Saturday, 28 April 2012

Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 002) The Design

Precis of previous blogs:

To help celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Bond films, the Barbican in London is hosting an exhibition entitled, "Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style". However, most of the clothes made for the first actor, Sean Connery have long since disappeared, and so EON, the film's producers, have approached Anthony Sinclair to request faithful reproductions of some of the pieces originally made by the company, including the famous evening suit worn by Connery in his first appearance as James Bond in the 1962 film, "Dr.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 have also vanished from Sinclair's archives, and so, with the help of the exhibition's curators, the specifications for the remakes are being put together piece by piece. The cloth, a midnight-blue Barathea woven from a blend of Merino Wool and Super-Kid Mohair has been chosen, and now the design must be determined.

Sinclair eveningwear transforms Connery into Bond

James Bond's opening scene in Dr. No 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 "batwing" 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 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

Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style 
Opens 6th July 2012:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Recreating a Masterpiece (Part 001) The Cloth

Precis of previous blogs:

To help celebrate the Golden Anniversary of the Bond films, the Barbican in London is hosting an exhibition entitled, "Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style". However, most of the clothes made for the first actor, Sean Connery, have long disappeared, and so EON, the film's producers, have 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 have also vanished from Sinclair's archives, consequently the specifications for the remakes are being put together piece by piece, with the help of the exhibition's curators, starting with the cloth:

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 eveningwear

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)