What Wes Anderson can teach us about great design

Immi Marsh

Enigmatic quirks, aesthetically pleasing symmetry, nostalgic hues and a penchant for the peculiar. It can only be auteur, Wes Anderson. The idiosyncratic style of the visionary film director has elevated his famed aesthetic to cult-like status, becoming so instantly recognisable, regardless of whether it’s the stop-motion animation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox, or his latest, The French Dispatch - the most elaborate and long-awaited love letter to journalists.

There’s something almost indecipherably beguiling about his films, beckoning a curiosity to climb into the scene and wander around in his infinitely eccentric imagination frozen so perfectly in bygone eras. Dowsed in detail, everything from the ephemera of intricately designed postage stamps and bank notes, down to the colourful flourish of crème atop the Mendl patisseries in The Grand Budapest Hotel, has been meticulously crafted thanks to his go-to team of graphic designers Annie Atkins and Erica Dorn, and newly appointed illustrator Javi Aznarez.

Layers of this obsession with detail, outlandish characters, characteristic camera movement, beautiful composition, landscapes of visually irresistible buildings and interiors, and a somewhat comforting, warm fuzzy feeling in its difference hugs his films like the final finishing touch of a ribbon.

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Artist Jordan Bolton's Wes Anderson poster series entitled Objects

Cultivating a cult-like following

The worlds of Wes Anderson have captivated the masses with his visual aesthetic alone, burgeoning into new life beyond the big screen; the Accidently Wes Anderson Instagram account which was started back in 2017 by husband and wife duo Wally and Amanda Koval, has amassed 1.6 million followers of Anderson evangelists from far and wide, devoted to the sole appreciation of joyously unusual architectural gems across the globe. A sumptuous visual smorgasboard of Wes-inspired landmark photography, which could so easily be plucked straight from his whimsical worlds in the fictional.

I myself have stood at the platforms of Berlin’s famously eccentric U-bahn metro stations and found Anderson in the patent and boldly coloured uniformed tiles, seen him in the symmetry of columns, the typography of the station names and the art-deco underground lights. His craft, it would seem, can be found in the most unexpected places.

The obsession didn’t stop at the Instagram page though, soon blossoming into a fully-fledged website akin to a beautiful Airbnb site from a forgotten time, accompanied by a New York Times best-selling book – all authorised by the man himself.

Of course, these landmarks have stood happily unaware of the Texan-born film director for decades - but his fictional realms have become so adored that fans have been bestowing real life places with new meaning, setting a stage to continue his oeuvre of stories, off screen.

 

Hotel Belvédère in Furka Pass, Switzerland, featuring in the Accidentally Wes Anderson book

The Accidentally Wes Anderson book

But away from these accidental architectural discoveries, Wes Anderson has brought his opulent signature style to the real world; back in 2015, he recreated the atmosphere of a Milanese café from yesteryear at Bar Luce in Milan’s chicest of art centres, Fondazione Prada. Pink terrazzo adorns the flooring, punctuated with retro lime green wooden chairs, and pattern-rich, clashing wallpaper wraps the space in kitschy undertones. A room that would slot neatly into place on-set, but an even better place to write a movie, he believed. “I tried to make it a bar I would want to spend my own non-fictional afternoons in.”

More recently, it was all aboard the Anderson Express as the film director redesigned a carriage in a luxury 1930s Belmond British Pullman train, offering you the chance to embark upon an adventure of decadence as though you’d been written neatly into one of his storylines.

Aside from the tales of mythical sharks, lost dogs in Japan, and young runaway lovers, his films tell a tale of the power of design. When done well, a fledgling of an idea can take on life far beyond your initial intention and imagination - his craft has become the springboard for a far greater Wes Anderson love story the world over.

Bar Luce, Fondazione Prada

A lesson in captivating storytelling from the great

 

Constructing the fabric of new fantastical nations from the ground up, Wes and his cohort are masters of their own building blocks to create storytelling with a twist. His cinematic lexicon might shift and evolve, colour palettes ranging from the saturated to the pastel, characters from the human to the puppeteered, narratives spanning the bizarre to the endearing, but his films always remain their memorable, ostentatious selves.

A brand space – whether virtual or real - is no different. It’s the stage, the backdrop, the landscape, and the scene-setting to a richer story, beckoning you into a curated brand universe. As virtual reality begins to permeate our everyday lives, the opportunity for rich, immersive storytelling in the dawn of our new blended world, will be abundant - and expected. In turn, it’s catalysing the role of the customer into an increasingly interactive one.

The Wes Anderson designed 1930s Belmond British Pullman carriage

As we all know by now, the role of the store changed long ago - destinational, memorable retail is now the minimum – marry this with brands ascent into fantastical Metaverse territory, and the need for brands to craft enticing worlds that facilitate escapism across both domains is fast becoming the norm.

But rather than merely replicate brand expressions, brands must head towards visionary adaptations of what their brand stands for across all channels, as they carefully navigate their physical and digital identities. Craft your brand worlds with artistic, cinematic precision, for storytelling your customers can’t help but write themselves into.  

Celebrate your difference. Embrace those idiosyncrasies. Swim around in your imagination. Because in the wise words of Wes, being underwater, everything is different.

Fin.

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4 min08 Feb 22