Dressed to Kill by Jay McInerney and others, Flammarion, pounds 29.95 Fourth Estate,; Hugo Barnacle on a style warrior
Saturday 21 December 1996
McInerney's childhood hero until then was the rustic but sincere Congressman Davy Crockett, as played in the Disney film by Fess Parker. "To remember just how rugged and frontier-like American life was in many respects at that time, I recall that my family, living in a suburb near Seattle in 1963, had just discovered an exotic new food called pizza...".
All the same, "The country at large was undoubtedly ready for Bond," because of John F Kennedy. He listed Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love as one of his ten favourite novels in Life, "after Stendhal's The Red and the Black".
After his assassination, the importance of Bond was all the greater as "the dead president's British alter ego continued to elude assassins." But for schoolboys there was another element of empathy with 007. "From the moment that a boy first identifies the sexual impulse, which in my case was about 1963 until the moment that he consummates his most profoundly burning ambition, life is a case of espionage."
McInerney, like many, has never quite grown out of the Bond thing, and still finds himself coming to London to have suits made on the Row and clock up some serious wine-sampling. Even when you aren't out to score, the sophisticated worldliness of Bond offers a good role.
The idea should have been laughed to death by now, but it won't lie down. This book's compiler, Colin Woodhead, has found some wonderfully naff ads for the rather downmarket 007-branded clothes and drinks that over- proliferated in 1965. And the mockery led to the decade-long Roger Moore cycle, when audiences would only accept Bond as panto parody.
Many stills from those films appear here, featuring Moore's leisurewear in all its grisly glory. But as Woodhead points out, Moore was "comparatively restrained" for the time: the picture shows him with his hairdresser, whose suit and shirt defy description and make Roger look a model of understated chic. People forget just how staggeringly awful the Seventies really were.
An essay by Neil Norman relates the change in fortunes of the suit, "off the shoulders of the heroes" such as Sean Connery and "on to the backs of villains" in films like Die Hard. Good guys dressed down to the point where Bruce Willis won the day in a grubby (but sincere) vest, while Alan Rickman plunged to a well-deserved death in snide, supercilious Armani.
The book concludes with a weak PR apologia by Nick Sullivan for the Italian tailors Brioni, who clothed Brosnan far too richly in Goldeneye. Bond is a bit of a Calvinist and Connery's severe Savile Row suits were the only right way to dress the part. Oh, and next time, Mr Brosnan, do like Sean and tuck those pocket flaps in. It's a British thing. If you leave them out you look like an enemy impostor who hasn't quite mastered the drill. Connery's original Bond would shoot you on sight.
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