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Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 002) The Design

Posted on November 13 2015

James Bond’s opening scene in Dr. No (1962) was arguably the most important of any in the 50 year history of the film series. Sean Connery, then a relatively unknown actor, was to be presented as the World’s most famous secret agent in 007’s inaugural appearance on the big screen. Terence Young, the film’s director, carefully used the brief moments of this scene to construct a detailed profile of the leading man.

The location is Les Ambassadeurs Club, in London’s exclusive district of Mayfair. Seated at a gambling table, clearly comfortable and familiar with the surroundings, Bond deals cards from the shoe as he plays the notoriously high-stakes game of chemin de fer – a version of Baccarat which relies very much on skill over chance. He is in control. He is a risk-taker – calculated rather than reckless, and in Young’s own words, “he is a winner; a winner in every way”. He is respected by men and desired by women. His manner is both relaxed and alert. He is ruthless … and cool. Very cool.

Whilst the plot, setting, action and dialogue reveal much about the character, the critical element is, of course, his appearance. Rugged but handsome, masculine yet refined, the hero carries an air of sophistication that is influenced considerably by what he is wearing – a midnight-blue, hand-tailored, bespoke evening suit by Anthony Sinclair. Bond’s sharp-suited look not only goes to enhance his sex appeal, it also suggests something about his breeding. Whilst a lounge suit would have been perfectly satisfactory for the occasion, his choice of “black-tie” implies that he was born into a family accustomed to dressing formally after dusk.

The practice of dressing in a specific way for morning and then changing clothes for evening was established by the English upper classes in the early Victorian era, developing into dress codes that were strictly adhered to by polite society. A gentleman would wear either a morning coat or frock coat by day and then, before dinner, transform himself with the requisite evening attire of tailcoat, vest, stand-up collar and bow; a costume still worn and recognised today as “white-tie”.

Hollywood legend Fred Astaire resplendent in white tie

During the middle of Queen Victoria’s reign, another piece of eveningwear entered the formal wardrobe. As a result of the Crimean War and the subsequent rise in popularity of Turkish tobacco, the smoking jacket was devised.

After dinner, a gentleman would replace his tailcoat with the garment and retreat to a den or smoking room. Traditionally made from heavy velvet, the jacket was intended to guard against falling ash and to absorb the smoke, hence protecting other clothing from burns and tobacco odour. The smoking jacket had a number of distinct features, derived from a combination of practical and aesthetic needs.

The weight and bulk of the cloth dictates a shawl collar (a continuous lapel without notch or peak). The sleeves are finished with a turn-back cuff, cut in proportion to the width of shawl. These are both facets that mirrored the styling of the robe de chambre – the elegant silk dressing gowns that had been worn by aristocratic gentlemen for decades previously. The shawl collar and the cuffs would be made from a woven silk fabric which differs from the cloth used for the body and sleeves.

The silk facing of the shawl not only reflects the formality and styling of the tailcoat’s silk faced lapel but, together with the matching cuffs, allows the gentleman’s tailor to replace those individual parts of the jacket (should they be damaged by tobacco embers) without having to remake the whole garment.

Finally, given that buttonholes can be difficult to work with thick velvet, and also to add an ornate flourish, the fastening of the smoking jacket is often formed by means of intricately sewn cord frogging, secured by small, matching silk toggles – known as olivettes.

Oscar Wilde in late nineteenth century smoking jacket

In addition to the qualities already outlined, something the late Victorians discovered with the smoking jacket was “comfort”. During that time, Queen Victoria’s son, Edward, then Prince of Wales, was regarded worldwide as an arbiter of men’s style. Given his mother’s long reign, he was largely excluded from political life and so came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite.

In the 1860’s the Prince ordered a blue silk smoking jacket from his Savile Row tailor, Henry Poole, to be worn for informal dinner parties aboard his yacht at Cowes. At that point, the tide began to turn on the stiff formality of “full” evening dress. Over the following years, the evening “lounge” suit began to appear. It was, in effect, a hybrid of the formal tailcoat ensemble and the smoking jacket, and was the precursor of the contemporary evening suit worn today.

The design of Sean Connery’s evening suit for “Dr. No” represents the perfect balance of contemporary style and historic reverence, illustrating the character as a modern man aware of his ancestry. The immediately obvious details are the shawl collar and turn-back cuffs. They are true to the early influence of the smoking jacket and are cut narrow to suit the times, but not too skinny to be lost against the actors full chest and broad shoulders.

Connery was a big man with an athletic physique. At the age of 18 he had reached his full adult height of 6’2″ and had begun bodybuilding; an activity which, by the early 1950’s, gained him a place in the Mr. Universe contest. When he arrived to be fitted by Sinclair in 1962, he had a 46″ chest and a 33″ waist.

Ian Fleming, the 007 author, had already expressed concern over the casting saying, “He is not what I envisioned of James Bond” and “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman” adding that Connery was “unrefined”. 

Connery (centre) competing for Mr. Scotland in the 1950’s

It was essential for Sinclair to create a pattern that would produce an elegant line. He cut a natural shoulder with very little padding (as there was no need for enhancement) whilst adding a degree of chest drape to soften the protruding pectorals and allow room to conceal a weapon. An element of suppression was applied to the waist, but not too much – with a 13″ drop between chest and waist the visual appearance could be too extreme – Bond needed to look like a member of Les Ambassadeurs Club rather than the doorman.

The classic dinner jacket is single breasted and usually cut without vents, but Connery’s had two, which is perfectly acceptable, particularly for a man of action who may need improved manoeuvrability. The suit fastens in the traditional manner with a single, silk-covered button, and has four matching cuff buttons on each sleeve. Silk detail is also found on the trousers, which have the customary satin braid running along the outseam; they have pleated fronts, plain bottoms, and are supported at the waist with elasticated tab & button side adjusters, known as DAKS tops (it would be a grave faux pas to wear a belt with an evening suit).

The accessories that Bond actually does wear compliment the suit perfectly. A pleated dress shirt by Lanvin, a wonderful, diamond pointed bow tie, and something that was Terence Young’s personal styling tip, the ever so discreet, perfectly folded, white linen handkerchief peeping out of the jacket’s outbreast pocket and remaining with the character to this day.

On a final note of creative influence, the story of the design of 007’s first stage outfit could not be complete without mentioning again it’s most extraordinary feature, the turn-back cuff. It has always been considered a sartorial nod to the man who started it all, Ian Fleming, who had regularly incorporated the stylistic detail into his own clothing long before Bond arrived on screen.


Ian Fleming displays a perfectly tailored turn-back cuff


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