Few get the opportunity to peek behind the curtain for a look at a James Bond production — which is why when Gear Patrol was offered the chance in October of 2019, we jumped. Traveling to London, we visited Pinewood Studios as a guest of Omega to check out Bond’s new watch, see what a machine gun-equipped Aston Martin looks like up close, and speak to some of the creatives who bring Bond to life on the silver screen.
Given that an Omega watch is merely a piece of Bond’s costume, we thought we’d give you a sneak peak into the design process for the rest of the secret agent’s wardrobe, along with the wardrobe for other characters in 007’s universe.
Suttirat Anne Larlarb, the film’s costume designer, had a room within one of the Pinewood facilities set up with costume samples from No Time to Die. One the more striking was a Japanese “nho”-style mask, worn by villain Rami Malek. Larlarb remarked that one of the most challenging aspects of creating this look was “getting the perfect expressionless expression.”
“One of the most interesting challenges of taking on a Bond film is that it comes with this expectation that you’re going to address certain things that a built-in audience expects,” she said. “You have a well-suited James Bond, you have villains that have become icons in and of themselves. And so to have a new villain, one that’s not been in the lexicon before, is actually a particularly juicy challenge, because the other villains that we’ve come to know through the history of Bond are so iconic — you have to outdo the last villain.”
This costume was made completely in-house — Larlarb has two tailors as well as cutting and sewing teams, and an in-house textile workshop to work on aging and distressing to make materials look lived-in and worn.
“The drama is dependent upon the lighting and the movement — just a slight cocking of the head to one angle or the other,” she explained. “When you look at it front-on it seems very expressionless and serene, but depending on the lighting and the body language of the person wearing the mask, you can get quite a lot of emotional range. It can feel very aggressive or very serene.”
Ralph Fiennes’s iconic “M” had its own sartorial challenges, though these were made easier when Larlarb simply followed the famed actor’s preferences: His suits are made bespoke by a tailor in East London at Timothy Everest, whom Fiennes loves, and the fabric used is one of Fiennes’s favorites from SPECTRE, though the suit and cut are both new. Said Larlarb: “The character is so steadfast and traditional, so it made sense for him to have a favorite suit or tailor and wear the same suit into the future, ad infinitum, but not have it be exactly the same.”
Just because shooting has begun doesn’t mean that the story is rigidly defined, or that there aren’t room for changes in both story arc and wardrobe along the way: “On the day that Ralph Fiennes wears this ensemble, because of where the script and story were developed up to that point, we didn’t quite know what was happening the next day in the story. We didn’t quite know what was happening the day before in the story,” Larlarb explains.
“I kind of knew what we had done before and what we would do at the end. I at least want to know what the bookends are — how we start a character and how we finish a character. And then everything in between, I at least have that rule so that when I’m having a discussion with our director or with the actors and I’m trying to pitch an idea, it’s not done in a vacuum of that one moment. It’s done so that I’m always trying to make sure that the arc is there so that we can always follow the story.”
Madeleine, Bond’s love interest played by Léa Seydoux, has 11 looks in the film. Originally meant to look and seem cold in SPECTRE, her now-established history with Bond has lent her more of a sensual look vis-a-vis her No Time to Die costumes. (Though her character’s profession — that of a psychologist — means that the look was still kept fairly neutral.)
Moneyponey, a recurring favorite character within the Bond pantheon, features one dress from Paul Smith crafted entirely of recycled plastic bottles. “One of the things about working in contemporary film is that I always struggle a bit about the ramifications of what we do, so to be able to integrate something that’s thinking about the future of fashion and sustainability in a film that’s very much about moving into the future is a really important thing to me personally,” said Larlarb.
And what of Bond himself? The most iconic of his looks are formal — a suit and, perhaps even more so, a tuxedo or dinner jacket — lately made by none other than Tom Ford.
“Whatever the requirement of the costume — and when I say ‘costume’ I mean all the ensuing pieces, including the watch, the shoes, sometimes the foundations underneath including the t-shirt, etc. — it’s all a series of decisions and how we execute those decisions. And in the case of the Tom Ford suits, everything was a collaboration with them,” said Larlarb.
“What’s particularly fantastic about them (Tom Ford) is that they provide the suit, they provide the fabric, but in terms of the creative part of it, which is so much of what our jobs as the fashion department is, it still goes through the same process. It still starts from the script, discussions with the directors, discussions with the actor, what the scene requires, what kind of environment is it, what’s the mood — all of those things are boxes that I need to check off when I then approach the designer about what it is that I’m looking for.”
“When we knew we needed a day suit, I knew we would approach Tom Ford about providing one. The first part of the equation was they asked us to come to the Sloane Street atelier and have a look through all the swatch books. And we first asked if they could send them to Pinewood because it’s obviously a little bit of a trek. (Editor’s note: Pinewood is about 45 minutes from central London, without traffic) And they said well, you might want to come here because of how many swatch books we have. And there are something like 2,500 swatches. So there was an afternoon when I was there going through 2,500 swatches and kind of making the first pass of thoughts based on what our needs are.”
“I make an initial selection, we look at cuts of suits that exist — we know that for Daniel we’ll tailor that cut specifically to him, and then with the initial fabric selection, they’ll be able to tell me what what meterage is available in each fabric, and from that we’ll then decide which are the top contenders for the fabrics. Because for us, we need to be able to commit to something that we can have 33 of — 33 bespoke suits that covers the two or three precious, perfect suits, then 6-8 others that have to go through levels of action distress. And then on top of that, his photo double, his two stunt doubles, his driving double, all of those things. So the matrix of how all that happens kind of gets filtered into the design choice, because I might like a better fabric but there’s only enough to make two suits, so that gets discounted right away. So it’s like a Rubik’s cube, basically.”
So who, in such an involved process, has the last word on any given look? Turns out that it’s different people, depending on the circumstances: sometimes it might be Daniel Craig, sometimes it’s the director, and sometimes the buck stops with Larlarb. But, Larlarb points out, later in the film, when trust has been established, she has the last word. Regarding options for different costumes she says: “I would never just make one option available: I have a favorite, I have one that I could live with, and one that maybe is a left-field option that is obviously something to reject. We want everybody to have a stake in what they’re doing so that it doesn’t become a ‘whatever’ process.”
Larlarb, serene in person and happy to explain her design process, is clearly up to the challenge of adding to what is perhaps the most iconic sartorial pantheon in the history of modern cinema. “To me, costumes are an expression of a character’s behavior more than about the clothes,” she says. “But on a Bond film, we also have this need to remain iconic in our decisions. It’s not just a contemporary action film where it doesn’t really matter what they’re wearing. Everyone really pays attention to every character in a Bond film — it’s a particular type of gauntlet that’s thrown down.”
No Time to Die premiers on October 8th, 2021.
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