It’s time to return to the world of spies and vodka martinis, “shaken, not stirred.” And just in time, too, because today marks the North American release of the 23rd official James Bond film, “Skyfall.” We’ll be first in line to see it!
But before we head on an adventure with Daniel Craig’s Bond, it’s time to take a trip to the past, to where we left off in the James Bond fashion chronology, all the way back to 1962. The process of bringing James Bond to the screen from the page was not an easy one, to say the least. We won’t go into the details here, it would take far too long. But the lasing legacy of the long process was the choice of Sean Connery as James Bond.
As we told you last time, Bond in the novels was a sort of portmanteau of Ian Fleming himself crossed with his former buddies in British Intelligence circles. When Fleming imagined Bond, he basically imagined a more dapper version of himself.
The film’s producers at first didn’t stray too far from the idea, wanting Cary Grant for the role. Grant, though, refused to sign a multi-picture deal, and the producers were banking on a franchise. They went through British actor Richard Johnson, Patrick McGoohan and David Niven, never able to reach consensus. They even ran a contest to choose bond, eventually settling on a 28-year-old model named Peter Anthony, who was nowhere near prepared for the role. Legend has it they even considered future Bond Roger Moore, though he denies it.
Finally, a scruffy, 30-year-old Scotsman in unpressed clothes came in to try out for the part, and absolutely oozed a macho, devil-may-care attitude. He didn’t look like the novel’s description, but he felt like the character, through-and-through. The producers knew on the spot that Sean Connery was their man.
There was, however, a problem. He had zero fashion sense, and was as sophisticated and cultured as a dump truck. Director Terence Young, himself a suave and debonair playboy of the highest order, took Connery under his wing, introducing him to the high life and high fashion of London. He took him to his own personal tailor, Anthony Sinclair, at 43 Conduit Street. The paired-down look of the suits Connery ended up wearing throughout his time as Bond became known as the “Conduit cut”: lightweight 100% wool in navy blue and shades of grey with a subtle check, “waisted” in a slimline, single-breasted, two-button format. The idea was for Bond to look well-dressed, but not stand out in a crowd, sound advice for a spy.
Connery had never worn a suit for any length of time before, and was apparently insanely uncomfortable in one. So Young had Connery wear the suits CONSTANTLY, all day, every day, during pre-production, until they felt like a second skin to him.
For all intents and purposes, Young turned Connery into a more gruff (and Scottish) version of himself, rather than of Fleming. This act has influenced the way Bond has been portrayed ever since, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, dark with a dash of humor, as opposed to the more brutal, cold-hearted version of the character from the books (although that’s come back a bit…more on that later). Bond became a fashion icon in his own right, now that his internal monologue was missing. Instead of commenting on what other people were wearing, he dressed to the nines himself, but then, so did his adversaries and allies.
In the first of Connery’s Bond films, 1962’s “Dr. No,” Bond informs CIA agent Felix Leiter that his suits were tailored in Savile Row, even though they were not, a slight nod to the books and to Fleming. The fashion in the first two films, “Dr. No” and 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” retains the basic look that Young gave Connery, all designed by Sinclair, and all accompanied by shirts from Turnbull & Asser.
The suits are remarkably simple, and, in fact, Bond never even dons a belt, so as to keep the sleek lines of the suits uninterrupted. The pants all sit at the waits, not the hip, another way to keep the lines more unified. Bond wears, almost exclusively, dark blue grenadine ties for the entire films. He frequently wears a white linen pocket square, neatly folded into the front of his jackets. And, hilariously, despite Bond’s hatred of Windsor knots, he wears them in “Dr. No,” before properly shifting to four-in-hand knots from “From Russia With Love” on.
Interestingly, the suits in the first two films are more timeless than suits in the films that followed. They could all be easily worn today. The next three films, 1964’s “Goldfinger,” 1965’s “Thunderball” and 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” all featured far narrower lapels, muted browns, and old-fashioned three-piece cuts, all very, very ’60s, though we do mean that in a good way.
Rumor has it that some American tailors were used in “Goldfinger,” which makes sense, since more fashionable (for the time) details like pageboy waistcoats suddenly show up. The number of materials and colors also expands dramatically. But the basic cut remains the same, until the next film in the series, 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
OHMSS brought in not just new fashion, but a new Bond, in the form of Australian model George Lazenby, after Sean Connery declined to return for a sixth, extra contractual film. Peter Hunt, director of OHMSS, was a fashion-conscious gentleman in his own right, and was given broad leeway in the way this new Bond would be presented, using his own favorite tailor, Dimi Major of Fulham, London W1. Possibly because of Lazenby’s more “pretty” look, and experience as a model, as well as acknowledgement of the more brazen and colorful styles that had come to dominate fashion in the seven years since “Dr. No,” Bond was given a much larger and more colorful wardrobe. A modified version of the “Conduit cut” from prior films was still used in the London scenes, but unlike before, Bond wore more than that sleek, simple cut when out of the glare of MI6, even wearing an astonishing cream-colored suit at one point. Did we mention the ruffles?
But come 1971, Connery came back for one more Bond, “Diamonds Are Forever.” The film is a bit of a wacky outlier for the Bond series, and even though Connery brought the more muted styles and colors of his films back with him (likely along with tailor Anthony Sinclair), some of the OHMSS style remained, likely a result of the American side of the production not collaborating with the English side completely. Connery even wears a cream-colored suit himself, at one point. And even the muted, London suits are slightly changed, with the wider lapels of the ’70s making their appearance felt.
This brings us to the end of Connery’s tenure, until his brief return with the unofficial “Never Say Never Again” in 1983. Roger Moore and excesses of the ’70s are next, and we’ll pick up there in Part 3. Until next time…