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Costume Design in the Royal Tenenbaums, or the Blueprint of My Passion For Fashion in Films.

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

I somewhat hesitated before choosing Wes Anderson’s costume design as my introduction to fashion writing: perhaps, I should have chosen some obscure, edgy production in order to truly establish myself as a person of elite taste? Would it be too cliche to say that Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaum is one of my comfort movies? After all, it was his first critically acclaimed film, establishing the director’s notoriety for impeccable set designs and brilliant use of color theory. The work of costume designer Karen Patch (who also styled Rushmore and Bottle Rocket) coupled with Anderson’s eye for sartorial fashion resulted in a film wardrobe that is still referenced to this day by fashion powerhouses such as Gucci and Miu Miu.

The Royal Tenenbaum depicts a 1970’s New York family whose faded glory is obvious through the ironic and melancholic tone of the film. Eccentric parents Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston) have three children, all young prodigies with different quirky hobbies. Now, unsurprisingly, the three Tenenbaum children are burned-out, has-been adults.

Margot Tenenbaum is the adoptive daughter of the couple and a former screenplay genius. Both as a child and as an adult, her uniform consists of an iconic mink trench coat, a childish dress, and a Hermes Birkin bag. Dressing the character in the same outfit as a child and an adult translates the sentiment that no matter her age, Margot feels out-of-place; the child dressed in a fur coat looks just as odd as the adult woman wearing a barrette in her rounded bob. The duality of the character is perfectly reflected in her outfits: Margot's fashion is provocative by mixing preppy staples with rebellious statements like her heavy eyeliner.

Wes Anderson’s instruction for the film’s costume was “Don’t shop anything – make everything!”. As a result, the lapeled minx coat was designed by Fendi exclusively for the movie. The Lacoste tennis dress, a clue of the unique bond between Margot and her brother Richie, was also a custom design.

Richie Tenenbaum’s outfit clings desperately to his childhood. Once a tennis superstar, he now lives on a boat with Bloody Mary's as his main hobby. While the contrast between his camel suit and Fila tennis headband is meant to picture a washed-up wannabe who can't let go of his past, the outfit hold-ups remarkably. My personal inclination for casual tailoring is probably tainting my (supposed) impartial judgment, but who could blame me? Luke Wilson’s Ricchie Tenenbaum just looks so cool.

A bit too late for a “ spoiler alert ?” A pillar of the film’s storyline is the comically obvious love Richie harbors for his (adopted) sister Margot. Although his feelings are obviously displayed to the viewer, the character himself is tormented by the situation and hides behind Vuarnet's tinted sunglasses and a statement beard. Margot reciprocates her brother’s feelings, and we can see their outfits being color-coordinated throughout the movie. The characters finally confront their feelings for each other near the end of the movie, in a bittersweet scene that offers one of my favorite quotes.

“I think we're just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Richie.”

Near the end of the movie, Richie dramatically shaves his head and face. This departure from the character’s original style can be interpreted as Richie's acceptance of his feelings and his situation. And scene!


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