Daniel Craig swaps the tuxedo for corduroy in the latest James Bond installment No Time To Die

James Bond has an unexpected weapon in the forthcoming espionage flick, No Time to Die.

Corduroy.

What? The famously slick Tom Ford tuxedo-clad super spy invented by Ian Fleming now wearing the fuddy-duddy fabric most often associated with 1970s literature professors?

Yes, if the trailer for the April release, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) and with script tweaks by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), is anything to go by. But then, this cord is not exactly the look of the cord of yore.

A new look for 007

It comes courtesy of Italian designer Massimo Alba, and includes a two-button sand-tone suit, moss-hued coat and gray trousers. Opening scenes shot in the southern Italian town of Matera show Bond wearing the suit during a car chase with the mysterious Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Léa Seydoux, and while jumping off a bridge sans harness or parachute (but luckily close to a secure piece of rope).

Even Alba was surprised by the sartorial choice, saying he assumed the whole thing was a joke when he received an email last March from Jane Gooday, the film's head costume buyer at Pinewood Studios, outside London.

"I spoke with my personal trainer that morning and he couldn't believe it," Alba said. "He told me not to get my hopes up, that maybe I wouldn't even get to see my clothes in the film."

After receiving the look books for Alba's spring 2019 and fall 2019 collections, the studio ordered 30 suits, raincoats and trousers from the spring styles, each in three European sizes – 50, 52 and 54. The unlined Sloop suit came in what Alba called "Desert," a sandy hue; the duster coat in "Agades," a moss-green colour named after the Niger city Agadez; and the pants in a gray shade called "Alluminio" or aluminium. And the studio paid the bill – though Alba declined to say just how much it was.

Changing with the times

For this was no big-budget product placement deal. Alba, 59, who started his business in 2006 after stints at the knitwear labels Ballantyne and Malo, has no marketing department or digital communications division (he posts on Instagram himself, where he has about 14,400 followers). He has six stores in Italy, including one on Rome's via dei Coronari, known for its antique shops; on Milan's arty via Brera; in a mountain chalet in Courmayeur; and in Bellagio by Lake Como. He also wholesales to 130 stores worldwide, and hosts presentations in his atelier during Milan's men's fashion weeks.

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Yet from his showroom tucked away in Milan's Navigli canal district, the soft-spoken, bespectacled designer, a reluctant name-dropper, has dressed such celebrities as Leonardo DiCaprio, James Franco, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, and – yes – the current Bond, Daniel Craig (who wore one of Alba's shawl-collar cashmere sweaters during an appearance last March at the New York Theatre Workshop). It was Craig, Gooday said, who suggested that they seek out Alba for the film wardrobe. The actor "had bought a pair of the designer's needlecord jeans for his personal life," she wrote in an email, and clearly liked them.

As to why, well, Alba "doesn't do mood-boards or second-guess the season's fashionable colour," said David Coggins, author of the 2016 book Men and Style." But, "he's a very enlightened designer, perfect for this enlightened Bond."

This is a Bond, after all, that comes post-#MeToo and post-Brexit. "The world has moved on, Commander Bond," a female agent, played by Lashana Lynch, says in an online teaser. After all, Prince Charles' Aston Martin DB6 now runs on a cheese byproduct and old wine, and a suit-clad spook would stand out in a contemporary office filled with hoodies.

A new look for 007

So how to give Bond a blast of the contemporary? Enter Alba.

"Informality is the key to my label," said Alba, with his 10-year-old golden Labrador, Jasper, at his feet. "There's nothing pressed or rigid," he said of the watercolor-hued garments hanging around him.

"It's the new safari suit," the men's wear designer Umit Benan said of Alba's needlecord separates, in a reference to the safari jackets and shirt-jackets that were the off-duty looks of Roger Moore's James Bond in the 1970s and early '80s.

And the Sloop suit already is on display at the London Film Museum's exhibition, Bond in Motion.

According to Bruce Pask, men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, "Massimo's corduroy suit is deconstructed, unlined and soft. It reflects the uniform of contract worker today, or the freelance and creative class."

Lessons learnt

Indeed, previous criticism of the Bond's wardrobe in the 2015 Spectre centred on the somewhat constricting look of Craig's Ford suits.

Alba sees the turn from the Ford and Brioni suits of past Bonds to his styles as evolution. "Bond wore them like a suit of armor," he said. "They were very rigid. Mine isn't linked to that James Bond legacy, but I feel closer to this ideal of a man; he's more poetic, and doesn't need to hide behind his suits. He has a newfound confidence."

The fashion consultant Robert Rabensteiner agreed. "Celebrities always start new directions, and for my clients it's no longer about the big label," he said. "Massimo's under-the-radar elegance makes him more sophisticated."

And Spaiser said Alba's work would provide collectors with an opportunity: "They're much cheaper than a Tom Ford." (Alba's Sloop suit retails for about US$1000; a Tom Ford wool suit is online for US$3960.)

For Spaiser, whose site receives 30,000 visitors a month, and usually sees a spike ahead of the franchise's latest release, "Bond in an off-duty suit implies a man who appreciates clothes. If you're wearing a cord suit, it means you don't have to wear a suit, it's because you want to wear it."

The New York Times