Bond at the Barbican - Design Bureau

Production designer Ken Adam’s Fort Knox design

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Bond at the Barbican

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Gregg La Gambina

"You walk into a gun barrel,” says Bronwyn Cosgrave, gesturing toward an imaginary space. “That leads you into a gold room.”

The interior of this hermetic hall of stone and glass is somewhat Bondian already. An expanse of industrial carpeting, gray concrete, indirect light set into ceiling panels—a fort, a compound. It’s as likely a place to secret away a captured spy as to house an art gallery.

“Actually, a scene from Casino Royale was filmed in this building,” she adds. “The Barbican is a cultural center that celebrates all of the elements that make up a Bond film: art, music, design, architecture. I really feel like this is its rightful place.”

A rightful place for a tribute to Bond, that is. London’s Barbican Centre has collaborated with EON Productions to present Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style. Co-curated by fashion historian Cosgrave and Academy Award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming (The Dark Knight), the James Bond franchise that began with Dr. No in 1962 is having an anniversary fête in the most appropriate British metropolis. Yet Cosgrave promises once you’ve made your way through the queue and down that gun barrel entrance to the exhibit, the world outside will fall away for the 50 years of Bond nostalgia and film memorabilia that have been compressed into a 90-minute sensory experience, including items from the latest production, Skyfall.

“We were very conscious of, ‘Does this say Bond?’ If it’s just a helicopter dangling from the ceiling, then no, that does not say Bond,” says Cosgrave. “There have been Bond exhibits before, so we really wanted to go for things that haven’t ever been exhibited.”

When pressed to reveal her most prized finds within the exhibit, she concedes her predilection for fashion momentarily, to give legendary production designer Sir Ken Adam his proper due.

“The Ken Adam drawings,” admits Cosgrave, after a pause. “Those are works of art. The concept drawings for the Volcano [from You Only Live Twice] of course, but you’ll also see all of the drawings of every casino he conceived for the films. He always drew with a pen called a Flowmaster. He used that pen because he said you could get extraordinary atmosphere from them into a one-color sketch. Those drawings are trophy pieces and just beautiful.”

 Architectural firm Ab Rogers constructed the exhibition and its multiple rooms, including a scaled down version of the MI6 headquarters, a Q Branch, the ice palace, designed by Peter Lamont for Die Another Day, the casino room from Casino Royale featuring every single tuxedo worn by Bond (as well as the furniture from the movie), a Mission to Foreign Territories that includes a beach, even a dark blue espionage lair celebrating Ian Fleming and the creative solitude he found necessary to create the icon on which the entire thing is founded upon. 

The fact that both curators are women, each with long careers in fashion, and they were tasked with celebrating the ultimate masculine icon from British cinema is not lost on Cosgrave. Her eyes light up most at mention of her costume finds. It’s this feminine element she feels helps to temper the show, shifting the balance from the testosterone-driven exhibits past. The ones with all of those dangling helicopters. 

 “Willy Bogner: he’s an Olympic skier, his family started a ski brand in Germany 80 years ago—they are giving us the first ski suit James Bond owned,” she explains. “When people think of the Roger Moore era, the 1970s, they can think it was quite kitsch. But he was carrying Louis Vuitton luggage in Chantilly and Gucci in Venice! You will meet the villains, you’ll see Oddjob’s hat.” As she details the costumes and accessories, Cosgrave reflects on just how different the exhibit might be without these pieces.  “ I don’t know if a man would have thought to include Bond’s safari suit, but that’s a really important costume! We have the great dress from Thunderball created by Anthony Mendleson; Lindy is recreating Sean Connery’s Anthony Sinclair-tailored suits...” 

She relents on the fashion business, careful not to scare off her target audience. “I’m really interested in the design of cars. Not as much as the design of costumes, but I’m equally sensitive to it and we’re giving it its rightful place. [This exhibition is] beautiful, it’s exotic, but it’s got a lot of humor.”

As for traversing down that gun barrel into a half-decade of carefully selected Bond ephemera, Cosgrave must know the end of every film must include that final escape. The end of the exhibit needs to be equally as dramatic. And as it stands now, she’ll be just as surprised as you are. “We’re still working on the exit,” she exclaims, with a bit of caffeinated stress in her tone. “But remember, Bond always ends up in paradise!”

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