James Bond exhibit charts the fashions, film craft behind 007

With a fresh James Bond instalment on its way to cinemas this fall, a new exhibit at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox whets fans' appetites by offering a peek behind the scenes of the iconic, 50-year-old series.

TIFF exhibit includes trove of material from Dr. No to Skyfall

With a fresh James Bond instalment on its way to cinemas this fall, a new exhibit at Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox whets fans' appetites by offering a peek behind the scenes of the iconic, 50-year-old series.

Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style charts the evolution of British author Ian Fleming's suave superspy through a trove of artifacts largely plucked from the archives of EON Productions, which has produced the Bond series since its inaugural film: 1962's Dr. No. The show initially opened at London's Barbican Centre in July.

Entering through a tunnel fashioned after the film series' gun-barrel opening credits, fans and visitors meet a wealth of material — some never before displayed for the public — that celebrates the long-running series and pays tribute to the painstaking work of the artists, craftspeople and technicians who have brought James Bond to life onscreen.

For fashion historian and exhibit guest curator Bronwyn Cosgrave, the goal was to create an immersive and fun retrospective that recreates the energy of a 007 film, but doesn't simply rest on nostalgia.

"You can sometimes fall into a trap, when it comes to a retrospective, that it looks old...Since the production quality of the Bond films is so high, it really had to have an environment that captured the feel of the films," she told CBC News.

"What I would really like is for people to hang out to explore, read, watch the videos and listen to musical scores," she added. "It's a sensory journey because that’s what it is when you go to a Bond film."

Trove of 007 artifacts

Though what's displayed is just a fraction of what EON has stored, Designing 007 is packed with movie artifacts, detailed preparatory illustrations, music and sound effects, video footage, interviews, costumes, scale models of vehicles and weapons, documents and re-created set pieces representing all 23 Bond instalments, including the upcoming Skyfall.

A highlight of the show is the incredibly lifelike and macabre recreation of villain Goldfinger's mistress. An uncanny version of Jill Masterson's body is sprawled out on a revolving bed, fatally gilded with gold leaf. Other notable attractions include:

  • An archival CBC-TV interview with Ian Fleming.
  • First edition hardcover editions of Fleming's Bond novels.
  • Props from classic henchman, from Oddjob's deadly, steel-brimmed bowler hat to Jaws' dangerous teeth.
  • M and Miss Moneypenny's MI6 ID cards.
  • Shirley Bassey's gold record for the Goldfinger soundtrack.
  • A variety of evening gowns featuring Bond-catching plunging necklines.
  • Supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld's plastic surgery face charts.
  • A re-creation of the poker scene from Casino Royale.
  • Office paraphernalia belonging to the newest Q (portrayed in Skyfall by actor Ben Whishaw).

The items in the show aren't necessarily arranged chronologically, but rather in a fashion that's designed to inspire visitors to discover connections between the films and perhaps note their wider societal and cultural influence. Take the infamously named femme fatal Pussy Galore,  whose fashion-forward pantsuits, some of which could be worn today, were created by costume designer Beatrice Dawson.

"She wore trousers all through Goldfinger," Cosgrave noted about actress Honor Blackman's famous character, admitting that fact had never occurred to her when she first watched the 1964 film.

"Women [in the 1960s] did not wear trousers at all. When that film came out, [Blackman] became a fashion icon… She became one of the few women in entertainment that really made trousers acceptable."

Master craftspeople behind the scenes

Such details and the pieces ultimately included in the exhibit passed a truly important test when crew from the films visited it in London, Cosgrave added.

"It was incredibly gratifying to me to have these legendary professionals [craftspeople who had worked on multiple 007 films] really enjoy the exhibition when they came to see it," she said, mentioning that director and film editor John Glen was thrilled that the "rip-away hem dress" worn by actress Carey Lowell (Licence to Kill) — which he co-designed — had made it into the exhibit.

One of Cosgrave's main partners in the show is costume designer Lindy Hemming. The Oscar-winner, who worked on five Bond films from 1995's GoldenEye through 2006's Casino Royale, was eager to showcase the extensive design work that goes into each James Bond movie and films in general.

"My passion was to try to pull out things that would explain that you don’t just buy a costume in a shop, willy-nilly. Thought has gone into it. Maybe it has even been drawn and made from scratch. Or maybe it’s been bought and altered. Or maybe it was bought and copied with credit to the designer," she said.

For instance, Hemming sourced a shirt and jacket combo from Miuccia Prada’s spring-summer 1997 collection for Michelle Yeoh to wear in Tomorrow Never Dies. Chosen for a lengthy stunt sequence, the garments had to be modified and replicated in multiple quantities for Yeoh and her stunt double. Hemming also tracked down a type of stretch fabric for the recreated Prada garments so as to accommodate protective armour the actresses had to wear underneath.

"I want people to know that every frame of a film involves hours and hours of consideration, deliberation and design over and above what they imagine of the camera and the lighting," Hemming said.

The film veteran also said she'd like to show those anxious to break into the business just how many areas of production can be involved in one movie.

"There are more levels and different sections: from prosthetic makeup, which has to be designed, through furniture designs, designs of stunts, designs of clothing, designs of everything, gadgets. It’s all really fascinating and multi-layered. That's my passion."

Enduring Bond

Though there are myriad production teams involved in making each Bond film, they all have one purpose: to carry on the tradition born from Fleming's stories and bring to life his multifaceted hero, who is both contemporary and classic and appeals to fans in each new generation.

"There's very much a duality in [Bond]," according to Jesse Wente, director of film programs at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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"He's very much a fashion plate, very much a modern man, but he's also a killer, a highly trained killer. I think that duality is some of the complexity of the character and what these stories are actually about. Killers aren't always monsters in the way that we think. Sometimes they’re assigned by governments and sometimes they come wearing Tom Ford suits."

While each Bond film is set in modern times and the casts change over the years, as shown in Designing 007, there remains a certain consistency to each instalment.

"As movie magic, they pretty much capture everything that you’re going to want in an exciting film. It's got a dashing hero, some sort of supervillain doing a diabolical plan. You've got travels all over the world, big explosions, fancy-looking cars, all these cool gadgets, incredible stunts...The very elements of what make a Bond film just keep us coming to the cinema," Wente said.

"What gets old about incredible action, amazing stunts and fantastic-looking people all on a thriller landscape? That never really tires out and that allows the movies to endure. And every so often, you get a new actor playing him and suddenly the whole thing is reborn again."

Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style opens Friday and continues through Jan. 20, 2013.

To accompany the exhibit, TIFF has organized panel discussions, educational programming and screening of three related movie series. Shaken Not Stirred: Bond on Film will feature each Bond film, from Dr. No through Quantum of Solace; Bond vs. Blofeld is a marathon showing of all six films that pit 007 against Ernst Stavro Blofeld; and Beyond Bond: The Other Secret Agents will focus on notable spy films that emerged post-Bond.