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The Modern Bond

Robert Johnston, writer, commentator and former fashion editor of British GQ, explains how Sunspel played its part in 007’s wardrobe reboot

Judi Dench alongside Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Craig wears the Riviera Polo Shirt

In the history of cinema, no wardrobe has ever been paid as much attention as James Bond’s. Each of the six actors who have played Bond since 1962 – seven if you include David Niven’s comic turn in the original Casino Royale – has become a global style icon and, from their swimming shorts to their cocktail cuffs, have given generations of men a licence to up their own sartorial game.

Even before the long-delayed release of No Time To Die, the 25th official Bond film, the online Bond Community, as it styles itself, has been discussing the latest 007 looks, from Tom Ford tuxedos to his Omega Seamaster and wholecut Crockett & Jones Oxfords. Indeed, Matt Spaiser, one of the Community’s leading lights and co-author of Bond style guide From Tailors With Love, was already sporting the dove-grey Albert Thurston braces Daniel Craig wears in the film, four months before its premiere.

While the world’s most famous spy would never not appear in full dinner suit in the course of a film, it was Daniel Craig who revolutionised the Bond look in 2006. When he took over from Pierce Brosnan with Casino Royale, Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming – who had been in charge of Bond’s wardrobe since 1995’s GoldenEye – was charged with reinventing 007 without compromising his heritage. And perhaps the single most famous piece that epitomised this new, more casual, sporty and rugged look was the Sunspel Riviera Polo Shirt.

Craig wearing the Riviera Polo Shirt in a scene in the Bahamas

Hemming knew Sunspel’s CEO Nick Brooke through friends and approached him to help dress Craig. ‘Lindy came up to our factory in Derbyshire and immediately spotted our Riviera Polo Shirt, which she thought would be perfect for scenes set in the Bahamas,’ explains Brooke. ‘We’d been making the Riviera Polo since the 1950s, but by 2006 it was only being sold in a handful of boutiques on the Italian Riviera.’

The shirt is made from a unique cotton mesh that had originally been developed for underwear, so is lighter than the more usual cotton piqué you find used for polos. Hemming liked the look but wanted to subtly tweak the design to better fit Craig’s physique. ‘We actually tailored the Riviera Polo Shirt to Daniel Craig’s measurements for the film,’ explains Brooke.

The resulting piece was shorter and more fitted than the original. The sleeves were shortened to emphasise Craig’s muscles. ‘Lindy made it more modern,’ Brooke says, ‘which was exactly what we were doing with Sunspel itself at the time.’

To complement Craig’s blue eyes, Hemming went for navy. ‘This is why I used so much blue,’ she admits, ‘though I almost never used colour on Bond because colour dates everything.’ And while the resulting piece was effectively bespoke, today Sunspel’s Riviera is still cut from the pattern Hemming created. Appropriately enough, but unbeknown to them both at the time, Brooke was later told by Ian Fleming’s niece that Sunspel had been a favourite label of the author himself when he had moved to Goldeneye, the estate in Jamaica where he wrote Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, in 1952.

It wasn’t just the Riviera Polo shirt that Lindy Hemming used in Casino Royale. If you watch the film carefully you will see Bond wearing Sunspel’s grey melange T-shirt during the scenes at Miami airport and on the boat as he sails to Venice with Vesper Lynd. He also wears Sunspel’s white V-neck T-shirt under a black shawl-neck cardigan on a boat again in Venice. Sunspel also supplied Bond’s underwear for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the sequel to Casino Royale.

Today, the Riviera is a wardrobe essential for any aspiring 007 fan. ‘I may be more of a tailoring guy,’ says Matt Spaiser, ‘but while I was working from home during the pandemic I lived in my Riviera polos.’ That’s quite some endorsement, as Bond fans are a demanding lot, with an eagle eye.

Now, to mark the premiere of No Time To Die, Sunspel has released three exclusive versions of the now-iconic Riviera. In Spectral Grey, Grey Melange and Skydiver Blue, they are still fit for Daniel Craig, literally, and channel Lindy Hemmings’ preference for blues and subdued colours; and if the Bond Community is anything to go by, an essential addition to any wardrobe, whether you are an aspiring secret agent or not.

Robert Johnston writes for Wallpaper, The Daily Telegraph and The Week, and is contributing editor of Brummell magazine and former fashion director of British GQ

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