Mention personal style and Wes Anderson, who was chortling just a moment ago, looks like he suddenly slurped down a bad oyster. "I don't want anyone to think I follow trends and fashion because, well, frankly. . . I just don't," says the director.
Never mind the fact that Anderson is kitted out in a handmade khaki suit, marlin blue oxford with starched collar and cocoa-brown suede loafers that bear nary a scuff. Or that he popularized the shrunken suit to such a degree that almost every menswear designer -- from Thom Browne to Valentino -- now uses less fabric. Or that his films -- "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Life Aquatic" -- actually get flak for being so obsessed with style.
Call him a misfit. Call him an outsider. Just don't call him stylish.
"Wes is very stylish," says Marc Jacobs by phone from Paris. The designer, as artistic director of Louis Vuitton, teamed with Anderson to come up with a new look -- flannel suits that don't cinch at the shoulders or reveal naked ankles -- and a set of luggage for his latest film, "The Darjeeling Limited." The pairing makes perfect sense. Jacobs' fashion shows have an ethereal, cinematic quality, and he even name-checked Bernardo Bertolucci as inspiration for a recent collection. Anderson's fastidious attention to quirky style details in his films is legendary.
The fashion designer and the film director, both occasional expats who spend months at a time in Paris, first met a few years ago. "I think we were introduced by Sofia Coppola at a birthday party for her brother, Roman," says Jacobs, who adored "The Royal Tenenbaums" and was impressed before they even shook hands. Anderson simply says: "I would have to drop a lot of names to be exact, so let's just say that we met through mutual friends in Paris."
Anderson's aversion to name-dropping typifies his cool. It's an indelible type of composure, like invisible ink. But whether you can decode it or not is no matter. The director has a personal style that informs, even embosses, his films, his characters, and his own distinctive look. And over the years, that style has hatched fashion trends as reliably as a swan spawns ugly ducklings.
Take Anderson's aforementioned shrunken corduroy suits, which we first saw the director wearing back in 2001 and even earlier on the Max Fischer character in "Rushmore." Two years later, Thom Browne launched a career with suits that looked like they had been hung to dry in a sauna, clearly taking a cue from Anderson. Designer Scott Sternberg of Band of Outsiders might have raided Anderson's own closet for the label's preppy geek aesthetic, a look that's at the forefront of men's fashion today.
"Somewhere along the line, I said, 'I think I will wear suits now.' Why? Maybe to look more like a grown-up," Anderson says with a shrug, now seated for a lunch of pasta with boar at Bar Pitti in the West Village. (The setting couldn't be more Anderson-esque: The walls of the bistro are painted a hue of buttercup. "Yellow Submarine" tumbles from a nearby speaker. If only the waiter would stride over in slow motion.)
Anderson briefly alludes to the informal dress code in Los Angeles but stops himself from bad mouthing the flip-flop capital. "And I like that wearing a suit says, 'I am professional and serious about what I do,' which may seem old-fashioned."
Beyond a signature look
Not according to Vanity Fair, which placed him on its best-dressed list in 2005. Understandably, he's hesitant to further discuss the very look that branded him more as a wunderkid than a wunderkind. Early, almost every article written about Anderson opened with a description of his shrunken suit.
"I don't really do that anymore. It just becomes a little embarrassing to become known as the guy in the ill-fitting suit," says Anderson, fluttering his tapered fingers as if to shoo away any whiff of a bad memory. Jacobs can sympathize. He also resents being distilled down to his signature sartorial accents. "I do not want to be defined by big buttons and Peter Pan collars," Jacobs says. "That's only part of what I do."
When asked about his suit arsenal, Anderson shifts and squints. "How many do I own? Um, not a lot," he murmurs. "I don't know."
What is known is that Anderson has been seeing the same New York-based tailor since the beginning: Mr. Ned on Fifth Avenue at 20th Street. There is no sign out front. A tiny elevator tootles up to the fourth floor and opens to a no-frills loft space crammed with floor to ceiling shelves of fabric bolts. Pinstripes, cashmere, tweeds. It's a veritable sweet shop for a sartorialist.