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Fashion in “The French Dispatch”: Wes Anderson’s Stylistic Choices

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCLA chapter.

Wes Anderson is known for his unique and aesthetically pleasing film style rooted in his distinct visual styles and detailed plot lines. The director’s cinematography features symmetry with a combination of vintage imagery and loud color palettes ranging from bright pastels to duller dirt tones. Everything from the set design to tiny typography is meticulously planned, including the stylistic choices of outfits for his characters. A majority of the fashion from Anderson’s films have marked themselves as distinguishable due to the creativity and genius of Milena Canonera, an Oscar-winning costume designer who has worked with Anderson on many of his films. The French Dispatch is no exception as it showcases multiple costumes that reflect the tones of the film and the personalities of the characters.

The film features a variety of bright and neutral tones ranging from eye-popping orange to dull beige as Anderson goes back and forth between in color and black and white film. Textures and patterns played a big role in the clothing choices in order to make the characters stand out in black and white. Sweater wear and other knit clothing make a large appearance in many of the men’s apparel as other loud prints like polka dots and stripes make distinctive appearances. You would think that all of these together in combination would turn into a mesh of unorganized patterns and disaster pairings. However, Anderson and Canonera have worked their magic and produced a series of costuming fit for the film and true to Anderson’s style.

One ensemble, in particular, catches viewers’ eyes: the bright tangerine caftan worn by Tilda Swinton. The caftan has painted yellow feathers across the top and bottom as well as a wavy line pattern in varying shades of orange in descending order along the sleeves and above the feathers. True to the caftan style, the sleeves are large and billowing allowing Swinton to easily move as she narrates the three different stories in the film from behind her podium. The entire ensemble is paired with a bright gold bracelet on one arm and a glamorous diamond necklace hanging around her neck. The caftan and jewelry combined with Swinton’s red hairdo give off the vibes of a luxury Miami resort: pleasing sunset views and warm weather.

While a majority of the men’s costumes were more toned down, each was unique to the character’s persona and back story. Adrien Brody, who plays imprisoned art dealer Julien Cadazio serving time for tax evasion, sports a sharp gray double-breasted suit. His formal costume introduces his character as a businessman, one looking to deal art for profit rather than beauty. Bill Murray plays Arthur Howitzer Jr., the editor of a newspaper named The French Dispatch. As such, his costume is designed more to portray him as an old-fashioned journalist. His pale yellow shirt is combined with a brown vest and trousers along with a brown and yellow striped tie. The entire getup encompasses the tiredness felt by the character and encompasses the traditional journalist style of chief editors.

Anderson and Canonera have done well to encompass the whimsical theatrics and outgoing personas through their stylistic choices in the film. From dull tweeds to bright caftans, The French Dispatch does not hesitate to shy away from over-the-top costumes and crazy colors to present another style pleasing film.

Megha is currently a third year global studies major with a passion for digital journalism at UCLA. She loves exploring the arts beyond writing, including photography, graphic design, and painting. In her free time, she loves reading classic literature, making jewelry, and learning new languages!