Adidas tracksuits from the 1970s, nostalgia-inducing sneakers, fur coats, monochromatic business suits, tweed jackets, hats, bags and preppy Ivy League styles – just some of the collective wardrobe usually making an appearance in films by the American filmmaker Wes Anderson.
For a generation of hipsters, Anderson is one of the only directors who manages to tell magical stories of far-off worlds and eccentric characters. Aside from that, he also excels (perhaps too much) at illustrating current stylistic wishes, provoking nostalgia for clothes that carry hidden significance and illustrate that the way we dress is a central part of our lives – we submit to the rules of fashion, and we enjoy breaking them.
Watching Anderson’s films is reminiscent of that immortal Oscar Wilde quip, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” For Anderson, outward appearances, style, home decor and music are almost as important as the actions of his characters. As in life.
Throughout his long career, Anderson has repeatedly been able to highlight the most prominent icons of the period.
In “Rushmore” (1998), he predicted the hysteria about preppy style – the same Ivy League fashion that heralded the revolution in men’s fashion from the turn of the millennium, complete with thick glasses and school uniforms, classic oxford shirts and ties.
In “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), it was long-forgotten red Adidas tracksuits worn by Eastern European Olympic basketball teams that sparked vintage stores in big cities throughout the world to take all of their old sportswear out of the attic.
With “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004), Anderson created an obsession with Adidas sneakers and “beanies” – hats that became a favorite fashion item for men around the world.
In “The Darjeeling Limited” (2007), he meshed Eastern and Western fashions in a profound clash of cultures, adding eccentric accessories like sweatbands and plastic glasses to his characters clad in 1960s and ‘70s British suits and vintage Louis Vuitton bags (not to mention wearing suits while barefoot).
For “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), Anderson made tweed jackets and pajamas essential items for any fashion-conscious man (almost simultaneously pajamas could be seen on fashion runways around the world).
And in “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), he brought back the nostalgia for Boy Scout clothes and raccoon tail hats.
This list of items could easily be a shopping list for your average hipster: a combination of tailored and pop sportswear items; nostalgia pieces from vintage shops; and expensive, almost unobtainable items like school or professional uniforms, topped off with eccentric accessories that turn a mundane look into something extraordinary – for Anderson’s male heroes, at least.
In this respect, Anderson knows how to express the current look, and how to find it, too (by cooperating with big brands like Prada, Adidas, Louis Vuitton and others).
But aside from all that, it seems that he has succeeded – more than any popular men’s magazine – to pinpoint the connection shared by current men’s fashion, history and tradition, as well as pop culture, and the fact that men, while clothing defines their uniqueness, are made to conform by a world that would seek to control them.
But really, uniforms are Anderson’s true clothing, more important to him than sneakers or accessories.
Most of the time, he himself wears a kind of timeless uniform: corduroy or tweed suits, textured ties and Wallabee suede shoes from Clarks – something between casual tailored and preppy, an American uniform that has come out of his movies.
But for Anderson, uniforms are part of the ancient game of dressing like everyone else but trying to stand out: to be part of the system while desperately trying to break free, by adding a strange hat, headband or glasses. All of us, Anderson is saying, are kids that want to be loved, even if our shirt is stained.
In Anderson’s new film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” we see yet another link in his repertorial chain.
His latest movie isn’t intrinsically different from his earlier work, but this time the plot is set in Europe between the two world wars, in a grand old hotel, with uniforms worn by doormen, bellboys and concierges, scenic views, train stations, and restaurants that could only exist in the movies. Most of Anderson’s characters wear the almost-ridiculous hotel uniforms, old world garb in purple colors, while others wear old tuxedos or gray soldiers’ uniforms.
All of these comprise a nostalgic world that itself is longing for the past. The plot is a kind of story within a story, one of a lost world, “Faded Glory,” the kind that tour guides tell tourists upon visiting cities that were, at one time, grand. So the clothing highlights the desire for an organized, regulated world, for a hierarchy that used to be much clearer cut, for people who fulfilled their duties and knew their place, and a simpler elegance, before postmodernism.
But as in all of Anderson’s films, these dreams are just that: dreams. The old world wasn’t really perfect, and behind all of the grandeur and glory, war was brewing.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is, in certain regards, a summary of the nostalgia inherent in all of Anderson’s films, an expression of longing for the old, better world, that if it didn’t really exist, exists in every one of us.
Here, Anderson manages to capture the spirit of a time that was much better than choosing the right sneakers or jackets, because he strikes that part of all of us that wants to live in a perfect dream world, if only temporarily.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel" opens in cinemas nationwide on Thursday.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now