“I’m not going to theorize on what the symbolism of luggage is,” said the designer Marc Jacobs in a smoky, lilting voice. Speaking on the phone from his office in Paris, Mr. Jacobs was talking about the candy-colored Louis Vuitton impedimenta he created for Wes Anderson’s new film, The Darjeeling Limited.
The luggage epitomizes “Wes World”—which is how the actress Anjelica Huston described the timeless, quirky aesthetic of the director’s films to The Observer. Variously shaped, Mr. Jacobs’ suitcases, realized to Mr. Anderson’s exact specifications, are at once both elegant and absurd.
The director’s fifth motion picture, Darjeeling tells the story of the three Whitman brothers who—armed with enough painkillers and cough syrup to fell a parade of elephants—roll through the Indian desert in the peculiar luxury of the eponymous train. In true Anderson form, the three men (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) have little in common other than a surname; ultimately, they learn to celebrate the bonds of blood. Throughout the unfamiliar locale, the Whitman brothers’ bulky harlequin luggage, which had belonged to their recently deceased father, serves as a kind of security blanket. “They’re on this spiritual journey,” Mr. Jacobs said, “and it’s sort of like they’re carrying the remnants of their father’s life with them wherever they go.”
The director envisioned the bags “right down to the color of the lining and the sort of fixtures within the luggage that held a tennis racket or tennis balls and types of pockets that these suitcases should have,” Mr. Jacobs added. “Wes couldn’t have been more specific.” Mr. Anderson also asked the designer to speckle the luggage with playful drawings of palm trees and safari animals by the former man’s brother Eric, whose whimsical artwork is also featured prominently in The Royal Tenenbaums.
In addition to creating courier sacks, trunks, suit bags and valises for the film, Mr. Jacobs outfitted the three Whitman brothers. Drawing from a palette of soft earth tones, pale pastels and a broad range of gray, he bedecked the trio in a more-or-less uniform fashion. In their oxford shirts, pajama tops and bespoke suits, they were dressed a lot like Mr. Anderson himself.
Mr. Jacobs said that he has long considered the filmmaker “an incredibly stylish and clever man,” citing Mr. Anderson’s appearance on Vanity Fair’s 2005 best-dressed list. They became friends a few years ago, after being introduced by the designer’s sometime muse, director Sofia Coppola.
And since 1996’s Bottle Rocket, Mr. Anderson’s films have had an unmistakable look, thanks in part to a loyal group of industry wizards who “get” his taste. Indeed, some might call it an exclusive clique. “I’d love to think that the world sees what I see in Wes’ movies, but I think in fact they’re very, very particular. I don’t know if they do speak to everyone, which maybe is a really great thing in a way,” Mr. Jacobs said. Of the 11 actors in Darjeeling’s primary cast, six have worked with Mr. Anderson previously. (The beleaguered Mr. Wilson has collaborated on all of his films.) Darjeeling’s chief costume designer, Milena Canonero, has also worked with the filmmaker before, garbing the madcap seafarers in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Before working on Darjeeling, she won Oscars for Chariots of Fire, Barry Lyndon and, more recently, Ms. Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
“She’s integral now to whatever [Mr. Anderson] does,” Ms. Huston said of Ms. Canonero. Ms. Huston, who has appeared in the director’s last three films, plays the Whitman brothers’ mother, Patricia, in Darjeeling. Having fled Manhattan after the death of her husband for a Catholic monastery in the hills of India, Patricia’s newfound humility is echoed by her closely cropped gray hair and simple white tunic, which is usually cinched by a tool belt (“a very Wesian touch,” she said).
Ms. Huston prepared for the role by visiting an ashram in Rajasthan, where she observed nuns tending to the local poor and infirm. “Patricia Whitman was something less traditional, but I wanted her to be on the frontier,” she said from her office in Venice, California. “I think Milena and I thought very concurrently about how she should look, and Wes has very clear ideas about what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He constantly challenges himself and therefore the people around him. I think he creates an artistic atmosphere and pushes us to do our best … at least our best in his eyes.”
Still, shooting on location in Rajasthan apparently relaxed Mr. Anderson’s grip on Darjeeling’s visual effects somewhat. “We reacted a lot to the place,” said Marc Friedberg, the production designer, who also worked on The Life Aquatic (“he’s just perfect for Wes, because he never says no,” Mr. Schwartzman said). “For Wes, that was quite a departure, where we were O.K. with happy accidents,” Mr. Friedberg continued. “Rather than obsessing about his shot and making it perfect, the actors rarely left the set. We were allowed very little time to light and to prepare. It was really about ‘Keep the energy moving! Keep shooting!’”
Inevitably, Darjeeling’s version of India is that of an outsider’s: volatile, romanticized, slightly precious. “I think he encouraged and welcomed unpredictableness. Is that a word?” Mr. Schwartzman chuckled to The Observer. By contrast, 1998’s Rushmore, which featured Mr. Schwartzman in a more pubescent state, was shot at Mr. Anderson’s high school in Houston, a place the director knew intimately. “We were foreigners in India,” Mr. Schwartzman, who plays Jack Whitman, said. “Anything could happen, and trying to control that or trying to create the things he envisioned, exactly as he envisioned them, might just be harder there. He said to me early on, ‘If we write in the script that the three brothers get picked up in a red car, and when we get there to shoot it there’s a blue truck, we shoot the blue truck.’ I think India kind of co-directed the movie with Wes, and I think he liked that.”
As the Whitman brothers traverse the arid landscape of northern India, they not only wear Marc Jacobs suits, $3,000 loafers with hand-painted stars and constellations and $6,000 belts “made special for me,” but they also don, in turns, bright flower necklaces, handmade slippers and gold-threaded head scarves. The local extras also had to dress like Wes World citizens. Throughout Darjeeling, shocks of spotless, fierce neon fabric dance across the screen: geranium-colored turbans, acid green saris and vests in fire-engine red.
“A lot of [Ms. Canonero’s] work was looking at the palette for quite some time and trying to develop costumes that looked like they were a part of the set,” said Mr. Friedberg, speaking—how apropos!—from an Amtrak train that was shuttling him from Washington, D.C., to New York. “We reacted a lot to the place. When we were working in Rajasthan, [Mr. Anderson] was really taken with the local craft, and a lot of Rajasthan is textile work and it’s highly patterned. There were also fantastic artisans there, and in some cases, we kind of just let them go,” he said.
But happy accidents aside, The Darjeeling Limited’s look and feel remain part of the Anderson continuum. The director seems never afraid to play his own muse—from the train’s fanciful compartments, which echo those on The Life Aquatic’s seaborne Belafonte, to Jack Whitman’s Acqua Di Parma-yellow bathrobe in Hotel Chevalier, a 13-minute related short (featuring Natalie Portman and her naked bum) that will appear on the Darjeeling DVD; the robe looks like a hand-me-down from Royal Tenenbaums. “For the most part, “ Mr. Friedman said, “I think he references himself.”
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