond in more recent times, two have stood out in terms of style. Pierce Brosnan, who played 007 from 1995-2002, saw Bond move away from English styling to embrace the elegance and intricacy of Brioni three-buttoned Italian suits. A popular look in the '90s, the suits came with a subtle pin stripe and were finished off with a silk pocket square, while Brosnan remained impeccably suave and a little too slick.

Next came the present incumbent of the Bond role who has perfected a look somewhere in between the sleekness of Brosnan and Connery's ruthless functionality. Daniel Craig started with Brioni suits in Casino Royale and then moved on to Tom Ford in Quantum of Solace, bringing an understated style to the party that allows him to disappear into a crowd in a suit no one will mistake for an "off the peg" number. Indeed, Ford's mohair and cashmere tuxedo, worn by Craig in the 2008 film, also puts in an appearance in a section of the exhibition dedicated to Bond casino moments.

Bond has become such a cultural template, that the Bond films now often subtly self-reference previous franchise offerings, with a touch of tongue-in-cheek irony. When Daniel Craig famously walked from the sea in Casino Royale sporting a tight-fitting pair of baby blue swimming trunks, he was replicating the bikini-clad Ursula Andress scene from Dr No while simultaneously reviving memories of Connery's Thunderball (1965) shorts. Both items make an appearance at the exhibition, however it was the latter that inspired Bond costume designer, Oscar-winner and exhibition co-curator, Lindy Hemming, to ask British brand Sunspel to recreate Connery's "bun huggers" - an illustration of the fashion power Bond exerts as well as the franchise's potency as a trend catalyst. Indeed Sunspel, who also created clothes for Craig's Casino Royale wardrobe, is launching a new swimwear line for S/S 2013. 

Anthony Sinclair dressed Sean Connery for 007's
first film appearance in 1962's Dr No.

Tom Ford is back to tailor the brooding and complex Craig for the forthcoming Bond movie Skyfall, in what you could call the ultimate level of product placement. Bond even has a signature fragrance, created in association with Proctor & Gamble, offering hints of fresh apple, sandalwood, cardamom and vetiver for those who want to smell like a super spy.

So in between the Aston Martin DB5, glamorous designs by Prada, Gucci and Versace, Golden Guns, George Lazenby's kilt, Roger Moore's yellow ski suit, Odd Job's deadly bowler hat and eternal diamonds, the Barbican exhibition makes sense of the myth of Bond. No longer a preserve of the MI6, 007 has transcended into a universal truth that has shaped the style and fashion of generations of men all over the world for half a century.

Andrew Adebowale maps the evolution of 007's wristwatch over the years. Read it here.

Designing 007 - 50 Years of Bond Style moves to Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox from October 26, 2012 - January 20, 2013.



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