Last week, I went to see the long awaited The Grand Hotel Budapest and as a film-lover I had high expectations for the last Wes Anderson movie. It was, as usual, a visual blast punctuated by a sassy narration, lovely and very well-made. Wes Anderson’s films are recognizable by their palettes mixing pastels, bright oranges and garish yellows that often hide dramatic scenarios. The particular use of color and design is what makes the director’s trademark (as it can be seen in a very nice blog dedicated to andersonian notes) but when you think about it, the costume are a big part of a movie’s success too ! Wes Anderson likes to create world of his own. His cinematic style is so specific that everything has to be meticulously thought from the shape of cake-boxes to the color of a front-door rag. Each time, the director offers us an explosive cocktail in terms of visual, color and set design but also in terms of costumes. So I decided to look into the matter and do some research to find out who is behind the fashion of these cinematic masterpieces.
Costume designers are some of the most talented people on the planet and rarely get the type of recognition that famous fashion designers get. I discovered that the director only swears by his costume designer Milena Canonero, a three-time Academy Award winner who worked for other successful movies such as The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. After studying art, design and costume, the Italian designer moved to London where she began to work in a small theatre and film productions. She is noted for her collaboration with Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon (for which she won her first Oscar : here’s the video).
Not only her work is compelling and exquisite but she is the emblem of modern costume design, she is considerate as a character designer. After marrying an American actor, Canonero established herself in Los Angeles where she notably worked several times with directors Francis Ford Coppola, Warren Beatty, Barbet Schroeder, Steven Soderbergh, and with Sofia Coppola on Marie Antoinette, with which she earned her third Oscar. Aside from film and television, she is also a costume designer for stage, theatrical productions on and operas and often collaborates with New York Metropolitan Opera and the Opéra Garnier in Paris.
For The Grand Budapest Hotel (starring Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and Adam Brody among a golden cast), the story is based on books of Stefan Zweig and is a visual feast. In an interview for Vanity Faire, she declared that in order to capture the fictional, candy-colored Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka in between World War I and World War II, Canonero took a holistic approach. Photographers like Man Ray and George Hurrell, and painters like Gustav Klimt, Kees van Dongen, Tamara de Lempicka, and George Grosz served as inspiration points. Canonero declared that “The look of each actor has to have its raison d’être.” For instance, Tilda Swinton’s Madame D.’s 1930s Klimt-esque coat and Willem Dafoe’s Jopling’s Prada leather trench were distinguishable pieces for their characters (Prada also happened to design the 21-piece luggage set for Madame D. and Ralph Fiennes’s Monsieur Gustave). Milena Canonero masters brilliantly her art. Her sense of the unique and custom-made from head to toe defines each character sometimes more than the set design or the lights.