The Envelope: Milena Canonero’s ‘Grand Budapest’ costumes match Wes Anderson’s vision

Italian costume designer Milena Canonero is not new to filmmaker Wes Andersen’s quirky universe. She’s lent her three-time Oscar-winning skill to “The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” and does the same in this year’s charming “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is set between the two world wars in a candy-colored fictional Eastern European nation called Zubrowka.

Anderson has “a very creative and precise vision,” Canonero says. Successful collaboration comes about “by submerging myself into a Wes world. He encourages and stimulates me to bring my own creative input. He is a very special filmmaker and auteur.”

Given that Zubrowka is fictional, how much of those wonderful male uniforms of service was stylized?

The hotel uniforms’ style and cut are faithful to the 1930s period, but I was searching for a color palette that was not too predictable for hotel staff uniforms. In London, I found beautiful purple and mauve face cloths from Hainsworth, and Wes really liked them. The bulk of the material was subsequently dyed for us by the German company Mehler. We made all the hotel uniform costumes in our workshop in Gorlitz, Germany.

I designed the gray-and-black [soldier] uniforms based on the amalgamation of different military sources. Wes did not want anything to be too specific or historically correct and wanted to avoid typical green military colors. Wes, who is extremely particular about logos, designed most of the insignias, while others were designed at our Roman workshop and submitted to Wes for his final touch.


The two major female characters straddle age, station and era: Madame D’s a rich, dying grande dame, and Agatha is the baker ingénue, and they’re dressed oceans apart. How did their look develop?

Wes described Madame D as a very wealthy art collector about 90 years old, eccentric and beautiful. He had a great prosthetic makeup team to age Tilda Swinton to look old but still very attractive. I suggested she’s retro but very elegant and arty. As Wes envisioned, she collects Klimt, so I printed a Klimt-inspired pattern for her velvet costumes. I rendered the whole look on Photoshop, including the hairstyle and the hat to go with it.

Agatha is totally different. She’s a working girl with a birthmark in the shape of Mexico; a very Wes Anderson touch. She’s young and sweet like her pastries and simply dressed in clothes she has slightly outgrown. She has little money and wears a sweater under her short sleeves to keep herself warm. Since she works in a pastry shop, I selected colors that went with her pastries. Wes liked that, and he added the blade of wheat that she always has in her hair.

Fendi made Swinton’s luscious fur cape and Prada made her numerous brown suitcases. How did those collaborations come about? Did they collaborate on any other costumes?

Wes and I have very good relations with Fendi and Prada. We contacted them at the beginning of prep to ask for their support and collaboration. Fendi not only provided me with the Black Diamond mink fur trim and muff for Madame D’s coat but also made the gray Astrakhan coat that is designed for Ed Norton and provided us with all the furs I needed in the movie.

Prada made the luscious black leather coat I designed for Willem Dafoe. We then inserted the special pocket for the arsenal of weapons that Wes very specifically requested. The silver knuckles of Willem’s were made especially by Wes’ friend Waris Ahluwalia, who is not only a renowned jewelry maker but also an actor and appears often in Wes’ movies; here he plays the Indian concierge.

How involved were the various actors in their costumes and fittings? Did anyone make suggestions that actually made it into the film?

The actors on a Wes Anderson movie like to wear their clothes. I show them drawings of their look, and they know by then everything has been worked out with Wes. Most of them have played in his other movies and understand some of the typical quirkiness of Wes. Then Wes will do the last touches, especially with the makeup and hair that he is so particular about.