Like an Antony Gormley figure, there is something magnificent about the solitary human form; the James Dean loner; the Jack Bauer or Nicholas Brody lone agent. Stealthy types, moving in the shadows, on the outside – it reads cool off the page and walks cool across our screens. Fleming’s Bond, Ludlum’s Bourne: tough, icy, enigmatic, alone.
Yet most typically during the course of our everyday, few of us do work alone, independent and at a remove from others. In reality more the opposite is the case.
We get things done by joining forces and working together, which is why the pragmatic innovator in me would like to take this moment to praise the collaborative spirit, because Milton was on the nose. No man really is an island. It’s invariably partnerships and pairings that can make us more. By way of evidence, I’ll start with a maybe-not-so-lone 007 in the Caribbean.
The cut of Bond’s jib
When Daniel Craig channelled Ursula Andress and rose from the Bahamian blue in Casino Royale, the pupil dilations were of sufficient number for the majority to concur with what producer Barbara Broccoli had always known. Craig was an inspired piece of casting. It didn’t hurt that he was also a damn-fine actor. The innovation equation was clear: Broccoli + Craig = Bond Rebooted.
When Craig later emerged from a roof-top pool in the Shanghai sequence of Skyfall, the major coup for clothing brand Orlebar Brown was that 007 was wearing a pair of their swim shorts.
I discovered Orlebar Brown in 2009 when it featured in Monocle magazine. Its limited edition ‘Monocle Bulldog’ shorts were a partnership with editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé, one of a series of limited edition pairings from O+B. A Bill Amberg retro capsule of shorts, beach towel and tote bag was another. “No, Simon. It’s possible to over-accessorize”, was my wife’s very clear instruction at the time.
While quite possibly true, I admire the way Orlebar Brown has scaled their brand and ramped their cachet through associations and partnerships. Their ‘premium brand’ accent has been with the help of some shrewdly selected style Sherpa’s.
I’m even tempted to argue that O+B are taking their lead from the Bond movie formula, because while you need to find the right guy for the tux (or swim shorts), this one ingredient alone does not ensure a 50-year franchise.
Consider the narrative Bondian ingredients: girls, gadgets, exotic locations, fast cars, megalomaniac adversaries. Beauty, danger, sex, death; in the singular, they’re all alluring elements, but paired together they become intoxicating.
The Bond legacy is really just one long line of inspired commercial and creative pairings, the latest expression being Broccoli and half-brother Michael G. Wilson as co-producing double act.
Go wider and consider how any movie gets made. The entire movie industry is built on co-production funding. Creating a pot of cash is an exercise is forecasting likely back-end profit, with an up-front appeal to hearts and minds, inviting movie studio and private investor alike to “buy into the vision”. No one can make a movie, not a good one, singlehandedly.
Of course, I use Bond and the movie-making machine to evidence a broader point. Though to further build a line of exhibits, I may free-associate through a Fleming-esque world of fast cars and fine watches.
Fast cars and fine watches
Bond: Where’s my Bentley?
Q: Oh, it’s had its day, I’m afraid.
Bond: But it never let me down.
Q: M’s orders, 007. You’ll be using this Aston Martin DB5… with modifications.
Source: Goldfinger, 1964
Perhaps 007’s gruff was false front. He would surely have read Fleming’s ‘Goldfinger’ in advance, would have known that his written-word self had been placed behind the wheel of a motor car branding a DB. But had Fleming and then Q not been so insistent, would the Aston Martin DB5 be quite so iconic?
EXHIBIT A: A thing of beauty regardless, but the DB5’s Bondian past contributes to its current £350k price tag.
Aston Martin aficionados might however incline to suggest it wasn’t partnering with Bond, but with Brown that made all the difference.
“The man who truly put Aston Martin on the map was David Brown, who in 1947 answered a classified advertisement in The Times seeking an owner for “a high-class motor business”. Brown acquired Aston Martin for £20,500.”
Source: Esquire, The Big Black Book, Autumn/Winter 2013
EXHIBIT B: Aston Martin + David Brown = automotive history.
Though what would Brown make of the announcement this July that future Aston Martin’s will be powered by Mercedes AMG engines? In this arrangement, Mercedes (more accurately Daimler) will take a 5% stake in Aston Martin, a business that is now co-owned by two Kuwaiti companies and one Italian private equity firm.
Very soon, any Aston with or without a DB will also be kitted out with German engineered electrics and command systems (simply meaning the GPS will accurately plot A to B, and you’ll be able to get there even quicker).
While a German engine in an Aston Martin might feel instinctively wrong, I suspect David Brown (and Q) would have approved. Anyone who’s driven anything propelled by an AMG engine knows Aston Martin’s will be better for it. And faster. And you only have to check to the cyber chatter to see: no one’s complaining.
EXHIBIT C: Aston Martin + AMG = faster and better.
An Anglo-German auto pairing is arguably no different to having a Swiss movement in an Italian watch.
EXHIBIT D: Officine Panerai began making over-sized watches in 1860, but only in the last few years have they started making their own movements. Prior, Panerai had always used a Rolex movement.
Circling back to Bond’s Bentley that never let him down. Sadly, there was a point when Bentley had become a let-down. Then, in 2003, came the Bentley Continental GT. It revived the aging Bentley marque and reversed the company’s fortunes. Behind its release was a simple fact: Bentley was a company under new ownership.
The Continental GT was a Bentley made by VW (who’d wholly bought the company in 1998), targeted not at former Bentley drivers (an atrophying breed), but at well-heeled 40-something motoring enthusiasts (and premier league footballers).
Check out Breitlingforbentley.com for another shrewd pairing. “British chic, Swiss excellence: Breitling for Bentley combines the best of both worlds” declares the homepage, accompanied by spokesperson David Beckham, kitted out in a version of Sean Connery’s Goldfinger wardrobe.
EXHIBIT E: (Bentley + VW + Breitling) x (Brand Beckham) = more Bondian?
Where Brietling bought Beckham, Omega bought Bond, writing a cheque of sufficient sway to bump Rolex from 007’s wrist. For me, the Moon is a far richer association for Omega. Their Speedmaster still (quite fairly enough) dines out on being the first watch to step, via Buzz Aldrin, on to the surface of the moon.
“Just after landing on the Moon, the Lunar Module’s on-board electronic timer broke down. Neil Armstrong left his Speedmaster aboard as a reliable backup. As a result, the first watch worn on the Moon was on Aldrin’s wrist.”
Listen to Will.I.Am
Thelma and Tom would just be names, but partner them with Louise and Jerry, and they assume famous meanings and vivid narratives. Starsky, Hansel, Fred, Morecambe – add Hutch, Gretal, Ginger and Wise and you have a fun-sounding law or ad agency, plus some serious bellbottoms and dance steps.
Staying on the theme of outrageous wardrobes and rocking backing tracks, let’s consider the music world. Elton John is Elton John… because of writer Bernie Taupin, and Will.I.Am is Will.I.Am… because of his truly open-minded approach to music-making.
“In collaborations and with the Black Eyed Peas, Will.I.Am has a total of 34 Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart since 1998, and has sold 9.4 million singles in the UK.”
EXHIBIT G: I really enjoy how Will.I.Am has built his brand through “featuring”. His creative partnerships often seem incongruous, but they create sounds that feel progressive and compel:
- Flo Rida, featuring Wil.I.Am, gave us “In the Ayer”: a US double platinum and the Summer anthem of 2008. Everyone now: “Oh hot damn, this is my jam”.
- Post “Girls Aloud”, Cheryl Cole gave Wil.I.Am full creative control on what became her triple platinum debut, “3 Words”. He remains Cole’s co-manager.
- “O.M.G.” was written, produced and features Wil.I.Am, but lives on R&B artist Usher’s sixth studio album, Raymond vs. Raymond. It went double-platinum.
- And then there’s also Will.I.Am’s collaborations with Nicki Minaj, JayLo, Jagger, Justin Bieber, Britney, and Bazz Luhrmann, begging the question, does the guy ever sleep?
Collaborations can make beautiful music – which, for want of discursive symmetry, returns me to Bond. The Bond Song has always been fundamental to the formula and has always been a hit or miss matter of partnerships. McCartney and Live & Let Die. Duran Duran and View to a Kill. Successes.
General consensus would have it that Jake Black and Alicia Keys crooned a recent dud (‘Another Way to Die’), but no question inviting Adele to the Skyfall party was a centre-of-heart winner.
Some codes can be enigmatic. Certain formulas can seem closer to alchemy. I don’t look upon The Collaboration Code, The Featuring Formula, as a thing of mystery. It’s about being open-minded and giving.
Co-creation doesn’t have to be dilutive. One plus one can equal three, the procreation equation, the genesis of something new. No one should get into bed with just anyone, but everyone should be on the lookout for the right cuddle buddy.
I once had a boss who believed the only good ideas were his. It also didn’t matter whether the idea had started as someone else’s. Ended up his. My only point is that it wasn’t the most generous or inclusive kind of perspective. ‘Not invented by Me’ dead-ends collaborative creativity. I rather prefer Will.I.Am’s way of doing things. I believe we can learn much from a world of Fleming and 007, from our luxury brands and music’s megastars.
Fleming once described his novels as “pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety”.
Writing this while listening to Will.I.Am’s latest ‘Bang Bang’, there’s 20’s Charelston, some Cher, a touch of Louis Armstrong, extra vocals from both Shelby Spalione and Nicole Scherzinger, all kinds of talent in the mash. It’s an exercise in creative polygamy.
“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”? Join forces, snuggle up, and who knows what might happen? Something brilliant? Something explosive? Whether you preference a Walther or a Berretta, it feels like a formula that’s worth a shot.