LONDON – If there's one thing James Bond has taught us it's that behind every great spy is a great tailor.
A new exhibition at London's Barbican Centre explores the style of the suave secret agent, displaying costumes, props, set pieces and design drawings from half a century of 007 films.
Assembled with help from the films' producer, EON Productions — which has a new Bond movie to promote in the fall — the exhibition includes the spy's tuxedos, Bond girl ball gowns and villains' vestments, as well as a selection of props and gadgets. There are also sketches by the films' influential set designer, Ken Adam, whose cavernous lairs and sleek space stations did much to create the movies' modernist luster.
The show is both a reflection of the remarkable staying power of Ian Fleming's fictional secret agent and a tribute to the British, European and American craftspeople and designers who have created the look of the quintessentially British icon.
"The films always attracted the greatest design talent," curator Bronwyn Cosgrave said Thursday. They ranged from the German-born Adam to Academy Award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming, a Briton who helped put together the exhibition.
"In the beginning they didn't have the money — but they had the ingenuity," Cosgrave said.
The money came later, as the globally successful franchise sent Bond to exotic locations around the world — and eventually, in 1979's "Moonraker," into space.
Clips from the movies are screened throughout the exhibition, which includes items that have become mini-icons, from the white bikini worn by Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, "Dr. No," to the tight blue swim trunks sported by Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale."
Cosgrave said that since "Dr. No" in 1962, "Bond has consistently led the way" in style.
She said Sean Connery's "conduit cut" suit by Saville Row tailor Anthony Sinclair from the 1960s films is "the men's equivalent of a Chanel suit," while a sharply cut tuxedo is so identified with the character it has become known as "the James Bond look."
The first time Bond appeared onscreen, in "Dr. No," viewers saw the silk-lined cuff of his tuxedo sleeve before they saw Connery's face.
Cosgrave said the success of the look is simple to explain.
"It's sexy," she said. "When does a man look his best? In a tuxedo."
The exhibition includes tuxes worn by Bonds from Connery (classic Saville Row) to Roger Moore (by designer-to-the-stars Doug Hayward) to Craig, who is dressed by American designer Tom Ford. Ford's lean suits — in neatly circular fashion — draw on the 1960s for inspiration.
Cosgrave said that because actors typically play 007 over several films — apart from one-off George Lazenby in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" — "each Bond had an opportunity to forge a relationship with their tailor. As a result, they're impeccably dressed."
All those designer names reveal another Bond secret — 007 is both an international brand himself and a magnet for other luxury labels.
With the 23rd Bond film, "Skyfall," set for release in October, the exhibition gift shop lets visitors purchase a piece of Bond style, from cocktail shakers and martini glasses to silk ties and gold bars made of chocolate.
"Designing 007" opens Friday and runs to Sept. 5. It will then tour internationally, opening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto in October.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/Jilllawless