The Oxford Living Dictionaries defines consumerism, in the form as it relates to James Bond, as, “the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods.” The dictionary notes that when used this way it is a derogatory word, though most readers of this blog welcome this aspect of James Bond. Consumerism is a defining aspect of James Bond: the books, the films and the character. It is the way that many people relate to the character, and this blog would not exist if it wasn’t for James Bond’s consumerism. We should be aware of consumerism and take it for what it is, and if you read this blog regularly you most likely accept—or maybe even welcome—its relationship with Bond.
James Bond and consumerism have always been linked, starting with Ian Fleming’s books. Brands were important to Fleming. Though Fleming usually preferred to use basic descriptions when discussing Bond’s clothes, he occasionally mentioned Bond’s clothing brands and stores, such as Saxone golf shoes in Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever, a Burberry’s raincoat in The Man with the Golden Gun, and Lillywhites as a store where Bond purchased ski-wear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Luxury clothes were also important to Bond, as he favoured Sea Island cotton and silk shirts and Sea Island cotton underwear. Fleming also mentioned luxury brands that Bond liked in other areas, such as soaps from Floris, Taittinger Champagne, Rolex watches and Bentley sports cars.
Fleming also used brand names when discussing the villains’ personal effects, such as Cartier cufflinks and a Patek Philippe watch for Hugo Drax in Moonraker. Red Grant in From Russia with Love wore a shirt made of a branded cotton and wool blend known as Viyella. For Count Lippe in Thunderball, Fleming took pleasure in dropping the names Anderson & Sheppard, Charvet, Tripler, Dior, Hardy Amies, Peel, Mark Cross and Wilkinson. Brands were important to Fleming, and he used them to define both clothing and characters.
The Bond films have always been luxury-brand-oriented, even before the days when product placement could provide a significant portion of a film’s budget. Though Bond driving unique luxury cars such as Aston Martin and Lotus, the films not only defined Bond as a man who appreciates luxury items but also promoted extravagance. Watches have long been another way we Bond has been about consumerism, starting with close-up shots of Bond’s Rolex watches and later product placement from Seiko and Omega. Fine Champagne like Dom Perignon and Bollinger have featured prominently in the Bond films.
The brands of Bond’s suits, shirts and ties could not be easily identified in the early films, but they looked like the best money could buy. That alone was enough to show consumerism in Bond’s clothes. Bond did not appear to be a man who just bought an average suit off the pegs.
The most common way that clothing brands promote themselves is through branded clothes, whether it is a logo or an immediately identifiable pattern like Burberry’s Nova Check. Bond has occasionally worn clothes that brand themselves in logos, starting with a Slazenger jumper for golf in Goldfinger, along with his Penfold Heart golf ball and Auric Goldfinger’s Slazenger golf balls. Thunderball features more branded clothes, with a logoed polo shirt from Fred Perry and three pairs of swim shorts with a more subtly placed Jantzen logo. Belts, shoes and luggage from Gucci stand out in The Man with the Golden Gun. Louis Vuitton luggage is hard to miss in A View to a Kill, but it fits with Bond’s cover as a man who just inherited a lot of money.
James Bond has always been used to sell things. In the 1960s Sean Connery’s face was used to sell Jim Beam bourbon, and though he was not in character as Bond the character is referenced in the advertisements. And in the 1960s there were countless James Bond toys and games, but one could even buy James Bond-branded shoes. James Bond-branded clothing has been around almost as long as the films have been. Bollinger has promoted themselves through James Bond since the 1980s.
Bond was used to promote his fine clothes in the Pierce Brosnan era through Brioni suits and shirts and Church’s shoes. Turnbull & Asser and Dunhill were introduced to new audiences though the Brosnan films. Die Another Day was popularly dubbed “Buy Another Day” because of all the blatant product placement throughout the film, such as in a scene that prominently features Brioni-labelled shirts, Bollinger Champagne and a Philishave/Norelco electric shaver. It was as if the film’s story was written to fit around the advertisements rather than the other way around. Merchandise deals at the time of the film’s release helped us to remember the brands that Bond used while also promoting the film. The visibility of Sony products in Casino Royale is also distracting, but at least they did not overshadow the story.
Now we have come to accept that Bond and brands go hand in hand. Do we want to wear the brands that James Bond wears because we admire the character and the films, or is it because these brands have convinced us to want them? I would like to think it is the former, since we still want to purchase clothes from brands who do not appreciate their connection with Bond as much as we would like them to. Nevertheless, the Bond character has positioned fans to appreciate luxury goods. Bond lives an aspirational lifestyle, which contrasts with science fiction or fantasy characters that would only inspire cosplay or Halloween costumes. Plenty of men want to be like Han Solo and dress up as him, but most Star Wars fans do not wear trousers with stripes down the sides in their everyday lives. The character does not inspire people to spend money on luxury goods like James Bond does. Still, he inspires people to buy things like toys, games and memorabilia that generally cost less than James Bond’s clothes do.
The recent Orlebar Brown 007 collaboration is an example of the Bond films’ relationship with consumerism, and reactions to the collection prompted me to write this article. Orlebar Brown created a line of clothes inspired by James Bond’s clothing and features subtly placed 007 branding. While these clothes are unique pieces that are very well executed and produced, they are also very expensive. These clothes are more expensive than very similar items in their main line because of the Bond branding. I am very excited to have some of these pieces in my wardrobe, but they were also gifts from Orlebar Brown.
The public reception of this line has been split between people who want to pay for what they think is a special wearable collectible and think they are worth the price, and people who see this as mere consumerism and find the clothes unreasonably priced. Because Bond has always been about consumerism, Orlebar Brown’s 007 collection is in the spirit of Bond. The Bond character has always been loyal to brands, and people who are loyal to Orlebar Brown or the 007 brand are amongst those who have purchased pieces from this collection. Orlebar Brown are free to charge what they want to charge for the line, and people are free to make their own decisions as to whether or not these clothes are worth buying. The line has been a tremendous success, and I applaud Orlebar Brown for their work.
People have reacted similarly to Tom Ford and their connection to Bond. They make their clothes to the highest standards possible, though similar bespoke clothes can often be had for the same price or for less. Bespoke is a better value than high-end designer clothes of equal quality because the clothes are made for you and thus will fit better (as long as the tailor is good), but some Bond fans also find value in wearing clothes from the same brands that James Bond wears. These values are in the eye of the beholder.
Clothes that are solidly constructed, practical and something the average person can afford are the best value. Suits are not necessary for our survival, so it can be argued that they are never a good value. Other than for coats that keeps us the most comfortably warm in the winter it is difficult to say what makes one item of clothing a better value than another. Value in tailored clothes may come from using the most experienced bespoke cutter, or it may come from what will be most cost-effective per wear. The best bespoke suit is a good value because it does something that no other suit can do by being the best-made and best-fitted suit, unless a high-end ready-to-wear suit like a Brioni or Tom Ford fits perfectly and is the style you want. A mid-tier ready-to-wear suit is more cost-effective per wear.
To get the look of most of Bond’s tailored clothes one does not need to go the route of Tom Ford or English bespoke, but an inexpensive suit that is the same colour and same general style of a given Bond suit is not going to look like one of Bond’s suits. To make an accurate replica of a Bond suit, it is necessary to spend a lot of money. The main Bond look is an expensive look. Most tailors not trained by the best in London or Hong Kong will not understand how to replicate the styles of Anthony Sinclair or Tom Ford. And what makes those suits so special is costly to make. Both the effort and the tailor’s experience is worth a lot. I have found lesser tailors to not know how to replicate the gauntlet cuffs on Sean Connery’s dinner jacket in Dr. No or the fly front of Daniel Craig’s dress shirt in Casino Royale. It takes not only a good shirtmaker but also an artist to make a decent cocktail cuff.
Replicating Bond’s casual looks is easier without Bond’s budget. Bond’s casual clothes in the 1960s were not even all that luxurious. His Slazenger jumper in Goldfinger was made of acrylic, not cashmere or wool. Fred Perry is not a luxury brand. Some of the more recent casual clothes have come from everyday brands like Zara and J. Crew. The look of Bond’s cashmere jumpers can be replicated at a much lower cost in merino wool.
Being that The Suits of James Bond is a blog both about clothing and about James Bond, this is a blog that promotes consumerism. I mention tailors, shirtmakers, shoemakers, designers and luxury brands as a way of giving credit to the artists who made James Bond’s clothes and accessories, not always to promote them. Sometimes it is to promote them because they sent me clothes or because I purchased the clothes and want to share my experience. Merely mentioning names is, of course, a way of promoting these clothiers. This article about consumerism is in itself promoting Bond brands by mentioning more brands in this article than I have mentioned in any other article. People always want to know who made these clothes, not only because they want to buy the clothes but because knowing who made the clothes helps us to understand them.
I make an attempt to look at Bond’s clothing from a stylistic and artistic point of view, but this blog focuses on luxury. Almost all of Bond’s clothes are more luxurious than any person should ever need. But if you are reading this you value fine clothing. We all have different priorities for our clothes. For some it is buying exactly what James Bond wore or collecting Bond merchandise. For some it is buying what we think are the best clothes we can possibly wear, which is an attitude we learned from James Bond. For some it is about learning what defines James Bond style and replicating it to the best of our abilities and means. And for others it is only learning more about the James Bond character through his manner of dress.