Strong bond: Sunspel

Sunspel’s latest collection is a celebration of Sea Island cotton, the fabric favoured by Ian Fleming when dressing James Bond

Style 9 Sep 2021

Sunspel Polo Shirts are crafted in Sea Island cotton

Sunspel Polo Shirts are crafted in Sea Island cotton

British luxury heritage brand Sunspel is renowned for taking the finest materials and working them into timeless, classic pieces. Its factory in Long Eaton, Derbyshire has been running since 1937, and indeed, it was the timeless aesthetic and merging of a 160-year history with contemporary design that attracted creative director David Telfer to the brand, where he has worked for the past five and a half years.

One of Sunspel’s most precious materials is Sea Island cotton, which only makes up 0.0004% of the world’s cotton supplies. Its longer staple length and fine texture make it unusually difficult to grow and to spin, but no other cotton has the same extraordinarily soft feel against the skin.

‘Sea Island cotton is special in lots of ways – it’s the rarest cotton in the world and is extra special for us at Sunspel, as we were one of the first brands to use it to make some of the earliest luxury T-shirts,’ says Telfer. ‘A lot of products in our archive are made from Sea Island cotton, and Sunspel actually used to be called The Sea Island Cotton Company until 1937, as we used so much of it! Also, the name Sunspel comes from the logo for Sea Island cotton, which is a sun and a cloud, as the ideal conditions for growing cotton are spells of sun.’

The Sea Island Cotton Knit LS Polo Shirt in Airforce, £225
The Sea Island Cotton Knit LS Polo Shirt in Airforce, £225

Telfer explains that Sea Island cotton is not just the rarest, but the finest quality cotton, with the longest staple of fibres in the world. ‘When we design new products, we’re looking for a soft and comfortable feel, and what makes Sea Island cotton super soft is the extra-long staple fibres, which are around 4 or 5cm long as staple length,’ he says. ‘As a comparison, the staple fibres of high-street cotton are usually 2-3cm in length.’

Real Sea Island cotton can only be grown in the West Indies, and Sunspel’s comes specifically from Jamaica, before it is spun in Switzerland. The spinning process is very controlled to get the best quality out of the cotton. It is then knitted into an interlock stitch, which makes it sumptuously soft.

It is no wonder then, that Sunspel has a natural affinity with author Ian Fleming, who chose Sea Island cotton both for his own wardrobe and that of his legendary creation, James Bond. In 1957’s From Russia with Love, Fleming wrote, ‘At last, after shaving and putting on a dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt and navy blue tropical worsted trousers, he slipped his bare feet into black leather sandals and went through the bedroom…’

Sunspel has a long association with the super spy. Bond stylist Lindy Hemming paired Sunspel with Bond when she created the look for Daniel Craig’s new Bond in the iconic 2006 film, Casino Royale.

‘It was quite a radical transformation for Bond – making him look less stuffy and much more athletic and contemporary,’ explains Telfer. ‘At Sunspel, we feel aligned to the modern vision of Bond, which is understated, timeless and luxurious. Most products that we design feel relevant to that “everyday Bond” look.’

This season, Sunspel has worked in collaboration with the Ian Fleming Estate to create a collection of classic Sea Island cotton menswear styles, as a celebration of its long association with Fleming. The whole collection is made from Sea Island cotton, including the Riviera polo – which dates from the 1950s, but today’s slim fit and cut was tailored for Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, and the style has now been elevated in Sea Island cotton.

‘We have created a collection of relaxed, smart pieces inspired directly from Bond quotes, but we also wanted to imagine what Fleming would dress Bond in now,’ says Telfer. ‘In keeping with this, we have expanded the collection to include refined loungewear pieces, with a new sweatshirt and pyjama set offering the ultimate in relaxed luxury.’

Other highlights of the collection include a Sea Island cotton roll neck jumper that’s perfect for layering in the winter months, and a Sea Island cotton smart shirt, with traditional full button-through closure and cuff details and removable collar stays. For striking the perfect balance between style that is refined yet relaxed, this is a collection worth shaking a martini at.

From £175;