VENICE — Symbolic? Compelling? Emblematic? Tick. Functional? Tick again.
Whatever the reasoning behind the set of specially designed Louis Vuitton luggage in “The Darjeeling Limited,” the bags are an integral part of the latest Wes Anderson movie, which premiered this week during the Venice Film Festival. From the initial shots until the end, the eight suitcases are prominently in the forefront and focused on in slow-motion takes.
But Anderson shies away from spelling out the symbolism behind the suitcases. “I don’t really want to explain it,” says the director politely, slightly shrugging his lanky frame.
Understandably so given the director’s penchant for leaving the audience to tackle the unanswered questions triggered by his films, from “Rushmore” to “The Royal Tenenbaums.” In his movies, each detail matters and has meaning and Anderson’s style has often been compared to Martin Scorsese’s.
The luggage the three main characters — the Whitman brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman — inherit from their late father, is hauled around India through their spiritual journey. “They carry their suitcases with them all the time, they are obsessed with the death of their father and hang on to the bags, dragging them across the country,” explains Anderson, wearing a pinstriped gray and blue suit over a gray woolen sweater and blue shirt, waving his thin hands to punctuate his words.
The brothers hang onto the luggage — whether jumping on the train or riding a rickety bus — until the end, when they free themselves of their physical and emotional baggage — an obvious parallel. Once the siblings solve their family issues and come to terms with the death of their father, they manage to detach themselves from the heirloom.
As the luggage had to be sturdy, Anderson, who lives between Los Angeles, New York and Paris, and is friends with Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs, turned to the luxury goods house to provide it.
“They make the best suitcases, and I say that because I watched how they made these, putting in hundreds of little nails and making them so carefully and intricately,” says Anderson. “They were made so well that we were able to drag them around the desert and have them fall in the river and throw them onto trains and have them really take a beating and, yet, still they lasted. We only had the one set, so it would have been a big problem if they were destroyed.”
This story first appeared in the September 7, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
While researching the film, which was shot on location in India, Anderson first visited the Louis Vuitton Asnières workshop and Museum of Travel in October 2005. According to a company spokeswoman, the pieces, made in natural calfskin in a caramel color, were inspired by a tennis trunk from the Forties. They are numbered and personalized with the father’s hand-painted initials, JLW, and printed with a palm tree and animal motif: a giraffe, a rhino, an antelope and a monkey. The motif, which is silk screen-printed and embossed, was designed by Anderson’s brother, Eric Chase Anderson. The cases are lined with lime- and pistachio-green velvet and a leather label and serial number.
“The Vuitton craftsmen aged the leather to show how the collection was built over time,” says the spokeswoman, noting it took a year to manufacture the pieces, which were completed in October 2006. Vuitton also designed a pair of blue suede pumps embellished with a stars-and-planets motif worn by Wilson; a belt, and the suits worn by the cast.
And now that their starring role has come to an end, Vuitton is selling the baggage. Seven pieces, which include a trunk, a president suitcase, a keepall, and a cabine trunk, among others, will be auctioned in New York at the Louis Vuitton store on Fifth Avenue from Sept. 20 to 27. The auction will benefit the Rawal Mallinathji Foundation.