Over the last half-century and 23 official James Bond films, Ian Fleming’s super spy has been played by seven different actors under 11 different directors, with 17 different costume designers or wardrobe supervisors responsible for the look of agent 007 and the stylish garb he dons to fight villains or doffs to bed beauties.
Across the span of those five decades, even the traditionally glacial pace of menswear trends looks like a fast-forward fashion flipbook of seismic shifts in shape and fit. Lapels widen and contract, blazer buttons multiply, silhouettes balloon and shrink.
High-end suits have been a sartorial through line, from the moment in 1962 when Sean Connery appeared on screen in “Dr. No” clad in a suit cut by Mayfair tailor Anthony Sinclair to the Italian-made Brioni suits Daniel Craig wore in “Casino Royale” before Bond turned to fashion designer Tom Ford in 2008’s “Quantum of Solace.”
FOR THE RECORD:
James Bond style: An article in the Nov. 11 Image section about the clothing in the new James Bond film, “Skyfall,” spelled the first name of recurring Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld as Ernest. An accompanying article about product placement in the film said “Thunderball” came out in 1964. It came out in 1965. —
The way the impeccably hand-tailored suits have been used has changed over the years. At first a reflection of Bond’s character, his suit has seemed to function as a disguise in some films, a dapper suit of armor in others.
In the just-released “Skyfall,” directed by Sam Mendes, the suit functions much as a superhero’s body-hugging uniform, clothes whose primary function is to showcase the lean, mean killing machine within.
The provenance of the suits has not changed — they are still the high-end, hand-tailored work of Tom Ford. What’s different this time around is the costume designer, Jany Temime, whose credits include the “Harry Potter” films. Temime considered dressing Bond to be the same kind of challenge that would face a fashion designer brought in to update a familiar and long-lived luxury fashion brand.
“Everybody knows Bond, which gives him this almost-transcendental reach,” she said in a telephone interview from London. “That is what makes him such an incredible character to design for.”
“I didn’t want to do a parody of Bond. I wanted it to be [both] classy and modern — a film with the kind of fashion people would be wearing in 2013,” she added.
Temime considers the suits sacrosanct. “He always wears a suit, he always wears a tie. That’s something that you cannot change in Bond,” Temime said. “He’s a dangerous gentleman – but he is a gentleman. He works for the MI6, and MI6 works for her Majesty. Essentially he’s working for the Queen, so he dresses the way an English gentleman should. That’s something I felt was very important.”
So no matter if Bond is dangling from an elevator, plunging off a bridge, riding a motorcycle up a staircase or fist-fighting atop a moving train, he’s dressed to the nines.
Temime tweaked the fit of Bond’s signature suits to accentuate the man beneath."I wanted him to be able to move in the suits,” she said. “In this movie he runs, he fights, and you can see his muscles moving under the [surface of] the trousers and the shirts.”
“I wanted to dress Bond in a way that you [almost] forget he’s wearing a suit,” Temime explained. “He’s so active and can move so well in those suits it’s like a second skin. I think that’s the modern approach to the suit — it doesn’t look dressed up. It just looks easygoing and right because it fits him absolutely perfectly.”
Anyone watching the besuited Daniel Craig run, jump, whirl and kick the living daylights out of evil-doers will likely agree that Temime succeeded. The various Tom Ford suits, grounded in a gray or blue color palette, seem to move and stretch on our hero as if infused with Spandex (although they’re 100% super-fine wool), accented by an omnipresent sharp crease of pocket square at the left breast and a perfectly knotted necktie that barely budges a centimeter off Bond’s Adam’s apple throughout the entire movie. (That’s thanks to a one-button collar tab behind the knot that also keeps the collar points cool and unflappable.) When Bond breaks into a dead run (which he does quite often), his suit jacket or overcoat flaps in the wind and billows behind him ever so slightly, making it almost impossible not to make the connection between coat and super-hero cape.
The perception of Bond as superhero is actually integral to 007’s enduring popularity, says Rob Weiner, a humanities and fine arts librarian at Texas Tech University and co-editor of the book “James Bond in Popular and World Culture: The Films Are Not Enough.”
“Bond is like the non-costume equivalent of Batman in a lot of ways,” Weiner said, explaining the character’s long-lived appeal. “He gets to sleep with beautiful women guilt-free ... he gets to go to beautiful locales and play with lots of gadgets ... he can drink as much as he wants, and he never has to pay any consequences; he can eat as much as he wants, and he never has to pay any consequences; he can get out of any situation more or less intact, and he lives a life of adventure and intrigue. How is that not cool?”
Of course, Weiner says, it helps that there’s a certain “poise, suaveness and panache” that he sees connecting every Bond from Connery to Craig. “Even David Niven in the non-canon ‘Casino Royale’ had that panache and style,” Weiner said. “It’s indefinable, but you know it’s there.”
Weiner thinks there are a couple of reasons Bond has been with us so long. First, he cites the ability to adapt the character to times far beyond those in which he was born.
“The bottom line is, we don’t really care that much about [comic book hero of the ‘30s and ‘40s] Doc Savage anymore, yet [he] was huge at one time,” Weiner said. “We don’t care about the Shadow that much. ... The difference is that [those characters] are more difficult to adapt to our modern times, but James Bond has this sort of timelessness that can be easily adapted to 2012 in a seamless way that Doc Savage can’t.”
The second key element, in Weiner’s opinion, has less to do with the suave super spy and more to do with the forces of evil against which he does battle. “The first rule of storytelling — whether it’s a superhero or not — is to have compelling villains,” he said. “And Bond has those compelling villains.”
It’s no accident that the nattily attired Bond stands out in sharp relief against the likes of recurring villain Ernest Stavro Blofeld, who is clad in a gray uniform with mandarin-collar, or SMERSH operative Rosa Klebb in her severe military tunic in “From Russia, With Love” or even Jaws, the metal-mouthed man-mountain of “Moonraker.”
Here too, “Skyfall” follows the well-worn fashion formula, with Temime using the contrast between Bond and nemesis Silva (played by Javier Bardem) to define both.
“In a scene where they first confront each other, the goodie was in black, so I wanted the baddie in white. I wanted that contradiction and that balance between the two men,” Temime explained. “I wanted Silva to be kind of sexy in his own way but also a little outré, a little over the top.”
“I wanted him [to wear] white,” she added, “because I wanted him to look very ‘new money’ – completely different from Bond.
“Bond has class; [Silva] doesn’t.”