An Agent and a Gentleman
As Spectre prepares to cinematically assassinate everything in its path, we canter through the style history that makes our favourite spy what he is
Article by Rupert Watkins
Next week, the latest instalment of the Bond franchise will sweep all before it as successfully as the man in question would breech his latest conquest’s defences. As we prepare to be shaken and stirred once again, Riddle ponders the background that informs his innate sartorial panache.
Bond is clearly, from Fleming’s first book onwards, a gentleman. From his upbringing, class and schooling he would have had a thorough grounding in where, what and how to wear clothes. It is also worth noting that Fleming never spends a lot of time describing Bond’s outfit in the books – it is a uniform effectively of a navy blue suit, white shirt and sober tie and the lightweight equivalent when in the tropics. Labels are only mentioned when describing villains – for example Hugo Drax in Moonraker or Count Lippe in Thunderball. For Bond himself, he would have adhered to Hardy Amies’ gentlemanly dictum that you take care when putting your clothes on and then forget all about them.
When we come to the films, a similar ethos informs Sean Connery’s early outings. Director Terrance Young – and ex Irish Guards officer in the Second World War – took him to his own tailors, Anthony Sinclair. Anthony Sinclair had refined the Savile Row aesthetic into the classic, pared down slightly military influenced style – the Conduit cut – which is integral to the first Bond films and indeed, holds true for much Mayfair tailoring today. Young famously ordered the at-the-time unpolished Connery to sleep in his suits in order to ensure the actor would feel innately comfortable and relaxed when wearing them on screen. Connery was also taken to Young’s shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser who continues to this day to make for our MI6 hero.
This sleek, minimalist gentleman’s style continues through the Connery films. We see a decided change in the range of Bond’s wardrobe when we come to the Roger Moore era. Velvet collared overcoats, double breasted blazers and safari suits make an appearance as the character moved with the 1970s fashion zeitgeist and Moore’s personal style. Tailor Doug Hayward – who dressed Moore in real life – also had an input into the agent’s suits worn through this era.
Throughout this part of the Bond series, he sits very neatly into the lineage of suited heroes of the silver screen. Fleming wrote and the first film came out in a more formal era; one of my favourite coffee table books is “Dressed to Kill: James Bond, The Suited Hero” edited by Jay McInerery (hard to find even on Amazon, out of print, very expensive but worth it). Released when Pierce Brosnan came to the role, it shows how Bond sits within the cinematic cannon of dapper gents going back to David Niven’s Raffles, Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade and George Sanders’ The Saint amongst many others. A suit, a scuffle, a spot of gun play and a martini with the broad afterwards is the name of the game.
The 1990s and the relaunch of the franchise with Pierce Brosnan bearing the 00 license, saw Bond, mio Dio, head to the Roman tailors Brioni for his suits. His style began to slightly move away from the very restrained English look as the Brosnan films continued. Of course by this time Bond was big business and this continued into the current Daniel Craig era with Tom Ford buying the keys to our man’s wardrobe. The cut has evolved with current fashions with a rather narrow lapel, short jacket and skinny silhouette though early shots off of Spectre give hope that there is a return to that very English slightly longer, waisted and flared coat.
With Timothy Dalton in the driving seat, the two Bond films of the 1980s saw the first major moves towards casual clothing for our spy – especially in License to Kill. This continued through Brosnan’s tenure and on to the latest Skyfall and Spectre films. The influence of the excellent Bourne films is clearly seen as a more rugged, undercover and practical aesthetic is pursued. This has given the opportunity for British brands from Sunspel to N Peal and Crockett & Jones to dress Daniel Craig.
Despite this exceedingly rapid canter through Bond’s sartorial history, it is clear the influence of the man remains strong – hence both the recent Kingsman and Man from U.N.C.L.E looking to propagate the dapper concept of the suited agent (Man from U.N.C.L.E tailor Timothy Everest is also suiting Ralph Fiennes “M” in Spectre). I for one will be looking forward to the latest suave ruthlessness of our man on Her Majesty’s secret service.