Turnbull & Asser believes ‘anything is possible’. Daniel Craig, looking for a whole new set of bespoke shirts in a day, put that to the test. Simon Crompton reports
The phone rang. It was Daniel Craig’s stylist. They were running out of shirts.
Craig had been doing five to six TV interviews a day promoting the new James Bond film, and he was changing shirts almost as often. Turnbull & Asser made all the shirts for Craig (indeed has made the shirts for every Bond going back to Sean Connery in 1962). The stylist wanted a set of new shirts the next day.
Bespoke, handmade shirts in 24 hours.
PR liaison Rowland Lowe-McKenzie took the call. “I had to phone our seamstresses in Gloucester and plead with them,” he remembers. “They were wonderful about it. They stopped all other production, all the machines, and worked furiously on Mr Craig’s order. They were there into the night.”
Eventually it was done. Lowe-McKenzie admits he wasn’t popular for a while up in Gloucester, but at least the panic was over. He put the shirts in a bag and ran over to Bond HQ, with a little note for the stylist (a personal friend) explaining in no uncertain terms that she owed him a favour. A big one.
Unfortunately, the delivery was picked up by Daniel Craig himself. “He was so sweet about it,” says Lowe-McKenzie. “He wrote a delightful note back saying how grateful he was for all the effort we had gone to, and sent hand-signed photos to the ladies in the factory. But it was so embarrassing knowing he had picked up my note instead!”
We need butch shirts
This was not the first time there had been problems with the new James Bond’s shirts.
Craig came in the Turnbull & Asser bespoke offices to be measured even before it had been announced that he was the new Bond. The tailors at 23 Bury Street measured him up for the shirts he would wear, primarily in the initial scenes on the beach and then the casino confrontation, but had to keep the secret.
Thirty shirts were made for the casino scene alone, plus 30 for Craig’s double. Some of that 30 were specifically designed for the action scenes, cut on a block that allowed a little more room to manoeuvre. But then the others “were pretty much sprayed on,” remembers Lowe-McKenzie. “Though if you’ve got the body, you might as well flaunt it.”
It was that famous body that caused the problems. Between the initial measuring session in London and starting to shoot the film, Craig put on a huge amount of muscle. So part way into filming in the Bahamas Turnbull & Asser got a distressed call from the director – the shirts didn’t fit!
Cue panic in London. The measurements had been perfect, the shirts had been perfect; but the man himself had changed. So two tailors from the Turnbull & Asser office in New York were dispatched to the Bahamas. They measured him in an hour and quickly sent the new, butch measurements to London so a whole new set of shirts could be made.
Being the official supplier of shirts (and ties, and accessories) to the Bond franchise is not cheap.
But it does have history: it began with Sean Connery and the first Bond film – Dr No. Producer Albert Broccoli and director Terence Young shopped at Turnbull & Asser, so when they found Connery they brought him to the store to show him where a real gentleman shopped. The relationship has kept going over the years, through the Broccoli family.
Growing your own umbrellas
Turnbull & Asser purposefully places special (and necessarily costly) restrictions on its shirt-making process. All the shirts are made in the UK, in factories owned by the firm. All the cotton cloths are designed in Jermyn Street and are unique to T&A (all 900 of them). Indeed the bespoke shirts are still made on Jermyn Street – the firm is one of the last, if not the last, to produce shirts on the famous London street.
For Turnbull & Asser, there are distinct advantages to owning your own production process. Without that, there’s no way Daniel Craig’s orders could have been fulfilled. You can’t stop the production process easily if it is offshore – you don’t know the people, they’re not driving distance away, they may even be in a different time zone.
“Our motto is, anything’s possible,” says Lowe-McKenzie.
“And we can put a label in our produce knowing exactly how it has been put together, which is easier with local and integrated production. We have complete control of the process. So many companies have lost that.”
The production process is part of an over-arching ethos at Turnbull & Asser, of ethical employment and sustainability. Which brings us onto another of the firm’s demanding clients: Prince Charles.
T&A holds the royal warrant to supply shirts to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and is justly proud of it. But the Prince’s passion for ecological production does have an influence on the firm. All the mother-of-pearl buttons, for instance, are organically grown and harvested from renewable sources.
In fact, there is one item that is entirely organic – the umbrellas. A journalist once enquired whether anything at Turnbull & Asser was completely organic. A hasty survey of the staff finally turned up a positive response from the umbrellas guy. The shaft of each is a single stick, grown without fertiliser and tenderly managed for four to seven years.
How to have a shirt like Bond
If you have the time and money to have a bespoke shirt made at Turnbull & Asser (and happen to be near Jermyn Street one day), the prices start at £165. Cost rapidly increases with the type of material used – the firm is about to put into production a Super 240s cotton, which would be so thin you could barely feel it on. It’s thinner than tissue paper.
Master Shirt Maker David Gale (who began his career with T&A in the seventies and recently rejoined from Savile Row) will take 28 individual measurements. These include collar (some 200 different collar shapes and styles), cuff width (including the difference between left and right cuff to include the diameter of a watch), shoulders, chest, mid rift and seat.
As well as the aforementioned Daniel Craig and Prince Charles, Gale has made shirts for Frank Sinatra, David Niven and Jude Law. So a pretty good shirt and pretty good company.