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You can tell right away that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Wes Anderson movie—and the clothes may be the biggest clue of all.
“In Wes’ movies, there are certainly a lot of wonderful and distinctive costumes that are really tooled to help convey who these characters are,” says his friend and frequent collaborator Roman Coppola. “Wes is very involved in selecting those and designing and defining that. With any performance, what the actor wears indicates so much of who they are, and, in Wes’ world, they’re all the more distinctive.”
A staple of Anderson’s signature look is the uniform. Think of Ed Norton’s scout leader in Moonrise Kingdom or Owen Wilson’s cowboy-suited novelist in The Royal Tenenbaums. This efficient (and comic) manner of identifying a character is perhaps even more prevalent in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The film’s hero—an elegant, old-world concierge played by Ralph Fiennes—conducts much of his business in a wide-lapelled purple suit and tightly pulled black bow tie. His adversary, a money-hungry heir played by Adrien Brody, swans about in a supple black leather coat that falls below his knees.
For a location shoot in the village of Görlitz, Germany, Anderson transformed the ground floor of what had been a department store, built in 1910, into the film’s main set (that is, the airy lobby and other main interiors of the fictional Grand Budapest Hotel itself). The costume, art, prop, and production departments were an elevator ride away, up on the fourth floor.
Much of the team lived together during filming, in a nearby hotel, to ensure everyone was looked after, and to further the camaraderie, said the film’s costume designer, Milena Canonero, who has won the Oscar in her category three times, for Barry Lyndon, Chariots of Fire, and Marie Antoinette. Anderson also lined up a chef from Tuscany to cook evening meals for the cast and select members of the crew.
“These kinds of things are what make it wonderful to work beautifully with him,” says Canonero. “It’s not just work but the way he holds the whole cast and crew together. A lot of the cast has worked with him many times. When he asks for something, it is his vision. You can see that in the details of the sets, in the costumes, in the locations, and the humor of the story. He manages to keep the control in a very wonderful and generous way.”
Canonero added that a dress worn by Tilda Swinton in the movie was inspired by Gustav Klimt paintings and made with the help of Fendi. Prada lent a hand in designing Brody’s leather coat.
Anderson’s emphasis on costume design extended to even his stop-motion animated feature, Fantastic Mr. Fox, for which the British company Mackinnon & Saunders created nearly five hundred puppets. To make sure the protagonist’s corduroy suit was the right shade of rust, Anderson lent the puppet-makers the pants from his own suit. “As you know, you can’t just go to the shop and buy a suit for a fox,” says Ian Mackinnon, who worked with Belgian designer Félicie Haymoz to make the tiny costumes a reality.
The industry has taken note of Anderson’s fashion sense. Working with Coppola, the director made a three-minute short for Prada last spring, starring Léa Seydoux. It followed an eight-minute Prada short, Castello Cavalcanti, directed by Anderson and starring one of his go-to actors, Jason Schwartzman.
But the clothing in his movies usually looks more lived-in than high fashion. The wardrobes enhance the characters, never upstaging them. The madras pants worn by Bill Murray in Moonrise Kingdom made him seem very much at home in the coastal Northeast of 1965. And the tortoiseshell eyeglasses favored by Rushmore’s Max Fischer (played by Schwartzman) connect the character to a bygone world of elegance he has not had much opportunity to experience himself.
Anderson’s message is pro-fashion, pro-style, pro-elegance. Of all the characters who populate The Grand Budapest Hotel, the film’s hero, Gustave H., is the one most concerned with form and proper attire—and he is especially kindhearted. And so the (false) distinction between substance and style is erased, at least in Wes Anderson’s world.