Designing 007: fifty Years of Style, the Barbican Centre, London, UK. © 2012 Lord Christopher Laverty. All rights reserved.

Designing 007 Exhibition: Costumes Galore

On 6th July, Clothes on Film were invited to the Designing 007 launch party in London. Apart from quaffing complimentary Bollinger and celeb spotting, we did make several circuits of the exhibition itself. As expected, Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style has a pleasing emphasis on the sartorial, particularly female costume. Vintage discoveries mix with contemporary recreations from all 23 James Bond films in themed rooms dotted across the Barbican Centre.

We will not spoil everything because if you can see the exhibition first hand, you should. The rooms themselves are fairly self explanatory: Gold, Ian Fleming, M’s Office, Q Branch, Casino, Foreign Territories, Villains and Enigmas, and Ice Palace. The Barbican can be a little tricky to navigate (that may have been the champagne), but we began by descending a short flight of stairs into the Gold room. Screens play spliced Bond clips on a loop, as in every room actually, which functions as a useful reference, while the space itself resembles a museum installation.

Designing 007 is the brainchild of costume designer Lindy Hemming and publicist Stephanie Wenborne. After they formulated the initial idea, Wenborne enlisted the help of historian and author Bronwyn Cosgrave to provide a treatment and then co-curate for The Barbican Centre.

A fibreglass model of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) covered in gold paint on a rotating bed is the Gold room’s impressive centrepiece. Props line the walls, Scaramanga’s (Christopher Lee) Calibri golden gun and 007 inscribed bullets for example, and just a few costumes displayed in glass cabinets. Notables include Auric Goldfinger’s (Gert Fröbe) shot silk dinner jacket and Pussy Galore’s (Honor Blackman) gold leatherette waistcoat; both recreated from photographs and screencaps by Alison O’Brien. Faded Beatrice Dawson costume sketches of the jumpsuits worn by Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus troupe stand alongside.

Some of the motif rooms are small (Ian Fleming’s), some more extensive (Q’s Lab, full of gadgets, many of which have never been seen publicly before). In M’s Office is a mood board of 007’s look through the ages. One particular photograph dated 1955 shows an Anthony Sinclair jacket with arrow pointing directly toward the turnback cuff and ‘Conduit Cut’ scrawled along the bottom. Is this significant? Is the turnback cuff more essential to defining the Conduit Cut than we ever realised?

Roger Moore’s blue ski jacket from For Your Eyes Only (1981) provided by Pat Barta. His yellow and red ski suit from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and worn by stuntman Rick Sylvester to parachute from Mount Asgard for the film’s pre-credit sequence, is also at the exhibition.

The most impressive costume area, Casino, draws further attention to the turnback cuff on Sinclair’s recreation of the super 100s summer kid mohair worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No dinner jacket (unfortunately presented with a link fasten instead of a plain button). The Casino is a joyous experience for anyone even slightly moved by the clothes of James Bond and his girls. Sylvia’s (Eunice Gayson) Dr. No dress in red silk georgette with silk taffeta lining is a strikingly accurate copy. Like most costumes it is displayed on a faceless though physically accurate mannequin.

Many of the Casino ensembles are original, e.g. Pam Bouvier’s (Carey Lowell) purple chiffon and beaded ‘break away’ dress (with tiny poppers) from Licence to Kill and Lupe Lamora’s (Talisa Soto) red Oscar de la Renta evening dress from the same film. Even Tiffany Case’s (Jill St. John) cream Donfield trouser suit from Diamonds are Forever has been unearthed. However as recreations go it is difficult to top Plenty O’Toole’s (Lana Wood) fab purple silk jersey dress. Roger Moore’s linen dinner jacket by Douglas Hayward for Octopussy is a welcome addition. Although, there is little from Moore’s tenure; a shame considering the quality of his tailoring. His Live and Let Die chesterfield coat made by Cyril Castle is in the hands of a private collector and would have looked superb in M’s Office.

Reflecting her involvement in the exhibition, there are several pieces from Lindy Hemming’s Bond catalogue. Xenia Onatopp’s (Famke Janssen) black velvet pony skin with beaded detail dress from GoldenEye, made by Angels and displayed with original costume sketches, is a personal favourite.

Rosa Klebb’s (Lotte Lenya) blue cotton nurse’s disguise from From Russia with Love (1963), recreated for the exhibition by Academy Costumes.

Keeping all things costume, though there are plenty of props and models to enjoy, we leave Casino and head toward Heroes and Villains. On route we pass Solitaire’s (Jane Seymour) red brushed silk velvet and Indian Cotton dress from Live and Let Die staged in full tarot reading mode. At Beach Wear a glass cabinet displays Sunspel’s recreation of Connery’s cotton poplin shorts from Thunderball (which in actual fact were not used in the film at all, but featured in promotional material around that time, or most likely earlier. Connery’s Thunderball shorts were by Jantzen, the ‘diving girl’ logo), Honey Ryder’s (Ursula Andress) original white Dr. No bikini, plus the orange emulation, complete with ‘J’ detail buckle worn by Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. Daniel Craig’s GrigioPerla Casino Royale shorts are here too, themselves an emulation of Connery’s.

Heroes and Enigmas is somewhat dark and maze like; you may stumble across items missed first time around tucked away facing a wall. One piece worth mentioning, really worth visiting the whole exhibition for, is Holly Goodhead’s (Lois Chiles) black satin jumpsuit from Moonraker designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Couture and Bond girls did not really go hand in hand until at least the 1980s, but a costume like this provides insight into high end fashion of the time. Interesting too that it is a trouser suit, like Jill St. John’s in Diamonds Are Forever; Bond girls have long been on the fringes of symbolic masculinity.

Two ski suits designed by Lindy Hemming complete with costume sketch for Elektra King’s (Sophie Marceau) custom fur topped version from The World is Not Enough (1999).

Before heading downstairs via lift and darkened corridor to Ice Palace, do seek out Franz Sanchez’s (Robert Davi) striped silk and wool shirt with wing collars from Licence to Kill – it is everything you imagine. Do not miss the Diamonds Are Forever costume books either. Showing continuity photos of Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) in lairy 70’s suits, these are a real archive find.

Ice Palace is almost your final stop, home to Moore’s yellow ski suit from The Spy Who Loved Me and pieces from The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day; Halle Berry’s pink lace and chiffon cocktail dress, among others. Moore’s blue ski jacket from For Your Eyes only is fun contrast to what will, depending on how you traversed the exhibition, likely be the last attraction. But what a way to end, on Anthony Sinclair’s recreation of the 3 pc Goldfinger suit in 10oz light grey glencheck hopsack. Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style is absolutely worth a visit for anyone, but if you like Bond costumes it is essential.

The exhibition runs from 6th July to 5th September. Tickets can be booked through the Barbican website.

© 2012 – 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.