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T&A Legends – Part One: Film

Posted 04.06.15  - Heritage

It wasn’t just Sean Connery who made his Bond debut in Dr No - Turnbull & Asser also started its long relationship with 007 way back in 1962. Five decades later and the brand has been a part of almost every film in the franchise.

When one thinks of the iconic Bond, it's of the quintessential English spy walking into a casino clad in black tuxedo, white shirt and black bow tie, or wearing a casual sports coat and a sharply cut shirt with three buttons undone, stiff drink in hand. Terence Young, the first Bond director, not only put all his money on Sean Connery as the Bond of the 60s, but also chose Turnbull & Asser as his shirt of choice. Both, it seems, worked out.

Since then, worn successively by Moore, Brosnan and Craig, Turnbull & Asser shirts have helped define the Bond lifestyle of elegance and style – a lifestyle well-known by James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, himself a customer of the brand. Fleming knew that one of the easiest ways to convey a sense of sophistication and timeless elegance would be to dress his character in Turnbull & Asser shirts.

It's a funny thing about actors and their movie wardrobes, the clothes are such a big part of the character they're almost like a silent co-star playing a lead role throughout the film. 'Costumes speak volumes about the person, place and time. Sometimes, the actors don't have to open their mouths; the clothes say it all,' says Mark Bridges, costume designer for Magnolia (1999), There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012) to name but a few. He's right – if a picture is worth a thousand words, the same can be said about a character’s clothes.

The class and style of Bond is matched by few other actors and characters, but one that stands out would be Robert Redford as Gatsby in Jack Clayton’s 1974 Hollywood adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The film's producer, Robert Evans, wrote in his memoir that he chose Turnbull & Asser shirts to star in the film after his friend, actress Candice Bergen, looked stunning in one when they lunched together in London while he was filming Gatsby at Pinewood. He stopped at the Jermyn Street store on the way back to the studio and the film ended up showing Gatsby’s entire shirt collection to be Turnbull & Asser in what is perhaps the movie’s most famous scene, as Gatsby flings his shirts from his wardrobe over his dressing room – and Daisy Buchanan and Nick Carraway below.

It’s not only the intimation of elegance that leads costume designers to choose Turnbull & Asser, but also the proximity of the company’s workrooms to London and the film studios, and its flexibility in crafting bespoke creations. When Johnny Depp was looking for a tie to wear to the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) in London, he visited the company's tie workshop in Kent to pick it out. It’s the same workshop whose talented craftspeople created the tie worn by Heath Ledger in his Oscar-winning turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) – one of the many finishing touches that transformed the character from comic-book trope to fully realised character.

It’s the same detail that goes into establishing Michael Douglas’s character of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987), whose signature 80s power shirts could only come from the absolute best, Turnbull & Asser. The blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, paired with wide braces and pattern tie established Gekko as one of the most memorably dressed and stylish characters of 80s cinema.

Costumes speak volumes about the person, place and time. Sometimes, the actors don't have to open their mouths; the clothes say it all.

Today, the company’s creations are as in-demand as ever, with 2015 spy film Kingsman: The Secret Service, starring Colin Firth, featuring Turnbull & Asser shirts and pyjamas throughout. Turnbull & Asser also featured in Mortdecai (2015), starring Johnny Depp as a debonair English aristocrat and Ewan McGregor as his faithful butler.

And actors are just as keen on Turnbull & Asser creations when out of character, too. Iconic English actor David Niven was a lifelong loyal customer, and famous for replacing his shirt-cuff buttons with oversized pyjama buttons – a style that has been echoed in the recent Slim St Jim shirt collection. Other famous customers have included Charlie Chaplin, Donald Sutherland and Richard Attenborough, and the bespoke team has proved as adept at crafting shirts for women, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Katherine Hepburn both fans of the company.

Martin Wise, who takes care of the company archive, has plenty of stories to tell about Turnbull & Asser's role in the golden age of cinema: 'In the late 60s, David Frost and Antony Armstrong-Jones, later known as Lord Snowdon, were refused admission to a New York nightclub because they were not wearing ties. They couldn't, because they were wearing Turnbull & Asser turtleneck silk shirts that do not require one! Within a week, the company was swamped with orders for the shirts. One, from Richard Burton, was for five in different colours. This was closely followed by an order from Elizabeth Taylor who also wanted five shirts, in the same colours as those ordered by Richard.'

As so often is the case, once again, the fictional drama of cinema was entwined with the private lives of the rich and famous – and, as always, Turnbull & Asser was right in the middle of the action.

Many of the items worn by Turnbull & Asser's film legends are still available to purchase, see the collection here.

David Hellqvist - Writer for The Guardian and Port magazine

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