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Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 001) The Cloth

Posted on November 13 2015

To help celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Bond films in 2012, London’s Barbican Museum planned to host a new exhibition entitled, “Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style”. However, most of the clothes made for the first actor, Sean Connery, had long disappeared, and so EON, the film’s producers, approached Anthony Sinclair to request faithful reproductions of some of the pieces originally made by the company, including the famous evening suit worn by Connery in his first appearance as James Bond in the 1962 film, “Dr. No”.

The records of production of these suits had also vanished from Sinclair’s archives, consequently the specifications for the remakes were put together piece by piece, with the help of the exhibition’s curators, starting with the cloth:

James Bond Dinner suit - Sean Connery

Bond’s beautifully tailored eveningwear meets immediate approval

The term “bespoke” is derived from the archaic verb “bespeak” – to order or reserve something in advance. The expression is said to have originated in London tailoring houses during the 18th Century, where customers would bespeak their chosen length of cloth from those on display to initiate the process of having their clothes made. The procedure remains the same today, with the first step being to choose the weight, pattern, colour and quality of woven goods. With eveningwear the obvious selection is black; but in 1962, James Bond’s choice was blue… midnight-blue.

The idea of wearing blue for a black-tie occasion may seem strange, but “midnight” is such a dark shade that it is difficult to distinguish from black, unless the two are viewed side by side. However, under artificial light, midnight can appear to be “blacker than black”, seemingly absorbing more light than black cloth which, in certain conditions, can cast a greyish hue.

One of the first proponents of this theory was the Duke of Windsor in the 1920’s, then Prince of Wales. He was motivated by a desire not only to soften men’s formal attire, but also to augment his sartorial standing in the popular press. As he explained in his memoirs, A Family Album: “I was in fact produced as a leader of fashion, with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience. The middle-man in this process was the photographer, employed not only by the Press but by the trade, whose task it was to photograph me on every possible occasion, public or private, with an especial eye for what I happened to be wearing.”

The Duke understood the photogenic possibilities of midnight-blue. It appeared to produce sharper images, allowing for the recognition of subtle tailoring details – a secret undoubtedly shared by Dr. No director, Terence Young, the man credited more than any other for crafting the definitive style of 007.

The Duke of Windsor: an advocate of midnight-blue evening wear

Once colour has been established, the next step is to select weight, for which the season and climate should naturally be considered. We know that Bond was wearing the Dr. No evening suit in London during the colder months of the year, as he needed to don his dark navy Chesterfield coat to make the journey from Les Ambassadeurs Club to M’s office, suggesting the need for a heavier cloth than would be required for his deployment to more tropical locations. That said, a casino is an environment in which one would prefer to keep cool, and so a medium-weight cloth of 10 ounces (per linear yard of 60 inch wide cloth) is regarded as being the optimum choice.

In addition to colour and weight, the quality and composition needs to be determined. Barathea is the most traditional formalwear cloth. It is a soft fabric, with a hopsack twill weave creating a lightly textured surface with a matt finish, usually woven from a pure wool worsted yarn, the most prized of which is Merino. The Merino breed of sheep (usually from Australia or New Zealand) produce a clean, white fleece, ideal for dying to clear, fresh colours, while the long, fine fibres can be spun to the finest count, woven into the finest cloth and tailored into the finest suits.

Merino sheep produce the finest fleece

These days, the finesse of worsted cloth has been taken to extraordinary levels, with selective breeding and technical advances in spinning and weaving enabling the production of not only Super 120’s, 150’s and even 180’s worsteds, but more recently, exotic blends such as Super 200’s, vicuna and chinchilla or Super 250’s and silk.

The “Super” numbers are regularly seen in the labelling of cloth and garments, but few people are aware of exactly what they mean. The numbering system originated in England, where the worsted spinning process was invented, and arose from the worsted yarn count method for stating the fineness of yarn. The worsted count was the number of “hanks” (560-yard lengths of yarn) that a pound of wool yields. The finer the wool, the more yarn and the higher the count.

Whilst higher yarn counts produce luxurious cloths with a superior pattern definition (given the higher number of woven threads per square inch) they tend to be far less durable and robust than the lower count cloths, and are therefore not the best choice for everyday wear or, with Bond in mind, situations that may lead to a fight. Returning to 007’s original evening suit, it is unlikely that much above Super 100’s would have been available from London cloth merchants in the early 1960’s, but a touch of glamour could always have been added by blending the wool with another fibre such as silk or, in Bond’s case, mohair.

Mohair comes from the Angora goat. It is a fine, smooth, resilient fibre that was very popular during Bond’s early days, particularly for lightweight suits which, when made from mohair cloth, are much more crease resistant than the worsted equivalent … perfect for a man of action in a hot climate who needs to maintain an immaculate appearance. Mohair fibre increases it’s diameter with the the age of the goat from which it is biannually sheared, therefore the finer fleece is from the youngest goats (“kids”) with the finest coming from the very first clip of baby-hair – referred to as “Summer- or Super-Kid Mohair”.

When blended with wool, mohair gives the cloth a sharper edge and adds lustre; both qualities well suited to the production of killer eveningwear.

Super-kid Mohair is the first clip from the Angora goat

With colour, weight, composition and quality considered, the final task is to select a source of supply. Unlike their 18th Century predecessors, today’s tailors rarely hold stocks of cloth on their premises, choosing rather to present pattern books containing hundreds or even thousands of alternative designs. These books are provided by a number of cloth merchants who specialise in supplying individual cut-lengths of material to the trade. Most of the established merchants carry cloth that would conform to the specification required for the Dr. No evening suit, but one stands out from the others for a number of reasons.

Smith & Co. (Woollens) Ltd. was established in 1923 and together with it’s slightly older sister company, W.Bill Ltd. (Est 1846), represents the last of the London merchants to hold stock of their cloth in the West End, which often proves useful to Mayfair tailors who sometimes need to expedite urgent orders. They have been regular suppliers to Anthony Sinclair since the 1950’s when (as can be seen from their advertisement of the time below) they were based in Beak Street, Soho – the location of Sinclair’s business before he moved to Conduit Street in Mayfair.

Smith Woollens offer a comprehensive range of classic dress and formalwear suitings, including a 10 ounce, midnight-blue Barathea, woven from a blend of 71% Merino Wool and 29% Super-Kid Mohair. This particular pattern, reference number SW8810, is the perfect cloth for a faithful reproduction of Sinclair’s original masterpiece.

Smith Woollens advertisement from Tailor & Cutter (1950) 

Read more: Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 2) The Design 


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