How Wes Anderson Created the Aesthetic of a Generation

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Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Photo: Buena Vista Pictures

No matter what part of the movie you happen to come in on, you can always tell when you've stepped into Wes Anderson's cinematic world. The color schemes, the cinematography that pre-dates Instagram filters but looks nearly identical to a rich "Kelvin" in some scenes, the retro pastiches of archaic technology that you can never quite place in any one era. Add a handful of semi-aristocratic misfits and a soundtrack of Benjamin Britten concertos and LP b-sides and you've got everything from Bottle Rocket up through Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

This assessment is in no way a dig at the prolific director and screenwriter. Some filmmakers morph their visions from project to project, creating very specific one-of-a-kind worlds with few repeating elements from other works. Anderson is more old Hollywood. The way you could always tell you were in a technicolor Vincente Minnelli dream or a macho John Ford adventure is similar to the Anderson philosophy; he is a filmmaker creating an overall body of work. Part of the magic of an Anderson film is the way a Royal Tenenbaums pairs with a Life Aquatic and seeing how the Anderson repertory troupe (including but not limited to Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, Tilda Swinton, etc.) morph (or don't morph) from one film with the director to the next. The closest aesthetic and collaborative consistency in contemporary entertainment is Ryan Murphy's high concept television anthology American Horror Story, done with the same rich visual language and reoccurring performers but far darker themes.

Photo: Beth Mathews Design
Photo: Beth Mathews Design

A recent New York Times article explored the territory where the Anderson aesthetic and the real world converge in home decor. As I sat reading my print edition of the paper in my 1940s train station waiting room chair (with contrasting 1970s embroidered pillow), it occurred to me that yes, maybe there was something to this link. When seen in a certain light, my living room was almost the same Steve Zissou blue that reoccurs in a number of Anderson's movies. I probably picked the color around the time Darjeeling Limited was released, which was when I bought that travel tea service that folds down into a plaid plastic suitcase from a defunct airline. Also, admittedly, throughout the entire screening of Grand Budapest, I kept nudging my friend and whispering "Ooooh, I wonder where they got that upholstery," while she asked me if the military coats featured would translate well in San Francisco.

I was beginning to see a certain kind of consistency to some of my aesthetic decisions and subtle influences from the Anderson oeuvre. It's not just me though. On a good day, my favorite hangouts in San Francisco (or New York and possibly a few neighborhoods in Eastern Europe) resemble a watered down Wes Anderson World.

The year everyone started embracing colored beanies coincided with The Life Aquatic. And that same year, the number of ironic '70s Adidas track suits on Valencia Street doubled, although there was already a presence because of the red warm-up gear featured a few years before in The Royal Tenenbaums. I also blame Wes Anderson for facial hair; we can definitely trace beards back to him via Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic, and there's also a strong mustache story to all of Jason Schwartzman's adult Anderson roles (not to mention Owen Wison's blond pilot stache in Life Aquatic).

Photo: Focus Features

And it goes even further than decor. You simply cannot buy a record now without feeling like you're supporting a Wes Anderson lifestyle choice. His devotion to the pre-digital technology of his childhood is a theme in all his films, but, if you buy vinyl A.) by Nico, B.) featuring foreign language covers of any rock songs, C.) of classic children's stories sung as operas, you may as well send the man a royalty check. My own vinyl collection is just as much a testament to this as yours is. And for the record, I also love futura, the preferred font of the director in many of his  credit sequences. I'm writing this in a futura narration now, so please imagine it with me. Also, imagine I'm narrating it from a soda fountain counter eating an ice cream sundae that matches the curtains.


If you want to further recreate the Wes Anderson world for yourself, allow me to offer a few tips. Start by picking your favorite paint color from a 1960s pharmaceutical catalogue (the relaxing cobalt of an anti-anxiety pill or a bright benzo orange are good places to start). After you've painted your entire house this color (including the trim and the backs of doors), take sandpaper to it. If possible, add a white chair rail stripe for emphasis. Buy no furniture made after 1973, unless you go to CB2 and pick up one of their living rooms in its entirety because they've basically been knocking off elements of his sets for years. Then, throw in some inappropriate Victoriana. Include as much taxidermy as possible (specifically birds, or breeds of dogs and cats representing all the dead pets in Anderson's films) and forget to dust for three to six years.

When shopping for your new wardrobe, nostalgic sports brands are a start but why not go the full fashion route and wear uniforms? Fast food worker uniforms from the the paper hat days, scouting gear, old softball jerseys, prep school blazers, bellhop hats and military decorations from nonexistent countries are always out there waiting for someone with a little nerve. Top any outfit with your grandmother's most embarrassing fur coat but only if it smells as ancient as it looks.

The following activities are acceptable if you make the full lifestyle change over:

1.) drinking pre-artisanal cocktails from hotel bars (but only if they allow smoking)
2.) tricycling through pergolas in neglected public parks
3.) old timey weight lifting à la Atlantic City piers of yore
4.) following a paper map

If you meet a dowager duchess along the way, befriend her, but be weary of the rapscallions of the road house. Pass along words of understanding to children following their dreams and let them reconnect with their fathers on their own.

How many other filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino aside, could you base your decor, wardrobe and day around? Maybe Lars von Trier, but I hope you would never want to. Among a certain class of hipsteratti, it's Wes Anderson's world, we're just living in it.


The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson is now playing in the Bay Area.