If one character has a clear-cut fashion identity, it’s James Bond. Ever since Dr. No made its way to the big screen in 1962, England’s foremost spy has been associated with a sophisticated look that has transcended changes in location, generation, and actor. With the franchise’s latest installment, No Time To Die, breaking global box office records, it’s clear that Bond remains one of cinema’s best-loved and -dressed heroes. As the final film with Daniel Craig as 007, the fast-paced action movie, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, marks the end of an era that brought realism and grit to the series. With his perfectly tailored Tom Ford suits and sleek tactical gear, Craig’s Bond has menswear gravitas, but his swan song required a wardrobe that went beyond expectations.
Enter costume designer Suttirat Larlarb: the woman behind the realistic yet impactful look of films like Slumdog Millionaire and Steve Jobs. A longtime fan, she didn’t want to mess with perfection. “It wouldn’t have been right starting from scratch,” shared Larlarb via Zoom from Los Angeles. “I was hyper-aware of the responsibility that comes with taking on this character. Bond has so much history, and we wanted to make sure that we were paying respect to the franchise, its characters, and the world within the costuming.”
Larlarb and her team dove deep into the series’ past, first analyzing the 25 movies and their recurring visual motifs, then creating a series of reference documents for themselves. “I re-watched all the films, some of them for the fourth and fifth time,” says Larlarb. “Afterwards, a couple of key assistants and I made a library using screen grabs, stills, and whatever we could find in terms of imagery. Working within the Bond family, we had access to their archives and the costumes from previous films [as well], so we compiled everything we found into groups and made encyclopedia binders for each character and type: villains, Bond girls, James, Moneypenny, etc. This way, we had everything on hand for when we wanted to use the references and when we chose to ignore them.”
Documenting everything Bond and his cohorts have ever worn on-screen was time-consuming, but it allowed Larlarb to see the patterns that arose. “With the villains, you can see a sort of minimalism throughout,” she says. “There tends to be a standing collar—not sure why that emerged the first time around, but it’s become so prevalent that it’s parodied in Austin Powers. Surprisingly, there was a lot more variety amongst the women. When we started, I assumed there might be a silhouette that recurs with, say, Moneypenny, or a certain color, but their outfits have been pretty diverse.”
All the information came in handy when Larlarb began working one-on-one with Fukunaga and the cast to align each character’s look with what the actors envisioned for their performances. “I come from the theater, so, fundamentally, I start with the script,” says Larlarb. “I needed to know what the script would throw out in terms of action sequences, the emotional states.” Conversations with Bond vets like Craig, Naomie Harris, and Lea Seydoux proved to be enlightening. “I’m the new person stepping into this world, so I wanted to know everything about what they’d done with these characters previously,” says Larlarb. “Costumes are an extension of the characters, so I wanted to know which aspects [of their performances] they were planning on continuing, and which they wanted to move away from. Knowing that was fundamental [because] it allowed me to think about how we could move things forward.”
2021’s Bond isn’t a carbon copy of the man audiences remember from Spectre. Having retired from MI6 and settled into a new life in Jamaica, he’s (momentarily) left the martinis and three-piece suits behind. “When we meet him in our film, he’s retired to beach bum life,” says Larlarb. “He’s completely pared down, wearing an old t-shirt and swim trunks. Now his day-to-day life is about going fishing for his dinner, not being the iconic James Bond persona. So I had to figure out how we get him back to that and find ways to tell that story through costuming.”
The character’s sojourn into island life is brief, but Larlarb wanted to maintain an effortless sensibility throughout. “What does the best dressed man in the world wear when he isn’t someone who hems and haws over clothing decisions,” she explains. “Everything needed to look instinctual, as though it was barely a decision. No one thinks about James Bond standing in front of the mirror asking, ‘Is this tie right with this shirt?’ He has to look like he was born in whatever he’s wearing in each scene.”
Craig’s humanist take on Bond also factored in. “We go on an emotional journey with Daniel,” says Larlarb. “When you look at previous Bonds, there’s a little bit more bravado and hiding of who the man is. But with Daniel, you see the man, not just the agent or playboy.” As such, Bond gets a chance to dress down—sort of. His luxurious N.Peal sweaters, polo shirts, and full corduroy suit from Massimo Alba still speak to the jet-setting lifestyle he’s become synonymous with, but they’re a far cry from the dinner jackets and glen check suits Sean Connery sported back in the day.
His final outfit alludes to his military training rather than his ladies-man persona. “Daniel put it on and immediately loved it,” says Larlarb. “If I had to pick a favorite, that might be it as it’s what he leaves the film in, and it had meaning on multiple levels. I found a vintage British commando jumper from the mid-1940s, then we remade it in navy blue and modernized the silhouette. We had talked about his clothes having a more paramilitary feel towards the end, and it worked perfectly because [the look] is a bit Royal Navy or Special Ops.”
Rami Malek’s anarchist villain Lyutsifer Safin makes his debut in No Time to Die, but Larlarb connected him to the franchise’s greats and one of Japan’s fashion legends. “Bond villains always have a fashion edge,” she says. “During my initial pass of research, I saw a picture of Issey Miyake in his studio in the 1970s casually leaning against a drafting table. He’s immaculately dressed in his studio gear—nothing formal, but it isn’t casual either. You look at that picture, and Miyake seems like the architect of the universe, someone who is designing their own world. There’s something about Rami’s character that feels similar. He has a vision, not just for himself, but how he wants the world to be. Once I showed that picture of [Miyake] to Rami and Cary, it became our starting point.”
As Safin, Malek sports a traditional Japanese mask during a pivotal scene where he seeks out revenge against Mr. White, the leader of criminal organization Quantum and the man responsible for the death of Safin’s family. The mask is used within the classical Japanese dance-drama Noh, and was a nod to Safin’s heritage. “Noh masks are expressionless. How they’re perceived depends on the movements of the actors and the angle you view them from,” says Larlarb. “They can be seen as pensive or serene, depending on your perspective. That variety gave Rami the tools to encapsulate the arc of Safin, who is Japanese and Russian. I knew that he was going to be iconic just by virtue of being a Bond villain, but he was able to express such depth and complexity within his performance.”
It wouldn’t be a 007 film without the presence of Bond girls, but Larlarb didn’t want the women onscreen to dress like eye candy. “We wanted them to feel like their own people,” she says. “Especially Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) , who we’ve met in the previous films and are getting to know better. We’d been introduced to her as a professional, but now she’s revealing her personality and heartbreak. We’re seeing her in this new and romantic context.” To underscore the romantic subplot, Larlarb dressed Seydoux in rich colors and feminine silhouettes. “We meet her in a red floral dress by Rouje Gabin, and it’s at the height of her romance [with Bond],” she says. “Life throws a lot at them, and as the film begins its journey, we move into a neutral palette because she’s headed to work and dressing to meet with clients. Overall we wanted her to feel very different from the other women within the film, who wear armor because they’re MI6 agents. Madeleine has a much softer edge that speaks to what we come to learn about her backstory.”
As field agents, Lashauna Lynch’s Nomi and Ana de Armas’ Paloma had to spend as much time fighting as Bond does, and their wardrobes needed to adapt to the film’s choreographed action and combat sequences. Nomi’s look is peppered with high fashion touches like Tom Ford field jackets, Isabel Marant halter tops, and Loewe’s balloon trousers. At the same time, Paloma goes full glam, taking down bad guys in Chopard jewelry and silver sandals from Aquazzura. “Paloma’s mission takes her to a black tie gala, so she has a phenomenal black gown by Michael di Sordo and diamonds, which I think everyone will agree looks incredible on her, but she also has to be able to fight,” says Larlarb. “We could have done a jumpsuit with fantastic boots, but she’s the most capable recruit and can do anything James can do—only in heels and elegant dress. Whenever I do a film with a stunt department, the women are always asked to pull off these incredible stunts in stilettos while the men come and say that their [flat] boots are too tight.”
Glamorous but laced with danger, No Time to Die is a fitting send-off for a beloved character, one Larlarb hopes audiences will appreciate. She credits Fukunaga and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson with giving her team the freedom to create something unique. “We were handed a heavy responsibility but given so much creative license and support,” says Larlarb. “As experiences go, this will be hard to top!”