Forty-six years ago, when Sean Connery played his first hand of chemin de fer clad in a shawl-collar tuxedo as James Bond in "Dr. No," the world was a much different place. Dressing up for dinner was de rigueur, and high-tech meant a shortwave radio hidden in a bookcase. But that first film established the Bond mystique: Women wanted him, and men wanted to be like him. He played by his own rules, always with the best toys, and he wielded his license to kill in Savile Row suits.
So how do you push that Bond mystique into the 21st century when Savile Row bespoke is a mouse click away and GPS-enabled iPhones make Q's arsenal of gadgetry seem quaint by comparison? For "Quantum of Solace," the 22nd movie in the series and the first in 13 years with a new costume designer, part of the answer lies in the wardrobe -- which includes a collection of razor-sharp, made-to-measure suits by Tom Ford that turn out to be the perfect workaday uniform for Daniel Craig's dapper but deadly take on the Bond character.
Thus, one of Bond's coolest secret weapons this time around is a small button tab inside the cuff of each trouser leg that never has a second of screen time, and whose sole purpose is to keep 007's pant legs precisely where they should be. Another is the suit jacket sleeves with functioning buttonholes (another hardly noticeable detail that conveys a sense of sartorial high status). And then there are the suit fabrics themselves, which have a soft drape and almost imperceptible iridescence that took six months of fine-tuning to get just right.
These are the kinds of extravagant details anyone would be hard-pressed to notice standing face to face, much less through the hour-and-45-minute globe-trotting bar brawl of "Quantum." But menswear is all about the details, and in an era when books and websites routinely dispense tips on how to dress like Bond, and luxury has been democratized to the point that designers such as Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld turn up in the aisles of Target or H&M, they are of ever-increasing importance.
Taken together, the tailored pieces subtly push the familiar spy into the realm of the unattainable -- a bow-tied, cuff-linked enigma wrapped in luxurious perfection.
"We wanted to make James Bond seem a bit less accessible," said Louise Frogley, the film's costume designer. "With the original James Bond, you always got the impression you'd never be able to buy his clothes, and it's all slightly mysterious where he gets his money."
Heightening that perception is crucial in "Quantum," which gives us a Bond character far less dependent on Sharper Image-style gadgetry than his predecessors. The Bond who took shape in Ian Fleming's novel "Casino Royale" in 1953 declared his distinctiveness by name-dropping luxury goods, clothes, food, cigarettes and cars. "All the things that most people didn't have and couldn't get in post-World War Britain," Frogley noted. "As these things become more accessible over time, Bond has to change, otherwise he becomes anachronistic."
Men's style has fluctuated wildly since the 1960s, and Bond's wardrobe right alongside it -- from Roger Moore's wide lapels and safari jackets in the '70s to Timothy Dalton's boxier fits and casual Friday moments in the '80s (see sidebar).
Even though "Quantum" breathlessly picks up where "Casino Royale" left off, Bond's look has morphed again; the most memorable image is not of the tuxedo-clad Craig (here he steals one to infiltrate the opera) but rather the sight of him tooling around Haiti on a motorcycle in white Levi's jeans and a black (similarly borrowed) zip-front jacket, looking like Steve McQueen channeling Jason Bourne.
But villains best beware when Bond does suit up, walking into a room in full suit and tie, catching the light just so. It's the equivalent of millionaire industrialist Tony Stark stepping into his Iron Man armor: an announcement that it's limb-snapping, vengeance-seeking time. And notably, that's the way we first see Bond and the way we leave him at movie's end.
From 1995's "GoldenEye" through 2006's "Casino Royale," Bond's tailored silhouette had been defined by Italian luxury label Brioni: soft lines, lightweight suits with two- and three-button jackets cut a bit longer and looser. By choosing Ford, Frogley took the opposite approach -- a more fitted, English-looking cut of suit, albeit handmade in Italy and designed by an American.
In addition to the suits and a tuxedo (inspired, Frogley says, by Italian industrialist playboy Lapo Elkann), Ford helped round out the Bond wardrobe with sunglasses, overcoats, sweaters, polo shirts and neckties for Craig's sophomore outing as 007.
Bond's trousers taper ever so slightly and sit higher on the waist than we're accustomed to seeing. The jackets are single-breasted, with two buttons and relatively narrow lapels and shoulders. The jackets also nip in at the waist and flare out a bit near the hips. The dress shirts have crisp collars that manage to stand tall even sans necktie.
"I think of what I do as an 'International' style of design," Ford said in an e-mail exchange. "James Bond is also for me an 'International' character at this point . . . . One of the things that make Daniel's James Bond fresh and relevant is that he does not play up the clichés or mannerisms of 'English' style. He is absolutely modern."
In other words, the Bond of "Quantum" -- in character as well as wardrobe -- is a polyglot. Neither distinctly British nor Italian nor even European, he's a sartorial chameleon who blends in everywhere in the world while simultaneously standing out as the sharpest-looking man in the room.
In all, Ford created 11 looks for Craig, and despite needing multiples of each garment (some 420 pieces in all) for stunt doubles and assorted stages of wear, tear and bloodstaining, he and Frogley insisted on an amazing level of detail. Frogley, originally from the U.K., desperately wanted to source a very specific, very expensive suiting fabric known as "mohair tonic," a wool-cashmere blend with a subtle sheen not unlike that of a subdued sharkskin suit. "It was extremely popular in the '60s; all the Mods and all the wannabe Bonds wore it," she said. "I'm sure Sean Connery would have worn it at least once." According to a Ford rep, when a sufficient quantity could not be found, the Tom Ford team developed the proprietary fabric to specification in its Italian mills (and cloaked in Bond-worthy industrial secrecy, she declined to identify the specific mill).
Additional flourishes include shirt collars scaled to precisely match the size and shape of Craig's face. The primacy of such details has been a constant of the Bond franchise, according to John Cork, coauthor of several books on Bond (including the "James Bond Encyclopedia"). "When they did 'Dr. No,' there was a big meeting where [the filmmakers] sat down and went through every last detail of Bond's wardrobe," Cork said. "Would he wear cuff links or would he have buttons? What kind of watch would he wear? Does he wear a tie clip or an ID bracelet?"
Cork says these details are central to building the character because Bond is supposed to be all facade. "And the clothes help create that facade -- they are his armor -- and slipping on the sports coat or dinner jacket that he does is one of the things that keeps him apart from the rest of us."
"Quantum of Solace" may signal the franchise has dispatched with jet packs, laser-beam Rolex watches and radioactive pocket lint as a way of telegraphing Bond's inaccessible wealth and unattainable je ne sais quoi, but don't think for an instant the well-suited super spy has come down to Earth. One of the made-to-measure Tom Ford suits in that exclusive mohair tonic will set you back something in the neighborhood of $14,800.
Which might just make Bond's checkbook the most powerful weapon of all.
Tschorn is a Times staff writer.