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Fashion, Mister Anderson? It's all part of the story.

Costume Designer Milena Canonero takes us inside Wes Anderson’s latest flick

The fact that Wes Anderson’s films are often set in a hard to place date and time could be difficult for the life of a costume designer, but not so says The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou collaborator and three-time Academy Award winner Milena Canonero. “It makes everything so much easier and more free,” she says of their latest undertaking The Grand Budapest Hotel, out today.

The film, which recounts how a one-time lowly lobby boy has the adventure of a lifetime, is based on the books of Stefan Zweig and is a visual feast, thanks to Anderson’s imagination, explains Canonero. “Working with Wes is always different because he takes me to different places and different characters and situations, but however different they may be, he creates a world of his own that is very specific to him,” she says. “The more I work for him the more I see he is crystalizing his cinematic style to go with it. One has to immerse oneself into it, his world, which at first seems so light, but has many layers. Some people may not get his movies, but I do and I love them.” However, the work of Zweig wasn’t necessarily handy in realizing the costumes, says Canonero. “It was useful not really for the costumes, but for the atmosphere and the surroundings of Wes’s story that Zweig, an Austrian disillusioned writer, was an inspiration for me.”

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. “We had meetings and also exchanges of ideas and references not just for the costumes themselves, but the total look of the principal characters from head to toe,” she says.

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. “One also is stimulated by looking not only at the real people of that time, but also at other images and literature that are unrelated to the period and the setting of the story,” she says. “The look of each actor has to have its raison d’ĂȘtre.” For instance, Tilda Swinton’s Madame D.’s 1930s Klimt-esque coat and Willem Dafoe’s Jopling's Prada leather trench were distingushable pieces for their characters (Prada also happened to design the 21-piece luggage set for Madame D. and Ralph Fiennes’s Monsieur Gustave.) For Gustave that translated to the color of his uniforms. “It gave a nice twist to liveries that would have otherwise been rather predictable,” she says. “Ralph is not only a great actor, but also a director, and he is also extremely particular and detail-oriented like Wes and me. A triumvirate that needs to be satisfied.”

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