By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - Suave, sophisticated, sexist - James Bond has meant many things to many people since he first hit the screen 50 years ago. A new exhibition marking the big anniversary looks at another side of the fictional secret agent - his role as trend-setter.
"Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style" opens at London's Barbican Centre on Friday and traces the importance of fashion and design in the 22 official Bond movies released so far.
It is one of a series of events celebrating 50 years since the release of "Dr. No", the first in the record-breaking film franchise that starred Sean Connery in the main role and launched one of the most famous characters in movie history.
Bond-mania is likely to go into overdrive when "Skyfall", number 23 in the series and the third Bond featuring Daniel Craig in the lead, hits theatres in October and November.
"I think it is an aspect that is sometimes overlooked, and the show points out how influential Bond's style and design has been through the decades," said Neil McConnon of the arts division of Barbican International Enterprises.
He worked alongside co-curators Bronwyn Cosgrave and Oscar-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming to put together the exhibition, which will tour internationally over the next three years, underlining the movies' global appeal.
"I really do think the film franchise has been ahead of is time."
TAILORING AND TRAVEL
As well as influencing the cut of men's suits and whetting viewers' appetites for vintage sport cars, Bond also opened up the world with his globe-trotting, death-defying exploits.
"The influence can also be seen in terms of tourism," said McConnon. "Bond's exotic locations have inspired people to travel and explore."
On display are dozens of original costumes, props, set designs, dresses and other Bond paraphernalia, and, thanks to the agreement of EON Productions which makes the movies, there are film clips and audio to illustrate the exhibits in action.
Bond himself is seen as the epitome of sophisticated yet understated style - tailored suits and tuxedos or less formal polo shirts.
"Bond girls" are known for everything from bikinis to shimmering ball gowns, while villains adopt the severe look by buttoning up their jackets to the neck.
The white bikini worn by Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in "Dr. No", one of cinema's most celebrated scenes, has been loaned by Planet Hollywood International to hang alongside that worn by Halle Berry in "Die Another Day".
The curators were spoilt for choice when it came to props and set designs.
Included is the 1964 Aston Martin DB5, the most famous Bond car, the only surviving version of Scaramanga's golden gun that appeared on screen in "The Man With the Golden Gun" and Ken Adam's drawings for the set inside Fort Knox in "Goldfinger".
Oddjob's lethal hat, the actual Tarot cards used in "Live and Let Die", ski outfits and even the model of a shark's head from "Licence to Kill" are among the other highlights of the show spread across 14 rooms.
The Daily Telegraph, which is a media partner on the show, gave it four stars out of five in an early review.
While some of the exhibits were dowdy and tatty, including "spongey tailors' dummies", "it is also a show that, despite its flaws, anyone who has ever thrilled to a Bond movie would be foolish to miss," wrote critic Mark Monahan.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)