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Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 003) Goldfinger

Posted on November 13 2015

In addition to the reproduction of the midnight-blue evening suit worn by Sean Connery in Dr. No, Anthony Sinclair was commissioned to remake another piece of Bond’s original wardrobe for the Barbican exhibition, Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style.

The curators of the exhibition and the tailoring firm agreed that an event showcasing Bond style could not be complete without the inclusion of 007’s most popular outfit – the three-piece costume often referred to as the “Goldfinger Suit”.

Sean Connery (007), Honor Blackman (Pussy) and the Goldfinger Suit

Released in 1964, Goldfinger was the third film in the Bond series and the first of the 007 blockbusters, having a budget of over $3 million (the equivalent of the previous two movies combined). It met with both critical acclaim, receiving Academy, Grammy and BAFTA awards, and commercial success, breaking box office records and recouping costs in the first two weeks of distribution.

The increased production expenditure afforded Sean Connery the pleasure of a wardrobe upgrade for his third outing as 007, which included a matching waistcoat for one of the five suits made by Anthony Sinclair for the film. The result was arguably the most famous set of conventional clothes ever worn by a man on screen.

The cloth chosen for the iconic three-piece ensemble is often mistaken for pick & pick or sharkskin, a semi-plain design used to make many of Bond’s suits – but not this one. The pattern selected was actually a subtle Glenurquhart check, usually referred to as Glen plaid in the United States or, more universally, Prince of Wales check … often abbreviated in tailor’s notes as “POW”.

There is a common misconception that the pattern was named as a result of the Duke of Windsor wearing the design in the early 1900’s when he was Prince of Wales but, whilst he did much to popularise it, the story dates much further back in history.

The Duke of Windsor in Prince of Wales check

The origin of the classic black and white check actually lies in the valley of Glen Urquhart in the Scottish Highlands. It is a pattern adopted in the 1800’s by Caroline, Countess of Seafield, to be worn by her gamekeepers on the Seafield Estate. It was during a hunting trip to the Estate that another young royal, Edward VII (Queen Victoria’s son and grandfather of the Duke of Windsor) became attracted to the design when he was Prince of Wales – a title he held for almost 60 years, being the longest serving heir-apparent.

Edward lived a life of luxury that was often far removed from that of the majority of his subjects. However, his personal charm with people at all levels of society and his strong condemnation of prejudice went some way to assuage republican and racial tensions building during his lifetime. The Prince was renowned for his elegant, sporting style, and regarded internationally as the most influential male fashion figure of the 19th century. He adapted the Glenurquhart design to his own specifications, creating a larger scale black and white pattern which became known as Prince of Wales check.

Edward, Prince of Wales, wearing the eponymous pattern

Prince of Wales cloth was soon produced in a broad range of colours beyond the original monochromatic shades of grey, but the most significant development came with the introduction of a windowpane check that overlaid the basic pattern.

This over-check was usually woven with a different colour to the ground design, and the most popular combinations remain today as blue or pink over grey. The more distinct, large-scale checks incorporating clearly defined windowpanes were prevalent in the 1940’s and 1950’s, complimenting the square, boxier styles of suits worn during that era. They grew to over-scaled dimensions during the excessive styling period of the 1970’s, returning to more original (but still large) proportion in the 1980’s, suiting the wide-shouldered look of the time.

Cary Grant (Fleming’s choice for Bond) in over-checked POW

By 1964, Sean Connery had established himself in the role of James Bond and even earned the approval of 007’s creator, Ian Fleming, who was originally against the choice of actor on the grounds that he was “unrefined”. Connery had proved that he could present himself otherwise, aided, by no short measure, with the sublime tailoring skills of Anthony Sinclair, who was again called upon to provide Bond’s suits for Goldfinger.

On this occasion, Sinclair was to surpass even his own high standards. The prelude to the unveiling of Sinclair’s sartorial masterpiece is a scene in which Bond returns to consciousness aboard Goldfinger’s private jet. He is unshaven and somewhat dishevelled after being tranquilised. He retires to the bathroom to refresh himself in preparation for the meeting with his nemesis. The destination is Goldfinger’s horse ranch in Kentucky, and by a stroke of remarkable luck, the perfect outfit for the rendezvous had been packed.

Connery emerges clean-shaven and immaculately attired, illustrating pride in himself and due respect for his adversary, albeit someone who has just recently spared him his life. As he prepares to step back into another dangerous situation, his psychological body-armour is reinforced by another layer – a breastplate in the form of a beautifully tailored waistcoat. It is tastefully adorned with a slim lapel; a fine tailoring detail reminiscent of the turn-back cuff applied to the Dr. No evening suit, adding a note of elegance and touch of class. Bond’s new look is invincible … and irresistible (witnessed by the eventual succumbing of the sapphically inclined Pussy).

How did you manage to make me look so good?

The perfect choice of cloth had been made; suitably light in weight for the warm conditions, and appropriately light in colour given the informal setting. The pattern selection, Prince of Wales check, is exactly right for the sporting environment of Goldfinger’s stud farm. Small in scale and devoid of windowpane or colour, the cloth was woven from the subtlest of yarn combinations to produce a design so delicate it is barely visible – fitting and apt given Anthony Sinclair’s philosophy that, “less is more”.

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