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The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Author Matt Zoller Seitz has published a continuation of his superb book The Wes Anderson Collection (2013), entitled (deep breath) The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel. The former is a detailed look at Anderson’s output so far, influences, meaning and interpretation of his work; the latter covers exclusively Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This is far more than a bolted on sequel, however, and one of the reasons we know this is because Clothes on Film editor Christopher Laverty was asked to contribute a chapter. More than that, it has recently joined The New York Times bestseller list.

A pretty, candy-coloured slab of hardback, Seitz’s follow up is meticulous, painstaking even; leaving no stone unturned on Wes Anderson’s most complete film yet. It features interviews with key members of cast and crew, including Anderson himself, and most exciting for readers of this website, a conversation with costume designer Milena Canonero. The section is interspersed with images and design sketches, plus Chris Laverty’s essay studying Canonero’s contribution to the movie. Simply due to a change of format before publishing, some of Laverty’s work was not included in the final version. Nonetheless there is still plenty to read. Believe us, for anyone with a smidgen of interest in the costumes of Grand Budapest, this book is worth shelling out for.

As prelude to buying the book (seriously, do) we have included some extended character breakdowns that didn’t make the final print. Outside of costume, Seitz has put together a roll-call of clued-up contributors, aka The Society of Crossed Pens, to provide voices on everything from music to aspect ratios. Couple that with the author’s own rich analysis and interviews, and this should already be on your coffee table.


Tilda Swinton as Madame D, a woman out of her time.
Tilda Swinton as Madame D, a woman desperately clinging to the past.

Madame D (Tilda Swinton) is too late for her time. Her clothes and styling represent a woman who has enjoyed the decadence of several hedonistic eras. She is attired in a red velvet theatre coat and conical hat from The Roaring Twenties, a dress from the early thirties and hair from La Belle Epoque. As travel to foreign lands became a possibility at the turn of 19th century, she packed her monogrammed luggage and enjoyed the hotel industry at its zenith – an age of parties and champagne, four poster beds and foie gras. Yet by the time we join Madame D she is in her dotage. Her clothes, a deliberately confused mix of periods, symbolise her inability to let go of the past. Gustave of course helps her stay there, which is why she adores him.

Immediately we can interpret wealthy Madame D by the lavish coat she wears, its indulgent Man Ray-esque print and powder blue lining, trimmed in real mink fur (Canonero’s design, made by Fendi). We need to form a swift opinion because we have little time to get to know her. This is how effectual costume, combined with hair and make-up, can help us decipher a character by ‘reading’ his/her appearance.


Ralph Fiennes as Gustave wearing horizontal block stripes prison attire.
Ralph Fiennes as Gustave wearing horizontal block stripes prison attire.

The prison uniform Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) wears was actually out of common usage for around thirty years and never as widely adopted in Europe as the United States. The horizontal block stripes design was pioneered by the Auburn Prison System in early 19th century New York as a form of convict degradation. Quite simply, the stripes are intended to represent prison bars. Obviously here the uniform is used as a comedic device, but it was also worn by prisoners in concentration camps during Nazi Germany.

By the time of Gustave’s brief stay in fictional Zubrowka prison, rehabilitation had supplanted humiliation and the uniform was redesigned, first with the broad arrow print originally seen in the UK and then a plain all-in-one jumpsuit. Yet the matching stripes and pillbox cap ensemble continues as shorthand for slapstick prison escapades (see the Laurel & Hardy prison movies and O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Note also the too-short sleeves and half-mast trousers grazing Gustave’s ankles. This is a one size fits all kind of deal, a nod to how far the normally immaculately attired concierge has fallen.


Saoirse Ronan as Agatha. Note the Society of the Crossed Keys symbol on her necklace.
Saoirse Ronan as Agatha displaying the Society of the Crossed Keys symbol on her necklace.

There are not many costumes worn by Saoirse Ronan’s character Agatha, but each one specifically stems from her bakery uniform – her pink slip, pastel peach overcoat, even her white wedding dress with its identical silhouette of short sleeves, Peter Pan collar, inverted pleats and Mendl’s insignia. Agatha’s bakery uniform is the most elegantly balanced in the whole film. The gentle blue shade of her dress, peach cable-knit sweater worn as an under-layer and grey wool socks work in harmony to bestow this pure, yet capable girl an ethereal beauty that even a port-wine birthmark the shape of Mexico on her face cannot dissipate. Every character in The Grand Budapest Hotel wears a uniform, whether figurative like Joplin or Madame D, or literal like Gustave and Agatha. A uniform signifies someone who is steadfast and unchanging in personality.

What distinguishes Agatha most however is the porcelain Society of the Crossed Keys pendant given to her by Gustave. This symbol is only intended to be worn by concierges who are members of the prestigious guild, yet because of her resourcefulness Gustave considers Agatha worthy of the accolade. As an old man Zero still wears this pendant as a tragic connection to his lost love.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is available to buy now. There is a website and even an animated trailer for the book. Could it be any more Anderson esque? No.

© 2015, Lord Christopher Laverty.