The Ian Fleming Collection at Sunspel
Image by Rich Stapleton, courtesy of Sunspel
Fleming was a well-known wearer of Sea Island cotton, a rare and particularly luxuriant, long-thread type of the fibre. When Fleming lunched with Herb Caen, a renowned American journalist, in London in the early Sixties, the journalist noted he was in his signature threads:
“Cigarette?” [Fleming] asked, offering a dull silver case surmounted by a curious coin. He caught my brief stare. “Gold sovereign,” he said. “My lucky coin at Monte Carlo. Made a killing with it.” The snakelike head of his Ronson Variflame flicked evilly and in a flash his cigarette was lit. As he took a deep drag, the neat polka-dot bow tie bobbed at the collar of his Sea Island cotton shirt with short sleeves.
If the foregoing sounds like a pallid attempt to imitate the style of Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond stories – well, it is. The gentleman described above, with whom we were taking lunch in the admirable surroundings of Scott’s, WAS Fleming.
Sea Island cotton originated in the sea islands off South Carolina and Georgia in the 18th century. Cities, like Beaufort, South Carolina, mushroomed as sales of the special and expensive cotton boomed. But a combination of the Civil War, boll weevil infestations and the advent of the cotton gin (a machine that worked short-thread cotton), led to the obliteration of Sea Island cotton crops on the islands in the late 1800s. Today it is grown mostly in the Caribbean and its rarity means it has become a highly sought-after cotton, known for its high tensile strength and silky fibres. Some call it the cashmere of cotton.
Sunspel has always been concerned with the best and highest quality materials. The company, which was founded in the 1860s, started to make clothing from Sea Island cotton after the First War. In weathering the economic ups and downs of the 19th century the cotton became a speciality and they have continued to make undergarments, as well as clothing, from it since. In fact, the young man who drops his jeans and sits in his underwear in the laundrette in the famous 1985 Levis 501 advert was wearing Sunspel’s white Sea Island boxers.
Fleming at his typewriter © Fionn Morgan/IFE
It’s more than likely that Ian Fleming wore Sunspel. He shopped often on Jermyn Street where Sunspel was stocked in many of the gentlemen’s stores and he was often seen in a short-sleeved Sea Island cotton shirt. Like so many of his favourite things, he made sure that his literary hero, James Bond, liked it too.
There are four mentions of Bond slipping into his Sea Island cotton clothes in the novels:
It was six o’clock on Thursday evening and Bond was packing his suitcase in his bedroom at the Ritz. It was a battered but once expensive pigskin Revelation and its contents were appropriate to his cover. Evening clothes; his lightweight black and white dog-tooth suit for the country and for golf; Saxone golf shoes; a companion to the dark blue, tropical worsted suit he was wearing, and some white silk and dark blue Sea Island cotton shirts with collars attached and short sleeves.
“Diamonds are Forever”
When Kate Grimond, Fleming’s niece, and Nicholas Brooke, CEO of Sunspel, met they began talking about Sea Island cotton. The more they spoke about Fleming’s tastes and Sunspel’s ethos – good quality, British made, simple but special – the more obvious a collaboration seemed. Brooke suggested a Sea Island cotton capsule collection in Fleming’s name supported by quotes from the James Bond books and little-seen photographs.
Image by Rich Stapleton, courtesy of Sunspel
Launched in March 2018, The Ian Fleming™ Collection features shirts, crew-neck jumpers, t-shirts, polo shirts, boxers and a 50s-inspired camp-neck shirt in soft blues, natural greens and white. Each features a beautifully designed swing tag with a photo of a young Fleming at his typewriter and a short explanation of the author’s love of Sea Island cotton.
The range was inspired by the sun-drenched Caribbean island of Jamaica, where Fleming wrote all 14 of the James Bond books at his villa, Goldeneye, and, coincidentally, where Sunspel sources its Sea Island cotton from. The clothes, made of this super-fine cotton, are designed for sunny days and getaways, when the body craves the loveliest of fabrics and the wearer wants to look effortlessly cool.
The Ian Fleming™ Collection is now available online, in Sunspel’s five London stores and in Berlin.