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Agent of Style

Posted 05.12.18  - Style

We examine how Ian Fleming’s James Bond is as synonymous with Turnbull & Asser shirts as he is with a medium dry martini.


Ian Fleming loved Jermyn Street. For him, the area was like an elegant one-stop emporium; here he could have his hair cut, order his cigarettes, cigars and wine, and dine at one of London’s premier French restaurants, l’Ecu de France (which, it was discovered upon closing, was bugged by both MI5 and the KGB). He could also pick up his favourite cologne, have meetings at the Cavendish Hotel and fulfil all his sartorial needs, including collecting his shirts and ties from Turnbull & Asser.


As James Bond’s taste in such things very much reflected his creator’s, it is no surprise that Bond frequented many of the same establishments. Or, at least, we assume he did, for although we know a lot about Bond’s taste in cars and cigarettes, the exact identity of his tailors and shirt makers remained undisclosed in the novels. Why? Well, he is a spy: ‘It was six o’clock on Thursday evening and Bond was packing his pigskin suitcase in his bedroom at the Ritz,’ writes Fleming in Diamonds are Forever. ‘Its contents were appropriate to his cover. Evening clothes, his lightweight black-and-white dog-tooth suit for the country and golf… some white silk and dark blue Sea Island Cotton shirts with collars attached. None of these things bore, or had ever borne, any name-tags or initials.’


That’s not to say the makers’ labels were removed. Just that Fleming preferred not to specify them. But given the fact that the author favoured Sea Island Cotton shirts from Turnbull & Asser, it is safe to assume 007 followed suit. Certainly, Terence Young, the director of the first Bond film, Dr No in 1962, thought the shirt maker appropriate for Sean Connery, the actor chosen to bring Bond to the big screen. After all, not only was Ian Fleming a long-standing customer, so were Young and producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.


The brand may have been discreetly anonymous in the novels, but for anyone seeking to emulate the sophisticated spy, Dr No thrust Turnbull & Asser into the 007 limelight. This was thanks, in part, to the famous photograph of Sean Connery being fitted for one of his shirts at the Jermyn Street shop by Michael Fish. The initial order was for 72 units – each scene called for six shirts for Mr Connery.


But would the average viewer of Dr No have appreciated that Connery was wearing the finest of bespoke English made shirts? Colin Woodhead, who edited Dressed to Kill, an entertaining exploration of Bond’s sartorial style and impact, explains, ‘It’s always hard to see the definition of a good shirt unless you know about the Turnbull & Asser curved collar. However, the most obvious and unusual feature is the turnback cuffs, designed for Sean Connery in Dr No, which hadn’t been seen before. With a shirt, it’s all in the detail.’


That particular detail is a two-button “cocktail cuff” (also known as a turnback, Portofino or flowback), which was inspired by another T&A customer, David Niven, although some claim Young himself also favoured the style.


In Dr No, we first see Bond in a shawl-collared evening jacket at the casino, showing conventional Turnbull & Asser double cuffs with cufflinks and wearing a black Turnbull & Asser Barathea batwing bow tie. This, as Woodhead says, is a defining Bond look. ‘His black-tie dinner jacket with dress shirt and bow tie has been consistent throughout the series’ and it suggested straight off that the spy was ‘an Englishman who knew how to do things the traditional way.’


However, later in the film (notably with his lounge suit jacket off when the first of many on-screen martinis arrives at his hotel room), 007 goes off -piste by wearing double cuffs that fasten beneath the wrist with mother-of pearl buttons, rather than the usual cufflinks, and flare back, like a shirt collar. They indicate someone who knows the rules but likes to subvert them, and so this style became a notable feature of Connery’s Bond films.


Turnbull & Asser continued to produce shirts and neckties for over a dozen 007 films featuring Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig as the world’s most celebrated MI6 agent. To complete the full Bond set, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore were all customers, although they wore their Turnbull & Asser shirts and ties off -screen.



Of course, by the time Daniel Craig earned his double-0 status, Bond had been through quite a few stylistic changes. As Colin Woodhead puts it when asked about transition from books to screen, ‘Fleming had one idea of how he imagined Bond to look, which was more old Etonian. However, the character became more rough around the edges following the illustrations [in the popular comic strip] and casting of Sean Connery. Bond’s style across the films wasn’t consistent, however, taking from the trends of the time rather than keeping a consistent look, so each movie is more like a time capsule of gentleman’s style.’



He is disappointed with the male clothes our current generation will leave in their time capsule. ‘Sadly, the standard of men’s dress has gone down with the arrival of casualwear. Bond would be in a suit, shirt and tie in all scenarios, and men’s style hasn’t followed. However, the classic styles and evening dress remain consistent with Bond as the rules around this have been maintained. Bond’s influence is probably seen most in red-carpet dressing – gents are still very classic in the most part and turned out well.’


For those who want to keep up the standards set by Ian Fleming’s secret agent, Turnbull & Asser, who will forever be associated with 007, still produce Connery's Dr No shirt, a selection of ties as seen on Pierce Brosnan, Casino Royale's bow tie and dress shirt. Any of the above will look splendid in your suitcase. Just make sure there are no name-tags or initials on any of them.


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