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50 Years Of Bond Style: Bronwyn Cosgrave Interview

It’s been 50 years since Dr. No first hit theatres in 1962. With Skyfall, the 23rd film in the Bond series, about to take over movie screens around the world on November 9th, we can easily say that Bond has also been the best dressed man on the big screen for the last five decades, from Connery to Craig. We spoke with fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave about Bond’s undeniable influence in the world of fashion and design for the last half century. Cosgrave has become quite the expert after curating “Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style,” alongside Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming. The exhibition, which celebrates Bond fashion and design, has its North American premiere in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

How did you get involved and what was your starting point?

10 years ago, I wrote a feature for British Vogue where I was working as the Features Editor on the feminine costume history of the Bond films. I was working on a book at the time called Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards. It’s a fashion history of the Oscars. I was looking at costume from a fashion standpoint and in a very in depth way. Die Another Day was coming out, and the release corresponded with the 40th anniversary of Bond. Lindy Hemming, the costumer at that point, had created some pieces that referenced seminal costumes of Bond, notably the orange bikini that Halle Berry wore as Jinx Johnson in the Cuba beach scene. I got the opportunity to interview a number of the costume designers — everyone from Jacques Fonteray who worked Moonraker to Emma Porteous who worked on 3 or 4, and Elizabeth Waller who did For Your Eyes Only. I really felt there was scope for an exhibition that explored the artistry of Bond in an in depth way. Lindy, who I worked with as guest curator, felt the same way. We developed a rapport. We worked on a couple of things together over the next decade. EON came to me about 3 years ago and said, “Would you be interested in helping us stage an exhibition?” I guess I really developed a relationship with the marketing director then. The Barbican came on board and wanted to broaden the scope so that it wouldn’t just be costume design, but so that it looked at the design of the films, which is the production design. We focused the exhibition to look at the production of the 23 Bond films that have been made to date. I really think, looking back on it, it began with the costumes. We created these worlds around the costumes reflecting the narrative of the Bond films. The tremendous thing about the series is that there has been this continuity in the narrative where in most every Bond film, 007 visits M’s office, progresses onto Q Branch, he usually goes to a casino, he always goes to amazing locations — and that’s how we structured the show.

What are you surprised that you learned about the evolution of James Bond’s style through curating?
I spent about 6 months in the archives of EON Productions. The great thing is that EON maintains an archive of props, gadgets and physical assets of the film. Generally after a film finishes production those things are sold. The wonderful thing is that we had a lot to work with. It was a discovery process along the way. Things kept coming out of the wood work. A lot of collectors emerged. We also worked with crafts people who had worked on previous films like Anthony Sinclair who did Sean Connery’s costumes. He was a tailor in the ’60s and his business was purchased fairly recently by someone named David Mason. I contacted him and said, “Can you remake the suits that Connery wore?” We had some, but we also wanted the clothes to look really slick and be authentic. One thing that really stuck in my head was something that Ken Adam, the celebrated production designer of 7 Bond films, said, which was, “The look of the Bond film was always slightly ahead of contemporary.” It has to be that way because the films are made in advance, just like a magazine. You have to be thinking ahead. Because they were that way — and they were miles away, because if you look around today, the James Bond lifestyle has been a role model for men all over the world — everything that he touches turns to gold. Tom Ford now — just the recognition that Bond has brought to the Tom Ford brand, or even Sony Ericsson. It’s quite remarkable.

What are some of the most iconic looks that came out of Bond?
Sean Connery’s conduit cut suit, which he wears in the opening of Dr. No. Anthony Sinclair dressed Connery for all of the Bond films he made all the way to Diamonds Are Forever. I was talking to the son of a tailor who dressed Robbie Coltrane for The World Is Not Enough. He said, “You can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked to recreate that conduit cut suit, and I’m not even Anthony Sinclair.” I’ve always said, what the Chanel suit is to women, that Connery conduit cut suit is to men. It’s the aspirational suit. So many men who put on a suit want to look as suave and many as Bond. He’s really quite an athlete. Without question, that is a hugely iconic look.

There’s another outfit that Lois Chiles portraying Dr. Holly Goodhead in Moonraker wears when she’s on a cable car and she’s at the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain and it’s this black satin jumpsuit made by Hubert de Givenchy who’s the couturier who dressed Audrey Hepburn for the big screen. He didn’t do that many films, so the fact that he did a Bond film was really something that I discovered. I don’t know if he actually got a screen credit. We had that jumpsuit, and I said, “That has to go in!” Givenchy did the little black dress for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I think the jumpsuit is infinitely cooler.

The Ursula Andress bikini — that’s another big look. Bikinis weren’t really worn back then. It was 1962. They were worn post-war, but that bikini really launched a swimsuit craze, which has lasted all the way to Daniel Craig’s La Perla swim trunks, which just sold for £40,000 at auction. That bikini really did start a trend for men and women! It’s amazing.

On another level — it may seem mundane — but the sports watch. Yes, the Rolex watch, but the diver’s watch! You just know that men — whether or not they’re fashionable — Bond has this incredibly masculine presence on screen and straight guys aren’t afraid to say, “I want that!” Straight men don’t really look at fashion. The sports watch, the diver’s watch, has definitely been a phenomenon.

And think about Brioni. Did anyone really know who Brioni was before they started dressing Bond in Golden Eye, which carried on to Casino Royale? Brioni is the house of high fashion for men. Aristocrats and politicians the world over have been dressed by Brioni, but in a very quiet way because Brioni doesn’t talk about their celebrity clients, but Bond really put Brioni on the map.

How did designers like Brioni get involved in Bond?
Lindy got involved with Brioni. There had been a lag between Licence to Kill and Golden Eye of about 5 years. In Licence to Kill, the costumer, Jodie Tillman, really shook up Timothy Dalton’s look. She had actually worked on Miami Vice. She did the pilot episode. It you look at that film, it has a really Miami Vice look. Benicio Del Toro plays a baddie, and he’s got that T-shirt and black jacket look as does Robert Davi. Bond was kind of open to suggestion at that point. He was no longer just wearing Savile Row. Movies had changed so that Bond movies became actual blockbusters — special effect driven blockbusters, meaning that you had to have a tailor that could make up to 35 of the same suit. 35 models! I think Tom Ford made 85 repeats of the suit that Daniel Craig wore to the opening of scene of Skyfall. They had this huge job to do. A little Savile tailor who’s cutting suits from very traditional cloth could never cope with that. It would be far too expensive with production on a small scale. That’s kind of how it happened. Everyone always talks about branding and, “Oh, it’s so obvious,” but really it’s up to the costume designer and what the costume designer wants goes. EON — Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson who are the producers — they have their ideas always because ideas have always come from the family that makes the films, and that’s the Broccoli family. Michael Wilson was Cubby Broccoli’s step-son. They have a say, but ultimately it’s the costume designer. Janey Temime who has done Skyfall, went to Amanda Wakeley. She went to Amanda Wakeley and pulled dresses for Naomie Harris, and for Louise Frogley who did Quantum, she was walking down Bond Street and saw a fantastic black dress for Olga Kurylenko. The director wanted her to trousers for this power shoot scene while she jumps out of a plane. She said, “I want her to be in a dress!” Back in the day, Dana Broccoli was the wife of Cubby Broccoli who was the producer of Bond. She had her own suggestions too. There were a lot of designers based in Mayfair and London — a lot of society dress makers — that got the gig doing the costumes.

How would you say the style of the women in the Bond films has evolved?
It’s a really interesting piece of costuming history. Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli — Cubby was his nickname — he worked in Hollywood in the 1940s. Even before that, he was exposed to the great film producers in Hollywood in the 1920s. He’d been hanging around a Hollywood a long time. Back in the day, those leding ladies in the ’20s and ’30s wore the finest clothes comparable to Paris couture. I really feel that Cubby Broccoli took that method of film production from Hollywood and transferred it to England to Pinewood Studios. Bond was such a huge hit. EON, the company that produces the films, stands for “everything or nothing.” I really feel that translated to the aesthetic sense of the costumes. Only the finest designers and dress designers worked on Bond. You’d have the best costume designer going out there and looking for the best designers and they would adapt jointly costumes for the screen. Back in the day, only people like Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were afforded that luxury. Also, they wore real jewels. We have David Morris’ jewels in the TIFF show. David Morris was a significant British jeweler. His jewels were in Bond films all the way up to The World Is Not Enough. They just carried on that tradition of craftsmanship. It just became the way it was. When Bond started with Ian Fleming, he had that sense of luxury, and they really wanted to maintain Ian Fleming’s standard. He was a craftsman on the page and he would drop names like Chanel No. 5 for a woman. They had to translate that to the screen.

Did the style on each Bond alter depending on the actor who played him? For instance, Sean Connery was very athletic and a body builder, whereas Pierce Brosnan was a very slender Bond.
Connery was groomed for the screen by Anthony Sinclair. Connery was described as a rough diamond, and he went to Anthony Sinclair who was a tailor who would look at your complexion, consider the lifestyle of his client and adapt the suit accordingly. Roger Moore, when he started out, he was wearing rather fusty Savile Row suits. It gradually evolved so that he was wearing suits by Douglas Hayward who was off Savile Row on Mount Street who was far more flamboyant, which matched Moore’s humourous edge. The suits — if you look at them — there’s just a little something about them. It could be a wider lapel on the jacket or a slight flare on the trouser leg — just a little touch that embodies that Moore wit. Brosnan was a bit of a mixed bag. He wore very casual clothes. His tuxedo was by a Florentine tailor named Stefano Ricci who is still around and super expensive, upper echelon Italian tailoring. Jodie Tilmlan went shopping at Fred Segal in Los Angeles to buy him the casual clothes. I don’t think Bond has ever dressed as casually as Dalton’s Bond. Then I think Brosnan was that mix of casual and sophisticated and could really carry both off. I think Daniel Craig’s Bond is the most fashion-forward Bond without question. He’s wearing Tom Ford. Tom Ford has a bit of the Ralph Lauren Purple Label idea in it — these impeccably tailored men’s suits where you kind of wouldn’t know who made them but there’s a sexy fashion streak in them, which I think he’s grown in to.

Why have they made Bond more casual in recent years?
Bond is always right for the times. When the Ian Fleming novels ran dry, the scripts were always based on current events. The world is just more casual now. I think it’s a very London look at the same time. People are always saying that he’s the ultimate British style icon. I don’t think he’s so much British; he’s just an incredibly cosmopolitan London sophisticate. That’s what I think when I think of Bond.

Photos Courtesy of: EON Productions

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Author: Staff writer
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