Style in Film: The Royal Tenenbaums

Margot Tenenbaum style  
“Don’t shop anything – make everything!” Wes Anderson wanted costume designer Karen Patch to, as much as possible, design and build everything exclusively for the movie The Royal Tenenbaums , which is at its fifteenth anniversary this year. The film-maker is known for placing a high importance on the visual aesthetic of his films, and costumes are maybe the most powerful statement, having the ability to reveal more about his characters and their surrounding world than any other element. More than writing, acting or plot, costume, deliberate colour schemes, composition symmetries and stunning attention to detail all take storytelling into visual art.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a tale of a family of faded glory (inspired, according to the director, by Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons more than anything else, also a story about the decline of a once-great family), still living in their genius heyday. There is Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), the father, a disbarred attorney who lives in a hotel after being separated from his wife, Etheline, played by Angelica Huston, and their three children, all grown-up, but who have all returned to live at home with her, carefully isolated from one another. They are all former child prodigies, who have since fallen from their great potential. There is Margot, Gwyneth Paltrow, who was adopted, an award-winning playwright in school, Richie, Luke Wilson, a once tennis champion, and Chas, Ben Stiller, who was a financial whiz as a kid. The characters all wear their personalities on the outside and all the Tenenbaum siblings wear a variation of retro sportswear, but I particularly liked how Margot’s and Richie’s are interconnected and colour-coordinated.
costumes in the royal tenenbaums

She wore Bass loafers and it was only when Gwyneth put them on that she said “Now I know who I am.”
Karen Patch said that the idea of Margot was based on an old Peter Sellers film, The World of Henry Orient, in which the young girl wears a mink coat to run around New York. She wanted to put Margot in the same look when she was a child and carry it through into adult life. She has worn the same outfit since she was twelve and her costuming speaks volumes about her identity clash. They wanted a tie-waist trench style in caramel colour and sent their drawings and specifications to Fendi, in Italy, who carried out their idea to perfection. Margot’s conservative fur coat, vintage-look, boarding-school dark brown loafers and Hermès Birkin bag come in contrast with her rebellious personality, suggested by her heavy kohl-rimmed eyes, chain smoking, unimpressionable mimic and promiscuous sexuality, as well as with her childlike hair clip in her prostine, side-parted, flat-ironed bob and her a tad too small tennis dresses.
Gwyneth Paltrow style The Royal Tenenbaums

Gwyneth Paltrow tennis dress The Royal Tenenbaums

Costumes The Royal Tenenbaums  
The tennis dresses were Lacoste, a preference of Anderson’s, who wanted to use their logo. The brand, which didn’t make stripes at the time, only solids, created the dresses especially for the movie, after sending in fabrics so that the costume designer could pick out the stripes she wanted. The dresses play multiple roles: they are a subtle connection to Margot’s brother, Richie, once a would-be tennis star, who is secretly in love with her, but they are also deliberately used to suggest that she is trapped in the costume of her life’s peak and to undermine her intelligence.
Luke Wilson's costumes Royal Tenenbaums

Luke Wilson's costumes Royal Tenenbaums 
As with Margot, Richie Tenenbaum is still clinging to the prime of his success – he is a sullen professional tennis player whose career has spectacularly flopped. His costume places him firmly in the category of one of the most original characters. His tennis whites grow into a suit – a camel suit that reflects Wes Anderson’s own sartorial inclinations – but still affects preppy t-shirts and a striped headband from the Borg era, and even his arm bands. His large sunglasses (made by the French company Vuarnet, a preppy favourite in the 1980s) and beard signify his early success as a tennis player, but they are also used to hide himself from the outside world and to hide his love for his adopted sister, Margot. And when he shaves his beard off, as the movie builds up towards the end, it’s a ritualistic act, reflecting the fact that he may finally come to terms with the reality of life and his current place in it.
Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum

Costume and character in The Royal Tenenbaums 

This article has also appeared on The Big Picture magazine.
photos: movie stills, Buena Vista Pictures/ Everett Collection

sources: interview with costume designer Karen Patch, Elle magazine, November 2014 / interview with Wes Anderson, Vulture magazine, October 2013 / After the Denim

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Spotlight 2015  
What I probably liked the most about Spotlight were the performances of the entire cast (which makes me wonder why there aren’t more awards acknowledging the concerted effort of the actors in a movie – the film deservedly won the SAG award in this category, by the way) – their performances alone are the only thing preparing you for the importance and immensity of the story they are about to reveal. Spotlight (watch the trailer) tells the real story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team from the Boston Globe that uncovered a decades-long scandal of child abuse within the local Catholic Archdiocese and the subsequent cover-up (at the highest religious, legal and governmental levels), that further disclosed other scandals within the Catholic Church around the world.

I have such appreciation for a movie that gets reporting journalism right and that depicts dedicated journalists so well doing what they do best. While watching the movie there were a few times when I thought the action was lagging (maybe because the story was so huge that I wanted the plot to get along and try to straight things up), but I realised that it was this exact detail (so cleverly thought out) – the characters’ slowly realization of just how big the news was – that built suspense and momentum. Just as Mark Ruffalo’s character (such a great role – but, really, they are all good), who goes from being a patient but tenacious investigator to a restless, berserked even, one who runs around to get his facts and screams at his boss. An absorbing film, with nothing extra to distract your attention but a bunch of first-class journalists doing their job, the best newspaper movie since All the President’s Men (1976).

photo: Anonymous Content / First Look Media / Participant Media/ Rocklin/Faust

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Classic American Style: Hilary Rhoda

Classic American Style Hilary Rhoda  
Can it get more classic or more glamorous casual than this? This look has all the elements to go down as one of my enduring winter favourites. Distressed blue jeans, in a straight cut – are you willing to give the slim fit a rest, too? Black turtleneck, loosely tailored – no matter how small your waist is, a little more forgiving shape is simply more tasteful and more elegant. Ankle boots, with that perfect heel hight – I always look my best in that height, I just don’t find towering heels that attractive. Neutral-toned, non-camel coat – a reminder that going just a little bit against the obvious choice always pays off (the unexpected contrasting colour detail adds even more personality and maximizes the effect). And last, the absence of the bag – it is an indispensable accessory for women, which is why I am fascinated by how forgoing it gives the most basic ensemble such a cool vibe. Nothing about this look is about trends, but it is ingrained in modernity. Classic American style usually is simply that.

photo: Benjamin Lozovsky/

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Interview with Illustrator Cecilia Carlstedt

Cecilia Carlstedt interview  
In a digital age when photography is more accessible than ever, people seem to have a better appreciation for a unique artistic vision and skill. It is true that photography as an art form has not vanished, but it is also true that cheap snapshots are ubiquitous. Which is why I find illustration extremely valuable today. Cecilia Carlstedt makes one of the most beautiful cases for illustration and for the sustainability and timelessness of a piece of art. Seamlessly combining the traditional pencil and ink with more contemporary mediums, Cecilia’s works are charged with singular beauty, energy and newness. And because much of her work is inherently connected with fashion, I must say that in a time when I think that everything in the industry is just too much, too overexposed or too overrated, illustration has the ability to make fashion relevant again, providing a narrative and a different point of view about clothes…more efficiently than words and photography can. The Swedish illustrator’s collaborations include such big names like Elle, Vogue, The New York Times and W magazine, as well as Paul Smith, La Perla, Victoria Secret, H&M and Swarosvski. It is a great pleasure to have Cecilia as my guest today.
Cecilia Carlstedt illustrationCecilia Carlstedt 
Why illustration? How did you start?
Illustration has always been my means of expression from an early age and what I always been wanting to do, but how I came to specifically enjoy drawing fashion I think is because I like the theatrical side of the industry and with fashion illustration you really are allowed to exaggerate, push and experiment without boundaries.

I received my first commission 1998 when I had just started to study Art History at the Stockholm University. I went to a meeting with Swedish Elle and showed my portfolio (all with original drawings in it!) and this visit subsequently gave me my first commission illustrating the upcoming fashion trends.

What is your earliest drawing memory?
I can remember drawing this round-as-a-ball lady with big ear rings when I was around six and being praised for it by my mom. It was a good and encouraging feeling.

How would you describe your illustrative style?
Changeable, intuitive, eclectic in the use of mediums with love for the female form and essentially linked to the world of fashion.

Is there a specific medium you prefer? Why?
It varies, but for a while now it has been painting with ink. I love how the medium can be used either making bold, energy filled brush strokes or transformed into soft organic washes. It is a medium that you can’t fully control, that is very changeable depending on how and on what paper you use. This experimental aspect makes it always exciting to paint and keeps you focused.
Cecilia Carlstedt
Cecilia Carlstedt
How big a part does hand- and digital-drawing, respectively, play in your work? Would you ever consider traditional drawing exclusively?
I used to do more digital drawing in programs like Illustrator and Photoshop, but these days I do all the work by hand first and strive not to digitally alter it as much as possible. It brings me most satisfaction, when I ‘nail it’ with the original drawing. However, it’s hard to imagine not being able to alter, adding and composing the work digitally. The computer is such a helpful and necessary tool when working commercially. When you are working for a client, you have to consider their view and wants along the way and often having to make revisions or amendments. It would be a very time consuming and a difficult process not being able to re-work and revise it digitally.

Could you tell me a little about your creative process?
It depends a little on the assignment, but I usually start with an idea, or an image that triggers me to create. This could be a pose, a silhouette, or something relevant to the task. I get inspired from looking at other images, mainly photography, and can see quite quickly if it is something I can dive into, twist and turn, and interpret my way. Then I make the painting or drawing in the appropriate medium. This process can happen quickly or I need to make multiple sketches before reaching the required result. If it’s a personal work I leave the work at this stage keeping it as an ‘original piece’ without bringing it into the computer. But if the end result isn’t supposed to be an original, I will scan the hand-drawn work, which could consist of many different techniques and elements, and then put it all together in Photoshop. It is however important for me that the work feels like it hasn’t been manipulated in the computer too much but has kept it’s traditional hand-crafty quality.

Who and what has influenced and inspired your work?
There are for sure many things and people that have influenced me without me even noticing or remembering.. But I could make a very long list of people and things I admire and love… to name a few that pops to my mind right now would be .. Artists such as Marlene Dumas, Elisabeth Peyton, Gerhard Richer. Photographers such as Vivianne Sassen, Paolo Roversi, Illustators such as Mats Gustafson, Julie Verhoven, David Downton, Francois Berthoud. Magazines: Encens Magazine, Acne Paper, Muse Magazine.

What has your career highlight been so far?
I think it was being able to buy the contract of the studio I am now working in. It is such a luxury have your own studio to go to everyday!
Cecilia Carlstedt 

How challenging is for an artist to do commissioned work? How does it relate to your personal, freelance work?

I feel at this point I am mostly very comfortable doing commissioned work. In some way it’s easier than creating personal work. A lot of commissioned work is also very open creatively and I feel my personal work develops as much from my commissioned work as the other way around.

Do you have a specific working atmosphere you like to surround yourself with when creating?
Yes, always music, radio or pod casts. It’s rarely quite… unfortunately also too messy and many cups of half empty coffee cups lying around.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I used to, a long time ago when I didn’t have a studio and sat in various cafes, book shops and libraries. Then I carried one around doodled and put down ideas. These days, having small kids, I find that my work flow is more concentrated and focused as I have less time for the thinking and sketching process. These days it seems platforms like instagram serves like the old traditional sketchbook in a way… I have recently started an Instagram account and I guess it is my modern type of a sketchbook.

What qualities separate illustration from photography? I am asking you this because today everybody thinks they can take a photo with their iPhone.
Yes, I think precisely this – the overflow of filtered iphone photography is a big factor why illustration seems to be seeing a revival in the more traditional sense. Hand-made = personal.
There used to be more hand-craft involved in photography when you used film and developed in dark rooms. It was a different mindset, not as accessible, instant and easy to alternate. I believe because of the way technology has changed the concept of photography, the craving of the unique has grown stronger. And possiblly illustration with its imperfection or perfection by skill shows the viewer something more personal and ambiguous rather than the constant feed of photography surrounding in all media and social platforms.
Cecilia Carlstedt 
How big a part does fashion play in your work?
It naturally plays a big part. But I find inspiration in fashion in another way rather then being interested in what the latest trend, model or designer might be…

Fashion illustration has known a revival of interest lately. What does an illustrator bring new to fashion? What is the biggest challenge?
What I talked about earlier – the illustrator is bringing forward a personal view and interpretation and is easier being able to focus and draw attention to what their own personal interest might be. The challenge is still however to take more space within the industry and not just act as a compliment to photography.

Any favourite fashion designers? varies, but from a drawing point of view I often return to the heavy weights: Celine, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Maison Margiela… To wear, I like designers like Rodebjer, Au Jour Le Jour, Rachel Comey, Isabel Marant…to name a few!
Cecilia Carlstedt
Which is the best piece of advice you’ve been given, career-wise?
Let an agent deal with all the parts of the job you are not good at.

Tell me about your personal style. How would you describe it? What does style mean to you?
I like it to be a mix of comfort, playful and personal. I am not a fashionista, but love beautiful clothes and things. Style, I think, is an individual take on what’s surrounding you.
Cecilia Carlstedt

One thing you can’t start your day without:


And what is your one favourite thing to do in Stockholm and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
Take a long walk through town via skeppsbron, past the castle out to Djurgården via Rosendahl’s gardens to Prins Eugens Waldermarsudde art museum. Amazing setting and artist’s home at the beginning of the 1900.

I would give all the major shopping malls a miss.

Where would we find you when not working?
With friends – hopefully at an inspiring art opening somewhere.
With family – at the country house.
photos: courtesy of Cecilia Carlstedt

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Heath Ledger Dark Knight  
Seeing such discrepancies among the roles nominated to the Oscars this year made me wonder if I could pinpoint my favourite movie performance of all time. To my surprise (coming from someone who does not have a favourite film, nor just one favourite actor or actress), it turns out that I can, and quite easily, too. There are many more I can think of, of course, like Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver, Kirk Douglas in Ace in A Hole, Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Alain Delon in Le samouraï, Liv Ullman in Persona, Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln, Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel, Faye Dunaway in Network… But, for me, none of these struck the screen in the way Heath Ledger, as Joker, did in The Dark Knight.

The movie itself transcends its genre – it has a story, direction, thrilling action that is however (admiringly) upstaged by powerful performances. But Heath Ledger’s towering interpretation is undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Unsettling, unpredictable, terrifying, brilliantly nuanced, savouring his darkness. A force of nature. He makes you forget the actor behind the mask and his mere presence on screen makes you nervous. Heath was appearantly given almost complete freedom with his role (you may be familiar with the lengths he went to for the part, like spending much of his time in isolation preparing for the role and carrying a Joker diary around everywhere he went so that he could get back into character anytime) – what can rightfully be considered a stroke of genius, a complete immersion into the role, thus becoming that much more unsettling, too.

photo: Warner Brothers / Legendary Pictures / Syncopy

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