The cars, the gadgets, the girls, the style — James Bond is more than a man; he’s a way of life.

A fictional hero penned by Ian Fleming in the early 50s, the cinematic variety of Bond — in his many incarnations — has both embodied and spurred the vision of masculinity adapted by generations of males. His iconicity has spanned across five decades, beginning in 1962 with Terence Young behind the camera, and a young Sean Connery assuming the role of the enigmatic British agent in Dr. No, on to the most recent 007 feature, Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig.

The intricate production behind the action genre’s celebrated franchise is unsheathed in Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style, an exhibit curated by London’s Barbican Centre, and currently on display at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. The exhibit’s impressive catalog of items range from story boards and croquis sketches to props such as Bond’s attaché case seen in From Russia With Love, and wardrobe archives including an overcoat by British tailor Anthony Sinclair, the designer behind all of Bond’s suits during the Connery years.

With fashion historian Bronwyn Cosgrave and Oscar–winning costume designer Lindy Hemming at the helm as guest curators, 007’s distinct style — and that of his unforgettably glamourous Bond girls, come to life under the exhibit’s spotlight. Highlights include a stunning statement piece by multifaceted British designer, Jasper Conran — a gold chain with fish pendant from the designer’s SS08 collection — worn by Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) in Quantum of Solace, and the ethereal scarlet hooded gown by Azzedine Alaia, which sculpted the Grecian figure of Grace Jones in A View to Kill.

A tastemaker in its own right, the evidence of the Bond series’ spillover from screen to store shelves is apparent in this season’s plethora of 007-inspired collections. (Not to mention our own ode to Bond in this fall’s Die Another Day fashion editorial.)

Women can try on the persona of their favourite Bond femme fatale courtesy of OPI, who is ushering in this holiday season with 12 limited-edition lacquers named in honour of the Bond films including a premium 18-karat gold-leaf top coat, fittingly branded: “The Man With the Golden Gun.” With nails painted in such coy shades, the only way to decorate them more temptingly would be the addition of a little frosting in the way of Swarovski’s Love Knot ring, the stunning accessory worn by Bond’s latest lady love, Sévérine played by Bèrènice Marlohe. And, while most men may never experience the stride of their idol’s slim-lapelled suits — meticulously designed by Tom Ford — for those who aspiring to straighten their cuffs after a brawl with as much confidence as the eternally-chic Bond, they can live the dream through Swarovski’s eponymous Golden Gun cufflinks embellished with crystal dorado pave, and be The Man with the Golden Gun…times two.

Adding to the Bond mania in the air, TIFF has announced three film programmes that will run parallel to the exhibit including ShakenNot Stirred: Bond on Film — a virtual cinematic guide through the evolution of the action genre’s prized hero. The selection of 22 Bond features will demonstrate how 007 came to be what Jesse Wente, Head of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, describes as: “the man every guy wants to be, and every woman would like to be with.”

Always somehow working to “reflect their own era,” as Wente points out, the easy charm of the Bonds films — generation after generation — is quite simple and exact. Aside from having “very cleverly tend[ed] to evolve over the years to reflect both what’s going on in the wider world, and what’s going on cinematically […], and who’s the one drinking martinis,” says Wente, “there is something that ties all the films together with mass appeal. “The baseline elements of [the film are] mystery, intrigue, action, incredible stunts, exotic locations and beautiful looking people; when that’s the common elements in every single movie […], basically…that’s a blockbuster formula,” summarizes Wente. “Before Bond, we didn’t really see action movies in the same way, Bond helped establish what the modern day action movie is, and what we come to expect out of most of them.”

The cinematic status quo in the action genre, Bond is a cultural icon your children’s children will know. With Skyfall hitting theatres this Friday, what better time to brush up on your 007 knowledge. Dip into the timeless glamour of Bond till January 20th, this one is not to be missed.

Published November 7, 2012