Bond, James Bond, Part 1: The Ian Fleming Novels (1953-1962)

Today, October 5th, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of everybody’s favorite superspy action movies: the James Bond series!  On October 5th, 1962, “Dr. No” premiered in the United Kingdom, and introduced the world to the words “Bond, James Bond.”  Along the way, the films also introduced the world to the finer things in life, from exotic locales and fine dining, to the best drinks money could buy and absurdly elaborate underground volcano lairs.

Why are they using the caldera as a skylight? Espionage, that’s why.

But, from our point of view, most importantly, they introduced the world to the idea of men dressing to the nines while still being tough.  Before Bond, really, suits and tuxes were primarily something you wore to a formal event or to work.  Bond wears tailor-made suits while dangling from helicopters by his feet with a nuclear bomb in one hand and a gorgeous Russian spy in the other.

Or while holding on to a breathless blonde in one hand and a Walther PPK in the other while balancing precariously on top of one of the Golden Gate Bridge’s suspension wires, whatever.

So, what better reason to spend the next few months celebrating all things Bond fashion?  And we’re going to start right at the beginning…

Before Bond, action heroes were cowboys or soldiers or spacemen.  The bad guys were usually the ones dressed well, no doubt thanks to their ill-gotten gains!  Only private detectives were shown wearing suits while doing good, but they were usually of the rumpled, dirty, cheap knock-off variety.  Humphrey Bogart looked amazing in them, but hardly anyone else did.  Then along came Bond and his impeccable fashion sense, which, believe us, was no accident, it was because it was what his creator would have worn.

Bond was the invention of former British intelligence officer, commando, journalist, and all-around badass, Ian Fleming.  Fleming had spent World War II coming up with intelligence operations with names like “Operation Ruthless,” “Operation Mincemeat” and “Operation Golden Eye,” then put together a crack commando unit called “30AU,” and another crack commando unit called, we swear, “T-Force.”

In the midst of all of this, he was heavily involved with something called the “Special Operations Executive,” essentially the precursor to every single acronym-based-name-bearing espionage organization from every genre film, TV show, book or video game you’ve ever seen.  They were based on Baker Street in London, down the street from where Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have lived, and completely revolutionized intelligence and espionage.  Did we mention that one of their operatives was one Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee?

Yes, THAT Christopher Lee.

That’s right, the creator of James Bond spent most of World War II coming up with incredibly colorful ways to kill and generally mess up Nazis alongside freaking Saruman himself in Sherlock Holmes’ old stomping grounds.  Suffice to say, this had a profound impact on him.

After the war, he began to write Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, and nearly all of the initial Bond characters, including M, Q, Miss Moneypenny and Vesper Lynd, were all based on people whom Fleming had worked with in the SOE.  Bond himself, on the other hand, was an amalgamation of several different spies from the SOE, along with Fleming himself…

We never would have guessed.

Fleming had very, very refined taste in clothes, having grown up in Mayfair, one of the most moneyed neighborhoods in London, as the son of a British MP and a wealthy socialite.  Legend has it he could identify a tailor from the cut of a man’s suit!  These tastes, along with his, ah, extremely intense interest in women, food, liquor and cigarettes, got transferred to the James Bond character, a fact which worked as a fabulous antidote to the Post-War austerity Britain found itself in.  Fleming himself heavily favored lightweight suits, an anomaly in his time, and tended to skew towards blues and greys with pinstripes in all manner of arrangements, both single and double breasted as well as both two and three-piece.  Bond himself is described in this manner throughout the books, but, interestingly, no labels are mentioned.

“The girl looked him up and down.  He had dark, rather cruel good looks and very clear, blue-grey eyes.  He was wearing a very dark-blue lightweight single-breasted suit over a cream silk shirt and a black knitted silk tie.  Despite the heat, he looked cool and clean.  ‘And who might you be?’ she asked sharply.
‘My name’s Bond, James Bond …'” –Thunderball

Savile Row fashion is heavily implied (though Fleming himself didn’t care for it), but never named.  What is named is what everyone else is wearing.  In fact, as anyone who has read the books can tell you, Bond CAN’T STOP talking about people’s clothes.

“It was tied with a Windsor knot.  Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot.  It showed too much vanity.  It was often the mark of a cad.”From Russia With Love

He actually sizes up some of his archenemies in this manner.  For instance, he immediately notices, in Moonraker, that villain Hugo Drax’s cufflinks are Cartier.

But Bond’s own clothing in the books remains a mystery (although it has been suggested that Bond’s suits were from Anderson & Sheppard of Sevile Row, though that makes little sense).  But then, so was Bond himself.  The Bond of the novels is dark, and downright humorless.  His high-minded fashion sense is more an engine of his distaste for other people wearing something wrong rather than pride in himself for wearing something right, likely an idiosyncrasy belonging to Fleming.

The novels began to be published in 1953 with Casino Royale, and by the time “Dr. No” came into theaters in 1962, 9 years, 10 books and an episode of the CBS anthology series “Climax!” that adapted Casino Royale had elapsed.

With Barry Nelson as American agent “Jimmy Bond.” Oh, how we wish we were kidding.

After all of that, one would think that Bond’s fashion sense would have been locked in.  …Not exactly.  Elements, like the lightweight suits, were, but the overall style, as we said, had not been heavily touched on.  That iconic look that everyone thinks of came from Terence Young, who directed “Dr. No,” and dressed the rather rough and tumble unknown Scotsman Sean Connery in what he thought Fleming’s style should be, by way of his own style.

“What ish thish shtuff you’re putting me in, man?”

But that’s a story for next time.  We’ll continue with the next installment, focusing on the all-important Sean Connery years of Bond-dom, after a brief detour…

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