The Austin Powers series is the most culturally impactful of the James Bond spoofs to date, and it’s one that took on a life of its own far beyond Bond. The costumes are some of the most iconic to ever appear in film, and they brought a certain type of 1960s style back to the mainstream fashion of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
For the From Tailors with Love podcast, I joined Peter Brooker and BAMF Style‘s Nick Guzan to speak with the costume designer of all three Austin Powers films Deena Appel about the costumes. The three films include Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).
The discussion of the costumes brought up the inevitable comparisons with the Bond films. Appel watched the Bond films to prepare for costuming these films, and her preparation shows. Though Austin Powers himself is not a parody of the James Bond character, apart from his insatiable sex drive, many of the costumes in the series can be directly compared to costumes in the Bond series from the 1960s.
Austin Powers (Mike Myers)
Austin Powers’ own costumes are primarily inspired by the Peacock Revolution and by 1960s rock star style rather than by James Bond’s. There is, however, one item from Austin Powers’ iconic look that came from James Bond: the lace jabot that is part of Bond’s Scottish Highland dress disguise as Sir Hilary Bray in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. So it’s not even a part of James Bond’s own look.
The jabot is a piece of neckwear. It’s attached to the shirt, but it is not part of the shirt. Appel clarified that the accessory is not a cravat either:
A cravat is more of a scarf you would wear. Imagine a smoking jacket and a shirt, and a cravat that would be a fold-over scarf that’s tucked into the shirt. I think that George Lazenby wore something at some point. Mike is Scottish and so I think that’s what was in his in mind, and I think George Harrison had a bit of that going on at some point in his life.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the only Bond film that touches on the flamboyant late 1960s fashions that Austin Powers ran with. It meshes perfectly with Austin’s flashy style.
Dr Evil (Mike Myers)
While Dr Evil’s bald and scarred head is reminiscent of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, his clothes more closely resemble the most famous evil doctor of the Bond films: Dr No from the film of the same name. Blofeld’s famous suit is the Mao suit rather than the Nehru suit, and Dr Evil and Dr No both wear the later. The most notable difference lies in the collar: the Mao jacket has a folded collar while the Nehru jacket has a stand-up collar. Telly Savalas’ Blofeld had worn a Styrian with a similar stand-up collar in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Both Dr Evil’s and Dr No’s Nehru jackets have fly fronts with short double vents at the sides, and both wear white socks and white shoes with their outfits.
The colours are the only notable difference. Dr Evil wears grey whilst Dr No wears beige. Dr Evil wears grey because Appel wanted Dr Evil’s world to be devoid of colour to contrast with Austin’s vivid world. Blofeld wears grey Mao suits in Diamonds Are Forever and For Your Eyes Only, so Dr Evil’s grey look is strongly connected with Blofeld’s in those films.
Appel told about Dr Evil’s look, made at Universal Studios by tailor Tommy Velasco:
The hardest construction was Dr Evil’s suit, because along with changing the palette, it was really important to Mike that the physicality be different for all the characters that he played, and certainly for the last one [Austin Powers in Goldmemeber] he was playing so many characters. We had decided that Dr Evil would have a barrel chest—a very full rounded chest—but translating that to the Blofeld-esque Mao suit was really challenging. […] Because it closes down the middle, and there is no forgiveness in that, to create that over a barrel chest and have it look like it was truly his body was a challenge. And we had to do the same thing when he had to create that for Verne [Troyer, as Mini Me] as well.
Years after Austin Powers, Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld in Spectre would adopt the Nehru jacket. This may have been inspired by Blofeld’s Styrian or by other previous Bond villains, though the brother angle of Blofeld in Spectre could suggest that Dr. Evil may have been part of the inspiration.
Dr No’s clear radiation suit also serves as direct inspiration for one of Dr Evil’s outfits in a few brief moments in International Man of Mystery.
Number Two (Robert Wagner)
Dr Evil’s right-hand man, Number Two, has a passing resemblance to Blofeld’s right-hand man in Thunderball, Emilio Largo. Largo is also known as SPECTRE agent Number Two. They both wear an eye patch. They also both attend the casino wearing an ivory shawl-collar dinner jacket with a white shirt and black bow tie. This dinner jacket only makes an appearance in International Man of Mystery.
Random Task (Joe Son)
Dr Evil’s henchman Random Task in International Man of Mystery is nothing more than a direct parody of Odd Job from Goldfinger. Both men are dressed as manservants in the Edwardian style, with a black high-buttoning jacket, black waistcoat, grey trousers, white wing-collar shirt and black necktie.
Odd Job famously wears a black flat-crowned bowler hat, with an equally flat brim. Random Task wears a traditional bowler with a domed crown and a turned-up brim. Odd Job needed a flat brim for its sharp edge for throwing. Random Task, instead, throws a shoe instead of a hat, so an ordinary bowler suits him just fine.
Random Task’s shoes are semi-brogue balmoral oxfords. They have a cap-toe and a heel counter with decorated perforations along the seams. The shoe is a balmoral rather than a regular oxford because the throat seam continues horizontally to the heel counter. An oxford with this seam is also called a galosh oxford. In American English the regular oxford shoe is known as a balmoral, while this shoe is the more traditional type of balmoral that takes after the balmoral boot.
Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham)
Felicity Shagwell, the female lead of The Spy Who Shagged Me, in a short moment walks onto the beach in a white bikini. This white bikini is a direct copy of what Ursula Andress wears as Honey Ryder in Dr. No. The bikini top is made with an underwire construction and has a front tie, and Felicity also wears it with a utility belt and holstered knife just like Honey does.
Austin Powers joins in on the fun and wears an identical bikini. Seven years before Daniel Craig made waves with his swim trunks as James Bond in Casino Royale, Austin Powers made this a special moment for both women and men.
Goldmember a.k.a. Johan van der Smut (Mike Myers)
Goldmember, in Austin Powers in Goldmember, is loosely inspired by Auric Goldfinger from Goldfinger, and like Goldfinger they both wear clothes in colours that remind us of their love of gold. Goldmember’s clothes do not directly copy Goldfinger’s clothes, but the colour schemes in their wardrobes are used the same way to show their shared obsession. Goldmember wears mostly golden-yellow shades, while Goldfinger wears a wider variety of shades of yellow and brown.
Check out part of the discussion with Deena Appel below, and stay tuned for more on the From Tailors with Love podcast.