GoldenEye Looks to the Golden Age of Menswear
James Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume designer: Lindy Hemming
Ties: Sulka, Simpsons of Piccadilly and others
James Bond was successfully reinvented for the 1990s. Pierce Brosnan, after having to back out of the role when he was originally cast in 1986, played a new kind of Bond who focused on physical action stunts. The Bond films started to become modern action films in the Dalton era, but the action became a larger focus of the Bond films starting with GoldenEye. This would alter Bond’s costume needs.
A new costume designer was hired to reinvent Bond’s look: Lindy Hemming. She enlisted Brioni to make the suits, not only for their style and versatility but also for their ability to produce a tremendous number of duplicate suits for the action sequences. The intensity of the action scenes in GoldenEye was never seen before in a Bond film, and Hemming put Bond in a suit for one of these sequences.
GoldenEye not only redefined what Bond could be after the Cold War, it also redefined what James Bond style meant: Brioni suits. For the first time, Bond’s suitmaker paid to be used in the film and was vocal about their involvement. Everyone knew what it meant to dress like James Bond, even if it was considerably different than how the character previously dressed.
Lindy Hemming is a traditionalist when it comes to menswear. While Bond’s tailored style in GoldenEye was appropriate for the 1990s, it takes after 1930s styles. Connery, Lazenby and Moore wore contemporary English bespoke black tie styles, but Brosnan’s black dinner suit goes back to the 1930s. The jacket has peaked lapels and the trousers have double reverse pleats. The dinner suit has a waistcoat, a first for Bond. It has a traditional low opening with a four buttons and lapels.
This is Bond’s most traditional dinner suit of the series, and that’s not a bad thing. The 1990s offered no decent progress for black tie fashions, and Hemming did well by looking to the past, and to what is arguably the most elegant era for black tie. But the dinner suit also recalls Bond’s 1960s looks by being made of mohair.
The shirt has a pleated front with a concealed placket, another first for Bond. Traditionalists argue that buttons shouldn’t show on a dress shirt with a dinner suit, and that studs and a concealed placket are the only legitimate options. Bond only showed buttons on his dress shirts for the first 15 films, but the fly front here works well for the character, as studs seem a bit too fussy for him.
Though this introduces new black tie styles for Bond, it’s historically informed while also appropriate for the character.
Lounge Suits and a Blazer
Brioni suits became the definition of James Bond style in GoldenEye. The strong Roman shoulders gave Brosnan the presence he needed for Bond, but many English tailors could have done the same. An English tailor or brand should have been who suited Bond, but Brioni had the capabilities, the budget and the quality that could properly clothe Bond. Brioni was not the first Italian to suit Bond; ex-Brioni employee Angelo Vitucci tailored Roger Moore for The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
Brosnan’s fits are characteristic of the 1990s. The suit jackets have a very full cut and a long length, but unlike in the Dalton films, Brosnan’s suits have a neat fit. The trousers have double reverse pleats but a moderately trim leg, so they don’t look baggy. The cut is typical of Italian suits of the era, dispelling the current myth that an Italian cut is always a slim cut. However, I find that the fit is too full for Bond. The suits move elegantly on Brosnan, but they look too cumbersome for action scenes.
While the silhouette isn’t English, Hemming gave most of the suit jackets slanted hip pockets, ticket pockets and double vents so they’d have a hint of Britishness to them. So while Bond has been turned into a continental with Italian suits, there’s still a hint of Britishness in their style. The cloths are also English, from William Halstead, Schofield & Smith, and Bower Roebuck & Co. I appreciate that even though Bond is now tailored by an Italian brand, he hasn’t left Britain behind entirely.
The first suit is a two-piece button-two Prince of Wales check in navy and sand that Bond wears to M’s office. It has a neutral appearance but with a hint of warmth. However, I find it has a town-and-country look that makes it a bit too informal for the office compared to how Bond typically dresses for the office. This is mainly due to the colours and the check. A single vent adds an additional country touch, but a single vents isn’t necessarily inappropriate for a city suit.
This outfit, with an ivory shirt and a blue-and-gold tie, introduces a common theme through Brosnan’s Bond wardrobe of mixing warm and cool colours, specifically blue with shades of brown. Instead of black and white, mixing blue and brown still looks neutral but has more richness to it. These colours were possibly chosen to blend in with the set, and they do so beautifully.
The following suit for both Q’s lab and for Bond’ arrival in Russia is a charcoal sharkskin with a blue windowpane. The windowpane is a bit flashy for Bond, but I think it’s a stylish choice. This suit is more in line with what would be expected for an office suit than the previous suit is. This three-piece suit introduces Brosnan’s button-three jacket, which would be the dominant style throughout the Brosnan and Craig eras. Bond had occasionally worn button-three suits before, particularly for his more formal suits, but starting in GoldenEye it became Bond’s main style. It’s a classic style, but here it also plays into what was trendy in the 1990s. The suit has a low button stance, which I think looks good on Brosnan.
Brosnan wears a luxurious navy overcoat with this suit in Russia, but I find it too boring. The style is too simple without any British details like a fly front and velvet collar. The button stance is much too low for an overcoat. By revealing so much chest, the coat would fail at keeping Bond warm if he had buttoned it.
The defining suit of the film—and possibly of Brosnan’s tenure—is a navy birdseye two-piece suit. While Bond’s navy suits in the past were mainly flannels with the occasional chalk stripe, Brosnan’s signature was a worsted navy birdseye. It’s an elegant take on the classic navy suit, the original Bond suit from the books. The outfit is again a mix of warm and cool colours that makes the outfit look rich and is flattering on Brosnan.
The final suit is a briefly worn tan cotton suit that looks a bit slouchier due to the cloth. Swelled edges also give the suit a more casual look. This suit is perfect for the weather in Cuba and looks wonderfully relaxed with a white cotton-and-linen open-neck shirt. The classic Persol sunglasses are the perfect choice. In a later scene on the beach he wears a different linen shirt with what is likely the suit trousers. The outfit looks perfectly elegant but relaxed for the beach.
GoldenEye marks the blue blazer’s last appearance to date in the Bond series. He wears it by the sea in Monaco, which couldn’t be a better place for it. The brass-buttoned blazer is a beautiful classic button-two, show-three model with double vents, similar to Moore’s blazer in For Your Eyes Only. I like that Brosnan wears it with an open-neck mid-blue checked shirt, and I like that the check is so fine that it’s hardly visible—it’s the most Bondian kind of check. I don’t like that he wears the blazer unbuttoned; it’s looks sloppy when a double-breasted jacket flaps around. I also don’t like that he wears it with triple-reverse-pleated trousers. Triple pleats are always excessive and end up making the trousers look sloppy.
The shirts in GoldenEye are from Sulka, and while they are appropriate for Bond, they don’t look particularly special. The collar is a bit too ’90s, with a spread that is too narrow for Brosnan’s face and points that are too short. This also marks the first time since Goldfinger that Bond wears double cuffs and cufflinks with his suits. Cufflinks contribute to the luxurious look of Brosnan’s wardrobe. I feel that button cuffs are a better choice for Bond, with the occasional, calculated appearance of cufflinks. Button cuffs are much more practical for the character, and they’re a good compromise when Fleming’s original literary character wore short-sleeve shirts with his suits.
The ties are from Sulka and Simpsons of Piccadilly. They’re in busier or bolder patterns than Bond is known for wearing, and I don’t think they are in the spirit of the character. I think they’re the worst part of Brosnan’s look in GoldenEye.
The shoes in GoldenEye are from Church’s and are oxfords in brogue and semi-brogue styles. These are traditional English styles, but brogues weren’t typically previously Bond’s style. For a character known for wearing basic slip-ons, these shoes are the opposite. Nevertheless, the shoes are beautiful, and after years of Moore wearing Italian shoes it’s nice to see Bond in English shoes again.
GoldenEye‘s wardrobe is bookended by two military looks: a black modified American M-1965 field jacket for the action start of the film and a green tactical outfit for the action at the film’s climax. The black outfit gives Bond a tough look for the beginning, while the green outfit is perfect camouflage for the jungle scenes at the end of the film.
Both outfits give Bond the tough look he needs for the new action focus of the post-Cold War Bond series. Bond looks prepared and ready to take on whatever comes at him when dressed in these tactical clothes. Though I don’t think Bond should look as soldier-like as he does in these outfits, I concede that they are necessary for the situations. I think that Daniel Craig’s Bond did a better job at finding more sophisticated casual looks for intense action scenes. I like how his Bond wears outfits that are mostly wearable in civilian life. Brosnan’s two action looks are much more difficult to wear that way.
GoldenEye has little in the way of casual looks, but the first one is one of the best in the Bond series. It’s a navy crew-neck cable-knit jumper, a blue checked shirt, tan moleskin trousers and a green day cravet. He’s dressed as an off-duty naval officer would dress, except for the cravat. It’s more James St John Smythe than James Bond, but Brosnan pulls it off. It’s mostly hidden under the jumper, so it’s not distracting. The rest of the outfit is perfect.
He also wears a pair of basic black swim trunks with a classic, trim fit. They are simple and utilitarian, but entirely appropriate for the character.
GoldenEye is a dark and drab-looking film, and Bond stands out as being the most elegantly dressed man without any competition. Robbie Coltrane’s character Valentin Zukovsky is the only other man with an interesting outfit. He wears a green three-piece suit with a flashy waistcoat made by Soho tailor Mr Eddie, and it has the right amount of flash for a crime boss. It’s a shame his scenes are so dark that the suit isn’t easily visible on screen.
Well Done, James
It’s a joy to see Bond returning to traditional styles in GoldenEye, even if many styles are more traditional than Bond had previously worn before. Bond is dressed elegantly and to luxurious standards that Fleming would have appreciated. The suits are all made of lightweight cloths, which Fleming also would have liked. I like how Lindy Hemming worked to incorporate English styles despite the suitmaker being Italian. The balance between English and Italian is commendable.
I love that Hemming put Brosnan in a suit and tie for one of the major set pieces of the film: the tank chase. It was a moment that portrayed Bond doing Bond things while dressed in a classic navy suit.
Not Perfected Yet
I find that the fits are just a little too full in GoldenEye. They cross the line from adding a needed bulk to Pierce Brosnan to overwhelming Brosnan. The gorge is too low. This kind of silhouette was on trend in the 1990s, but it could have been dialed back a little.
The three ties are some of the weakest parts of GoldenEye‘s wardrobe. The patterns are too bold for James Bond, a character known for his solid ties. Much of the wardrobe moved away from the restrained styles that defined Bond’s wardrobe over the previous four decades, and simpler ties could have effectively brought the wardrobe closer to the character’s origins.
Brosnan frequently wears his suit jackets unbuttoned. It’s too sloppy for Bond, a naval man, and it doesn’t portray the beauty of the suits as well as buttoning them would.
GoldenEye effectively established a new Bond actor, a new approach for the series and a new style for the character. The new style was mostly a success, but it left behind too much of what defined the style of the character before. While the outfits are well-chosen and appropriate for the scenes, it went too far in making Bond look like a successful international banker of the 1990s. The outfits draw just a little too much attention to themselves. However, the navy birdseye suit, the three-piece dinner suit and the cable-knit jumper are standouts of the series that stand the test of time.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Leave your comments below.