Bond Wardrobe Review 13: Octopussy (1983)

20

A Dressing in Disguise

Roger Moore as James Bond
Director: John Glen
Costume designer: Emma Porteous
Costume supervisor: Tiny Nicholls
Tailoring: Douglas Hayward
Shirts: Frank Foster

Overview

Octopussy maintained Bond’s conservative and classic style from For Your Eyes Only with tailor Doug Hayward and shirtmaker Frank Foster, but the film introduced a new costume designer to Bond series with Emma Porteous. While Porteous’ most notable contributions are in the Indian-inspired women’s costumes (she herself was born India), her costumes for Bond guided him through the film’s many unique and unusual circumstances in India and beyond.

The film has a theme of ‘Bond in disguise’ that begins the moment we first see Bond, and it reoccurs until Bond foils the villain’s plan. There’s also a strong theme of Bond in colonial dress in India. Bond’s costumes have a well-defined colour palette of tan, brown, olive, navy and red, as we have seen in Orlebar Brown’s recent Octopussy collection, plus a bit of light blue and grey. A good film wardrobe is defined by themes and a colour palette to give it a unique and strong identity. Octopussy has one of the strongest Bond wardrobes in this regard.

Black Tie

There are numerous callbacks to Goldfinger in Octopussy’s story, and I can’t help but think that the two dinner jackets in Octopussy are inspired by Goldfinger. Both films feature Bond in an ivory peaked-lapel dinner jacket and a black notched-lapel dinner suit. It’s a wonderful callback.

The ivory dinner jacket has the perfect colonial look for India. It’s in a breathable plain-weave cloth, possibly tropical wool or wool and mohair. The narrow peaked lapels directly recall Goldfinger. The two dinner jackets are almost identical, with the notable differences being the Octopussy jacket’s closer fit and double vents.

The black trousers are similar to what Bond wears in For Your Eyes only with a wide, flat silk waistband that extends across the entire front and fastens with two buttons at the right side so it resembles a cummerbund. The trousers may be from the black dinner suit that Bond wears later in the film.

Frank Foster made a simple white cotton voile shirt with a semi-spread collar, double cuffs and a regular front with only their regular placket. The shirt could just as easily be worn with a lounge suit, but it’s the most practical choice for staying cool in hot, humid weather.

The black mohair dinner suit is another elegant choice for India, and it continues Bond’s tradition of wearing mohair dinner suits in warm locales. The bellied notched lapels repeat from For Your Eyes Only. For an intimate dinner, the notched lapels work. Hayward liked notched lapels on dinner suits, and I suspect another tailor may have put Bond in a shawl collar for this occasion.

Moore wears a beautiful ivory silk crepe-de-chine shirt with a pleated front. The bow ties with both dinner jackets are a classic butterfly shape and tie a wonderfully thick knot. The two black tie looks are near faultless.

Suits

The three-piece suit for the M’s office scene is one of Moore’s best. It’s a classic dark grey rope stripe with three buttons on the jacket, six buttons on the waistcoat and flat-front, straight-leg trousers.

Compared to the For Your Eyes Only suits, the Octopussy suits have slightly narrower lapels and trousers. The proportions achieved here are as classic and conservative as possible. With Hayward’s soft shoulder, the suit looks natural and unpretentious. The button stance is low and dates the suit to the 1980s, but its not as obvious with three buttons as it is on the next suit with two buttons.

An ice blue cotton voile shirt from Frank Foster starts the film’s voile shirt theme before Bond arrives in India where he has a greater need for them. The shirt has a classic semi-spread collar that’s slightly larger-proportioned than the typical collar for added presence and one-button cuffs.

The red tie looks lovely on Moore. The whole ensemble takes colours and styles from previous Bond looks but puts them together in a wonderful new way. It’s also wonderful to see Bond placing a Lock & Co. trilby on the hat rack in the office again.

When Bond arrives in India he wears a lightweight tan suit, possibly in cotton poplin or tropical wool. A tan striped tie nicely complements the suit for a classically Bondian tone-on-tone look. A white voile shirt is an unusual choice for Moore’s Bond but serves as a nice plain canvas for the outfit that doesn’t compete with the tan.

Bond’s third suit is navy and double-breasted. It is made in the quintessential 1980s double-breasted style with four buttons in a keystone fashion where only the bottom button fastens (4×1). For Bond it is easier for him to draw his PPK from this style than it is from the more traditional 6×2. This style has come into fashion from time to time: first in the 1930s, again in the 1950s and last in the 1980s to early 1990s. It’s a style that’s associated with the Prince George, Duke of Kent, who started wearing the style after he wore his 4×2 jackets fastened at the bottom button. British tailors more frequently use the 4×1 cut for dinner jackets than for suits, where it’s more associated with continental tailoring.

Hayward made the 4×1 style a signature of his, particularly as it lends itself better to a low fastening than the 6×2 blazer that he made for For Your Eyes Only. As usual, Hayward keeps the gorge high to prevent it from looking too much of its time.

This suit isn’t particularly Bondian, but it is appropriate for Bond’s cover as furniture manufacturing representative Charles Morton. The blue hairline stripe shirt and navy polka-dot tie are appropriate for the cover as well, but they’re not exactly Bondian either. However, I believe that the outfit is intended to be Bond’s own look rather than a disguise. Moore posed for many portraits as James Bond in this outfit. He could have dressed in a more typically Bondian suit style as a furniture manufacturing representative from Leeds. It’s one of the many examples in the series where Bond uses a cover without wearing a disguise.

I love the navy double-breasted suit and the way Moore wears it, but to me it’s not quite right for Bond.

Casual Attire

Bond has only a few of his own casual outfits in Octopussy. The first is Moore’s best safari suit of the series. It’s his final safari look as Bond and he finally wears it on a proper safari, where he’s the prey. Its the obvious costume for the scene, regardless of whether or not Moore is wearing safari clothes for fashion or practical purposes. Frank Foster made the shirt and Hayward made the matching trousers.

Its light tan colour is perfect for sneaking around a palace at night where he matches the stone, and it’s a classic colour for safari gear. It’s made of a lightweight plain-weave wool, which is unusual to wear over a bare chest but also drapes beautifully on screen. It makes the outfit look particularly elegant. Moore doesn’t wear linen in Octopussy because it wrinkles too much, despite it being a natural choice for India. The only downside to this outfit is that Bond wears inappropriate loafers with it.

His next casual look is less successful. It consists of an olive suede shooting vest over a lightweight taupe shirt and dark brown trousers. The three earth tones look both awkward and drab against each other. The shooting vest doesn’t serve a purpose and is too heavy for the climate. When Bond removes the vest he looks like he’s in a brown business casual outfit rather than one for a mission in India. Better colours, a lightweight jacket instead of a vest and more appropriate and rugged cloths would have made this a much better outfit.

The outfit for the film’s climax is far more successful. It consists of a navy cotton blouson, navy cotton trousers and a white cotton voile shirt. Navy and white are classic Bondian colours, while the combination of lightweight and rugged fabrics are perfect for the setting and the action.

The shirt and trousers are perfect. The shirt looks like it may be the same as the one he wears with the tan suit. The trousers are basic, classic and practical. The blouson, while being good in concept, suffers from being overly blousy. There are pleats on the front that add unnecessary fullness. Thankfully Bond is always moving in this outfit, so we don’t see the fullness like we would had Bond posed in this outfit. It’s an excellent outfit for Bond in motion.

Bond also wears a classic British dressing gown made of striped light blue cotton shirting as well as a set of white pyjamas with a grey pencil stripe. Pyjamas are a rare sight on Bond, so I am happy to see how he wears them here.Both are perfectly classic British styles and look wonderful on Roger Moore.

The Disguises

Bond frequently uses aliases in the series but rarely alters his manner of dress when playing other characters. In Octopussy, Bond frequently dresses in costumes that do not reflect the character. The story forces him to dress numerous in full-on disguises. Bond spends so much of the film in these disguises that Moore doesn’t look as much like Bond in the film as he should.

This criticism is about how the story affects the wardrobe. I’m a fan of the story overall, but I do not like how the story puts Bond in so many disguises.

The film eases us into the disguises with a brown tweed jacket, flat cap and yellow polo neck dickey. It’s obviously a disguise because Bond wouldn’t wear the flat cap or yellow polo neck. He looks believably like a British man who would care for horses, so the disguise is a success. Then he reverses the jacket and cap into Colonel Toro’s olive uniform, another disguise. The reversal doesn’t work in reality, but it is a fun detail in the film. The beige Frank Foster military shirt with patch chest pockets and shoulder straps reminds us of Bond’s own safari gear and is the best part of this outfit. The disguises here go beyond Bond’s clothes when he uses his horse trailer to disguise his Acrostar plane.

Bond’s disguises in India include a crocodile submarine and a body bag which Bond uses to pretend he’s a zombie, two of the film’s most ridiculous elements.

In East Germany, Bond jettisons his navy suit jacket and tie and replaces them with a tan Octopussy Circus jacket to disguise himself as a circus worker. This is one of the better disguises as it doesn’t prevent Bond from looking like Bond and allows him to combine his own clothes with the disguise.

Bond kills the circus-knife-thrower Mischka and steals his showy red tunic and leather vest. This disguise works to briefly fool both General Orlov and Mischka’s twin brother Grischka, preventing them from killing Bond before they can tell he’s not who they initially think he is. It’s another effective look, but it sacrifices some of Bond looking like Bond for a significant chunk of the film. Moore, however, puts in one of his best performances as Bond wearing this costume, so it doesn’t compromise the integrity of the character.

For a brief moment, Bond descends to full parody—as he does on a few occasions in the film—when he hides in a gorilla suit, which is made worse by him motioning to check the time on his watch. But I must admit that I always love a gorilla suit gag, so I have a love-hate relationship with Bond wearing a gorilla suit.

The clown disguise is the most notable of the film’s disguises, and the many previous disguises that build up to the clown suit don’t prepare many viewers for the sight of Bond dressed as a clown. Some think it turns Bond into a joke, and they see it as the ultimate mockery of James Bond from the actor they perceive as playing the ‘jokey Bond’.

However, I love how Moore plays Bond at his most serious while dressed as a clown. I see the clown suit in this context as a macabre symbol, so I don’t think the outfit is making a joke out of Bond. I love how 009’s clown disguise foreshadows Bond’s disguise, and there’s certainly nothing funny about 009 dressed as a clown. While I can’t say that I love the clown suit, I appreciate it in the context of the film as it works for the story. The biggest issue is how Bond puts the makeup on so quickly and so accurately.

Other Characters

Kamal Khan, played by Louis Jourdan, is one of the best-dressed villains of the series. He’s beautifully dressed in all of his outfits, from his western tailoring—particular the blue suit and black dinner suit—to his green safari shirt to his Nehru jackets. His Western looks show him as a match for Bond, while his Eastern looks tell us he’s not the same as Bond. He looks elegant no matter what he wears.

Well Done, James

Almost everything Bond wears that is his own is spectacular. The three-piece suit is a wonderful look for London, including the trilby he doesn’t wear. I love the button cuffs on the shirt with this suit and a few others, which at first glance look like an ordinary rounded cuff with one button but are actually more unusual. Frank Foster frequently found ways to make the cuffs on his shirts more interesting. This cuff is deeper than usual, is shaped elegantly with a hyperbolic curve, and its button is larger than usual, about 24L. All of the shirts in Octopussy feature a rounded one-button cuff, but only some of them have the oversized button.

Two other outfits also stand out to me. The ivory dinner jacket improves upon the more iconic example in Goldfinger. The safari suit has been perfected after a decade of Bond wearing them.

Not Perfected Yet

There are too many disguises in Octopussy. None of them bother me individually, not even the clown suit or gorilla suit, but there are too many moments of Bond in disguise at the expense of Bond wearing Bond looks. I think that costume designer Emma Porteous did a fantastic job with designing these disguises, and she followed the needs of the script. So this is ultimately a problem with the script.

The drab outfit of a suede shooting vest and taupe shirt is a low moment amongst Moore’s Bond looks, and I think it’s the worst outfit in the film because it doesn’t have the excuse of being a disguise.

Verdict

Octopussy has some of Moore’s best outfits as James Bond. The culmination of his safari looks with the wool safari suit in Octopussy is a brilliant moment. The suits are all superb, particularly the grey stripe three-piece suit, even if the double-breasted suit isn’t quite right for James Bond. The dinner jackets are excellent as well. Almost all of Bond’s own looks in the film are brilliantly done.

But as I said before, the excessive number of disguises drags down the wardrobe, even if the disguises are all well executed. Because of the many disguises, Octopussy doesn’t serve as a film I can point to as a great example of how Bond dresses. If I were rating this film based purely on Bond’s own clothing, it might get a 9/10, but I have to rate it as a whole. I still weighed Bond’s own clothes more heavily than the disguises, and I like the disguises in the context of the story, albeit not in a Bond film.

Rating: 7/10

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Leave your comments below.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I might have given it an 8, but I really do feel like this is a fair assessment. I’ll defend the clown suit, on the back of story context and performance alone, until my dying day.

    • Octopussy was the first Bond film I saw in the cinema and I love it for that. I think Kamal Khan’s wardrobe is fantastic and probably the best dressed villain in the series.

  2. Perhaps there is a common misunderstanding about Octopussy.
    Whereas LALD, TMWTGG and MR were rip-offs of blaxploitation, kung-fu movies and Star Wars, we do not see Octopussy as what it may, consciously or not, be: A tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood made in 1983.
    Hitchcock’s Cuba from Topaz in the pre-title sequence, the circus and clown, and the macabre around it, the twins and the surprise in the superb post-credits foot chase, the auction and the train are pure Hitch. India and its outdated exoticism, its Flashman clichés are pure serial (as Indiana Jones at the same time). And back to Hitchcock and the Cold war thriller (the Third Man, one of John Glen’s first jobs) with Berlin and the train and circus again (wink wink Hitch). All this being confirmed by the presence of Louis Jourdan. That even gives sense to that Tarzan yell. The classic wardrobe, classic cars (not that Alfa but Kamal’s Rolls Royce), the antique plane (good ol’ Beechcraft 18), the classic and symphonic Barry music all contribute to that. But somehow, something is missing to hit the spot. Maybe, the convoluted plot or the unbalanced mix of escapism and John Glen’s serious Bond.

    • I’m a lover of many of the films / genres you mentioned but none of them registered with me as I watched this film, except maybe the Indian locale of ‘Temple of Doom’, which according to wiki came out after MR!). In short I think your point is a B-I-G stretch! I love Topaz BTW a great period clock with thrilling moments. (The Third Man was by Carol Reed not Hitch!)

      • My phrasing was ambiguous (sorry, I am not a native English speaker), I know The Third Man is directed by Reed (it is a favourite of mine). I placed it in the Cold war thriller category.
        Temple of Doom comes a year later but influences are the same (clichés on colonial India).

      • I really like The Third Man (1949), a great movie in the film noir genre! Thanks Eric for mentioning John Glen in that context. It also included my favorite M, Bernard Lee.

  3. Did you intentionally forgot the « other characters » part ? Seems strange !
    Louis Jourdan has a wonderful wardrobe of very classic looks.

    • I did not intentionally forget it, but you’re right that I should have included Kamal Khan. He’s one of the best-dressed villains of the series! I’ll have to add in that section later.

  4. 7 is definitely fair, I’d say 7.5; re the three piece which I do like i’d have preferred it with cufflinks due to the cufflinks and waistcoat adding more formality. But i really like the suit worn in the promos that is worn in Berlin with the double breasted jacket. Mischka’s outfit I like too. And the ivory and black tuxedos both add two different dimensions to formal evening wear.

  5. Just as there are many references to OHMSS in FYEO, as David Marlborough brillantly commented on Bond Wardrobe Review 12, there are so many parallels between Octopussy and Goldfinger. They even managed to squeeze in a coke (bowler hat) in the atom bomb disarmament climax scene, even if it had to be part of a clown costume…

    • Thank you for your very kind words. This occurs with a number of the (as I call them) classic Bond movies (i.e. those produced by the senior Broccoli clan). The Spy Who Loved Me references a lot of You Only Live Twice, OHMSS is referenced in For Your Eyes Only and yes, Goldfinger is reference in Octopussy and indeed, even further in A View to a Kill.

      Eric makes a very persuasive case for the Hitchcock/ Classsic Hollywood Era references and indeed whole atmosphere which prevades Octopussy, even down to the film’s score. Indeed, for me, Octopussy is the most balanced Bond movie of the 1980s and the last great, classic Bond movie. FYEO was admirable and a noble attempt to return to no nonsense Cold War Bond but audiences needed this to be tempered with the light humour they’d had since the start of the 70’s. The remaining 1980s Bond movies lacked balance for various reasons. Regarding the Octopussy wardrobe, Matt’s assessment is on the money. I don’t object to the suede gilet ensemble. Perhaps a lighter shade of brown would have worked better but a tiny quibble in what was a beautifully put together wardrobe which reflected, like the movie itself, harked back to both Bonds British heritage and the golden age of men’s tailoring.

      • Thank you for very insightful comments. I agree on every sentiment. I too find Eric’s comments very useful, and I like e.g. how a key scene from The Third Man, with the Wiener Riesenrad in the Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt, was cleverly referenced in The Living Daylights.

      • Thanks David! I feel less lonely on this view of Octopussy as a (somewhat missed) tribute to classic cinema. But I am not the only one, I saw someone compare LALD and North by Northwest (are UN, a train, an aerial gunning in a field really enough?).
        I think it was actually underplayed by the Battle of the Bonds context plus the fact it was still Roger. It would have suited a newer Bond better.
        AVTAk after that is full 1980’s bonkers with Renault Fuego and 11 and full Rémy Julienne stuff (remember, I am French!), Tanya Roberts’ and Christopher Walken’s dyed haircuts, Grace Jones and Duran Duran, leather jackets and FILA tracksuit. There’s even Dolph Lundgren !

    • Hi Eric,

      Yes, the United Nations Secretariat Building in N.Y., the aerial gunning in a field, and the train scene in LALD can be interpreted as subtle references to North by Northwest (cf. the helicopter chase in FRWL). The dyed blonde hair of Christopher Walken, as medically manipulated “super-child” Max Sorin, was relevant in relation to the narrative of the story in AVTAK, and the brief appearance of Grace Jones’s then boyfriend Dolph Lundgren matched.

    • I would also have preferred a lighter shade of brown on the outfit with the shooting vest. Maybe eschew the gilet altogether.

  6. I think 7 is a fair score. I’d probably have given it an 8 myself. I love the Hayward suits as I do in FYEO but the narrowing of the trouser leg is an improvement over the previous movie for me. I’m a big fan of the red and navy polka dot ties which both look great on Moore. I really like the safari shirt, best of all the safari looks for me and as you say in a setting that historically makes sense. I agree re the abundance of disguises but they definitely fit the story. I didn’t pick up on the Goldfinger nods in this before or indeed the OHMSS refs in FYEO pointed out by David in the last review but they’re there and hard to argue against. I do not have any issue with the clown outfit in the context of the scenes in which as you say Moore plays serious Bond in those moments. The way he disposes of a few enemies while in disguise in some of the latter scenes dispel the idea this was all jokey Bond. Roger Moore could play the assassin just fine when the moment called for it even if his detractors often don’t like to recognise it.

  7. Your interpretation of the yellow clown costume as a ‘macabre’ symbol of imminent death as foreshadowed by it being 009’s final disguise / set of clothes is bang on the mark!

  8. Matt,

    Another great post. I think you assessed things pretty fairly here and I now know why the scenes where Bond first meets with Octopussy felt off, it was the drab outfit. Also, I am with you regarding the disguises, none individually is that bad, it’s the cumulative effect that’s the issue. And you are spot on about the clown scene, Moore’s performance and the contrast between the over the top circus fight and deadly serious bomb make that scene work.

    I have to agree with you and the other commenters about this film calling back to prior Bond films and classic films in general. But I also think it does a good job of being a high stakes Cold War thriller. Which leads me to an interesting aside/suggestion. General Orlov’s plan of sneaking a nuke into a US base in Europe in order to stage an explosion framed as an accident and thus lead to unilateral disarmament has strong similarities to the plot of The Fourth Protocol. The book was published the year after Octopussy came out and a few years later they made a film staring Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine. I don’t think you’ve covered it here, but the costumes might be worth an article. I noticed a few ways I think they try and dress Caine’s character a bit Bondian and Brosnan is in some interesting outfits.

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