I’m standing in the lobby of the Barbican Arts Centre: the decor is an eye-crossing mix of orange walls, panels of wooden teak and mock concrete. It has a very retro feel, and with the specially converted Martini bar peering down from the first floor, it’s the perfect setting for the Designing 007 exhibition, which celebrates fifty years of the phenomenally successful Bond franchise.
Before the lobby, I am greeted with a life-size model of the original Bond, Sean Connery (who, – if the model is accurate, – is surprisingly tall,) reclining in a familiarly nonchalant way against a sleek Aston Martin. I quickly discover that the exhibition is set out in three separate areas inside the venue and when I go to pick up my tickets, I am told there’s a queue for the first area. Once I am admitted through the custom-made entrance, it’s clear why the queue is necessary. It’s Saturday and the room is crammed with Bond aficionados, who are shuffling around the room’s edge, pointing at the glass cases and murmuring at their contents.
Gold is the theme here, harking back to the early Bond years; a screen showing clips from the glamorous film premieres past and present flashes on one wall, and on the other are hallowed relics such as Pussy Galore’s golden waistcoat and the eponymous gun from The Man with the Golden Gun.
As the line shuffles on, we find ourselves in a long corridor with narrow but high walls which are packed from ceiling to floor with models of what looks like toy cars and aeroplanes. In amongst them are screens showing how the illusions turned out on film. Did you think that was a real life-sized Lotus Esprit car/submarine in the underwater sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me? Think again!
It’s a hot August day and everyone sighs with relief and awe as the corridor opens out into a large space. The room has been decked out in the style of bond-esque casino, complete with chandelier and poker table. But the real spectacle here is the array of costumes, which are lavishly displayed on mannequins around the room.
There’s everything from Dr. No’s white dinner jacket and eye patch, to Eva Green’s purple evening dress which she wore to distract Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. The costumes are indeed a wonder to behold and seen all together they reinforce the iconic image of the Bond franchise as the epitome of style and sex – always at the forefront of fashion.
The only slightly disappointing factor was the notice board which welcomes you into the room. It states that many (and perhaps all) of the dresses are reproductions, due to the fact that during the early years, many directors let their casts keep the clothes, unaware of how iconic and lucrative they would one day become. What it fails to clarify, is whether or not the more recent outfits are originals or reproductions, and the not knowing does distract from the enjoyment of the pieces. There is a conciliatory treat in the room, however; a breath-taking sheer black number worn by SÃ©verine (or not worn by SÃ©verine as the case may be,) in the up and coming Skyfall. Even in this cave of wonders, it still manages to stand out from the crowd. I gaze up at its lace panels and glittering sequins and all is forgiven.
That’s Part One over, and we have seen a glimpse of all that Bond has to offer: the clothes, the iconic props and relics, and a behind-the-scenes look at Q’s machinery and gadgets. I am back out in the lobby, and as I make my way to Part Two, there is an opportunity to browse the gift and coffee shop.
Part Two is a celebration of Bond’s baddies. The costumes in here are the real thing “ I assume – because these ones are behind glass panels. Xenia Onatopp’s sexy, leather get-up is a talking point. Part Three is down some very confusing stairs and elevators, but there are lots of helpful staff members to point you in right direction. This final instalment consists of a large room, which has a miniature version of Die Another Day’s ice palace as its centrepiece. There are more snow-themed items on show here, amongst others: Elektra King’s ski suit and a henchman’s snowmobile.
Parts Two and Three have a lot to offer, but the real highlight of the day is a glass case where a couple of particularly iconic pieces of swimwear are on display. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but most visitors to this exhibition will be diehard fans and will have already done their research. Ursula Andress’ bikini from Dr No. stands next to another two piece which was inspired by it; Jinx/Halle Berry’s orange bikini from Die Another Day. Daniel Craig’s tight blue swim trunks are another talking point and elicit giggles from many of the female spectators.
Overall, the exhibition is not overly forthcoming with exposition about how the films, set designs and costumes were designed, but doesn’t need to be and relies heavily on the draw of its key pieces. These will have Bond fans dribbling uncontrollably into their pre-booked, IMAX Skyfall tickets.