James Bond Countdown: A History of 007's Style -- the Icon, the Philosophy, the Advertisers

James Bond Countdown: A History of 007's Style -- the Icon, the Philosophy, the Advertisers

Jun 20, 2012

Early pop culture sophisticate and first post-Fleming author Kingsley Amis described British Secret Service agent James Bond as "the man who is only a silhouette" in his highly recommended critical analysis of the novel series, The James Bond Dossier. The line comes from the book Moonraker, where Bond tells us he must always play the role expected of him. This mirrors creator Ian Fleming's view of Bond as a "neutral figure" and "instrument" which, for decades, has allowed readers and audiences to project their own image onto the gentleman spy. As Bond entered the cinematic realm, each dazzling incarnation of Fleming's character helped to further define and connect 007 to the origins of his carefully cultivated image, which embodies an entire lifestyle and philosophy, not just a well-made suit or high-tech assortment of gadgets. Every cuff, collar, and cut has been a deliberate choice to brand Bond's intrinsic sensibilities as they reflect back on his maker and also his audience — something the marketing machine is happy to profit from.

A new Skyfall video blog recently appeared on the official James Bond website. Costume designer Jany Temime describes the difficulty in dressing the famed Englishman — reminding us that when it comes to Bond you're not dressing a mere man, you're dressing an icon. Paying homage to 007's trademark classic style, Temime has created a sleeker, contemporary version of Bond's famous suit, once again manufactured by sophisticated designer Tom Ford. Temime reassures us that Daniel Craig's clothing is "indestructible," with "a little edge."

Craig's rugged agent favors sportswear and lean looks that allow him to race across rooftops and hop on a motorcycle instead of slipping into the safety of his Aston Martin. A look back at other Bond heroes shows that 007 has always been a foil for his time — an impeccable sense of style revealing far more than his lapel preference.

Sean Connery's seminal Bond rose during the Mad Men era, a standout decade for incredible suits like the actor's classic Savile Row style — a single-breasted, slimline, two-button getup, featuring a suppressed waist. It was elegant, but assured — like Connery's charismatic man's man. 

In a nod to Australian actor George Lazenby's career as a model, On Her Majesty's Secret Service displayed a more fashion forward Bond who veered away from Connery's staple suits. Lazenby's Bond also featured one of the series' most questionable and humorous fashion choices — a skin-tight, baby blue ski suit, worn to emphasize a "younger, more physical" character.

Filmmakers had to distinguish Roger Moore's Bond from Connery's iconic, macho playboy, and his clothes helped introduce the new MI6 officer's polished insouciance. Dinner jackets and a quintessentially 1970's color palette became Moore's calling card. Although the actor's move into the 1980s wearing a three-piece suit sometimes reflected a serious and traditional tone, Moore's Bond became the series' freewheeling equal opportunist, allied with unique female characters like Grace Jones' May Day whose physical strength overpowered the cheeky secret agent man.

Filmmakers bringing Timothy Dalton to the canon hoped to leave Moore's glib one-liners behind and venture back into Fleming's dangerous and violent world — and for the actor that included making his hero more vulnerable and romantic. Dalton's unkempt hair and casual suit with no tie was the answer, but dressed up, Dalton's tuxedo often wore him instead of him wearing it. The result was some of the lowest grossing Bond films ever made.

Unlike Dalton, Pierce Brosnan took complete ownership of his Brioni suits, which gave the 1990's Bond a strong and powerful silhouette. His trademark overcoat helped, too — a bold symbol of 007's spy heritage. Designers overcompensated for Dalton's failures, however, and Brosnan's expensive swag didn't allow the actor to maintain the anonymity Fleming originally aimed for. It was the new millennium, and if Y2K was prophesying the end of the world, Brosnan's Bond was definitely going out in style.

Daniel Craig's turn as Bond has brought the canon full circle to Fleming's novels. He's the least flamboyant of his predecessors — an everyman with a cruel, violent streak stemming from a tortured past. His style and bearing is economical and appropriate. Suits are only worn for the occasions that demand them — the Tom Ford designs clean and striking without being showy, which is exactly what the author would have wanted. It's said that Dr. No director Terence Young had Connery sleep in his Savile Row finest to make the muscular Scotsman familiar and comfortable with the clothes like a second skin. Although Craig's Bond often wears no suit at all, he's equally at home dressed up, and Temime's new designs fit his grittier lifestyle.

The supple, slim-fitting look accommodates Bond's style and character evolution into an outright action star. In our current cinematic climate of fantasy superheroes and technological spectacles aiming for the broadest audiences and maximum profits, Craig's Bond — who feels the most like a cipher (something that works better on the page than the screen for some Bond fans) — is primarily a man of action. "Being able to make the right decision when it matters is tricky and that's what defines us as men," Craig shared in an interview about his character. In this way, Fleming's dispassionate, lethal agent who will stop at nothing to reach his objective has returned. Skyfall's enigmatic synopsis about tracking down and destroying a threat against MI6 "no matter how personal the cost" reminds us that Craig truly is Fleming's "anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a Government Department."

This is exactly what has kept Craig's Bond in particular from being a vacant action cliché and complete untouchable. Bond is the definition of debonair, but he remains an employee of the MI6 with the equivalent of a bar code as his double-barreled moniker. Our agent isn't a wealthy man, despite his lavish surroundings. He's generally practical, and everything he possesses has been earned the hard way, allowing us to identify with him while still relishing the cars, women, and opulent pleasures. Even the manner in which Fleming and various filmmakers have crafted Bond villains portrays an everyman against the sinister and affluent "other" relatability. A View to a Kill's smarmy socialite played by Christopher Walken dressed like a Gordon Gekko prototype. Christopher Lee's Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun was a blinged out decadent styled as pure as the driven snow. Goldfinger's henchman Oddjob wielded a razor-edged bowler hat — a fashion accessory associated with bankers and businessmen during the 1960s. These are just a few ways that Fleming's deliberate style choices and the Bond brand decisions have persisted and influenced audiences' subconscious connections.

This is also where Skyfall comes dangerously close to crossing a line. 

Craig himself has called it an "unfortunate" reality, but Skyfall's top-dollar tie-in with companies like Heineken (netting a reported $45 million, more than double the studio's product record high) and an upcoming fragrance campaign are part of a necessary global advertising initiative (with first time participation from Craig) to keep production afloat. "We have relationships with a number of companies so that we can make this movie. The simple fact is that, without them, we couldn’t do it... This movie costs a lot of money to make, it costs as nearly as much again if not more to promote, so we go where we can," Craig told Moviefone

While many grumbled about Bond's signature vodka martini possibly being overshadowed by a mediocre Dutch beer — and for reasons I support as to why they shouldn't, read Film School Rejects' article — the real problem is with the Bond series' increasingly obtrusive and often shameless product placement — as is the case with this Omega spot in Casino Royale. Heineken has had a 15-year-long relationship with the Bond franchise, and the series has prominently featured a variety of brands like Smirnoff, Perrier, and Jaguar to name a few, but the swarm of advertisers is starting to feel bigger and uglier than ever before. "Audiences are getting savvier, and as soon as they feel that it is an in-your-face advertisement, they’ll have the same cognitive rejection they do with spam," a chief exec of a product placement evaluation firm told Forbes. Ad clutter is a prevalent trend throughout cinema, but for a "neutral figure" like Bond, the line between commercial action drone and the thrilling agent we adore can quickly diminish if not handled with care. 

Product placement has become a fact of life — especially for Skyfall, which was considerably delayed (almost indefinitely) due to MGM's financial woes. Promoters should keep in mind, however, that an enduring feature of Bond's style — the clothes and the icon — is his effortlessness, despite being scrupulously curated since he first appeared on Fleming's page. The message to advertisers should invite them to woo us with the necessary expensive watches and brand alcohol (fewer intrusive, on-screen gimmicks preferred), but to make smart choices and stop selling the living daylights out of everything so audiences can stay focused on their sharp-dressed man.

There are 127 days until the London premiere of Skyfall on October 26, 2012 — commemorating the franchise's 50th anniversary. The Sam Mendes-directed film opens in the U.S. on November 9 and finds Daniel Craig returning to the role of James Bond. The movie also stars a villainous Javier Bardem and new Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe.

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