Designing 007: 'Costume design is first reading the script'

Wednesday, 22 October 2014
“At last the time has come, James Bond has arrived,” said Emily Ansenk, director at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, which is currently home to the traveling exhibition 'Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style.' After opening in London and showing in Toronto, Melbourne and Moscow the exposition, which celebrates the design craft behind the icon film series, has returned to Europe and found a new home for the next five months. “We have never held such an elaborate film exposition,” adds Ansenk. “It is all round experience, which features the glamorous, sexy British style at times, whilst celebrating adventurous and exciting moment during other moments.”

“We wanted to create an immersive experience whilst simultaneously educating Bond fans and entertaining them,” explained guest curator and fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave. Famed for not only capturing some of the key fashion trends over the years, but also credited with setting trends, the ever-evolving costumes which form a part of the Bond series have left their imprint on the industry over the years.

James Bond Style: "It just gets better all the time"

“Why does James Bond continue to set trends? I think it's not just the actors, but the designers behind the scenes who work together to create the very best film they can,” said Lindy Hemming, the famed designer behind some of the most iconic Bond outfits. “It just gets better and better all the time.” Together with Cosgrave and Meg Simmonds, head of the James Bond archive at EON Productions, the three curated a selection of costumes which were included in the exposition.

“My aim is to try to explain during the course of the exhibition how all the design aspects contribute to each other and all have to be perfect to support the character,” pointed out Hemming. “The exhibition is meant to represent luxury glamor, from the earliest film to the latest one and to reflect the changes of the Bond character and world through design.” The subtle changes in costume design over the years are one many ways in which the development within the Bond character has been conveyed.

However locating all the costumes they wanted to display in the exhibition was no easy feat, especially when it came to tracking down some of the costumes from the earlier films. “It was a hit and miss when gathering items for the exhibition, some fans offered items for the expo, but other items found their way to the archive,” said Simmonds. Such as the bowler hat, wore by henchman Oddjob in Goldfinger from 1964, which the archivist managed to track down in an auction at Christie's and purchase for over 64,000 pounds.

Early James Bond costumes held little iconic value at the time

According to Hemming, there was little to no iconic value attached to the costumes from Bond's early films in the 1960s, which was why it was more difficult for the team to locate certain key clothing pieces for the exhibition. “The majority of the garments were sold, given away or recycled to use for new costumes. In the past there was not much interest shown in film costumes.” Therefore, the team decided to re-create certain costumes from the film series especially for the exhibition, in order to give visitors the feeling they had been on a journey through James Bond design history.

One costume replica that can be seen in the exhibition is that of Goldfinger's smoking jacket, alongside Pussy Galore's golden leather waistcoat. Hemming revealed to FashionUnited that she was very lucky to be able to track down a fabric which was almost the same as the original material used for the jacket, as well as very similar buttons, so that the resulting remake is nearly identical to the original. Next to the replica of Pussy Galore's leather waistcoat, are costumes sketches for the film, which depicts the process of costume design.

“You can see here that the original costume designer had a different fabric in mind for Pussy Galore's waistcoat, with leopard print, which was very fashionable at the time. However in the end, the designer and producers felt that the golden leather worked better on screen,” said Hemming. In one corner of the exhibition there are a number of photographs highlighting how the costume designer and Cosgrave worked together to re-create certain costumes using archived sketches, drawings and stills from the films blown up.

Another reason why the exhibition has limited costumes from older James Bond films was because Sean Connery was allowed to keep all the costumes he wore during filming the Bond series. Expect for one jacket from the first Bond film, Dr. No, which found its way to the exhibition. “No one knows why the jacket survived and was kept safe,” noted Hemming. At the time, British tailor Anthony Sinclair was tasked with job of crafting James Bond iconic suits for Sean Connery and has been credited for his creation of the famous three-piece suit. “I always said that Anthony Sinclair was the tailor who made the male version of the Chanel suit.”

Mixing costume design with fashion

Years later, when Hemming was asked to take charge of the costume design for the film series for GoldenEye in 1995, she approached premium Italian menswear label Brioni to help her reinvent Bond's famous suit. The reason she chose to collaborate with a fashion designer was because she wanted to work with a company capable of tailoring Bond's suits in a Savile Row manner, and - because of film's tight shooting schedule - could produce a lot of suits very quickly. She also wanted to dress Bond in something that showcased sheer luxury and unmistakably synonymous with expensiveness.

“Costume design is first reading the script to get to know the character, then talking to the directors and producers what they want from the costume, then referencing images and looking at current trends, then talking to the actors before you finally start to build the costumes...I would never use a fashion designer as my first go to person for a costume,” explained Hemming. “First you have to imagine how the character would dress, then look at the catwalk trends emerging and only then perhaps would I bring in a designer – they are usually thrilled to be involved in the collaboration and together we would make an outfit which will grace the film.”

For example, for Electra King's character in The World is Not Enough, played by Sophie Marceau, Hemming was inspired by Jessica Rabbit when she was creating her iconic red dress. She fully constructed the red dress by hand, which featured a built in bra and corset, as well as intricate embroidering detailing. The colour was also specifically chosen by the costumer designer to help portray the character's inner anger and wrath beginning to seep out from her composed character as well as her flamboyant side.

Hemming is a firm believer in the importance of using costumes to convey a character's emotion and to help actors transform into a certain character. “Putting on the right costume definitely helps an actor become the character they are playing.” Which is one of the reasons she has a huge dislike toward inaccuracy in costume design, such as Roger Moore's outfit for traveling through Egypt in The Spy who Loved Me, 1977. “Always go for more accuracy in costumes whenever possible.”

Bond's costume design development reflective of fashion trends

Costume accuracy and character development is also why a lot of the costumes from the Bond series later films have been created around current trends emerging in fashion at the time, such as the “Miami Vice Vibe” villains seen in a License to Kill from 1989, which is reflective of streetwear trends. “I like the people element, how you can reflect on what you have seen in the street and then translate it into film to help bring its characters to life.”

However, even though Hemming does find a lot of her inspiration for Bond's character costume designs from everyday life, she does not see herself as a trend setter. In fact she sees herself and costume design as some separate from fashion design, even though the two come from the same roots. “Sometimes something you make becomes a trend, but that is because it was already observed and existed in the background. As a costume designer I just find pieces and pull them together to create an outfit for a character. Really what I do is more stylistic than fashion related.”

“You do not make something out of nothing. You observe something and then bring it to the public, but the idea, the design, it already exists. People tend to give you credit for something you did not create, but borrowed from elsewhere...costume design has little to do with fashion design in my opinion, because you are creating something for a character to wear in a film. Whilst fashion design at its best it the exact opposite.”

'Designing 007: Fifty years of Bond Style' is currently on exhibition in the Kunsthal in Rotterdam until February 8, 2015.

Vivian Hendriksz

Photo credit: Simon Trel