Adrien Brody is tucked into a quiet corner of LAX on the phone, dressed, he describes, in an outfit that sounds rather conspicuous: a “blaringly yellow” Wu-Tang Clan hoodie, complete with a trucker hat, black track pants, blue sneakers and a black backpack, inside which a yellow-lined camo vest is tucked.
“It’s pretty obvious what my influences are,” he says. “My hip-hop roots are still running strong.”
Brody is back to being in the thick of dueling projects, departing L.A. where he’s been shooting Adam McKay’s upcoming HBO series about the L.A. Lakers, in which he’ll play Pat Riley, and bound for Spain, where he is once again shooting a Wes Anderson movie.
“I am grateful for that,” he says of the return to busy life after the pandemic shutdown. “We were pretty fortunate through that. But yes, I’m really extra present and aware of how lucky we are to do most things. To breathe.”
Brody is a frequent collaborator of Anderson’s, and he stars in the director’s latest, the long-awaited “The French Dispatch.” Both are men known for a strong sense of style, though Brody seems more bashful around the topic of style icon. Yet ever since he won the Oscar for best actor in “The Pianist” in 2003 — making him, then 29 years old, the youngest person to do so — he’s been a sleek, elegant presence in the fashion world. He appeared in the campaigns for Ermenegildo Zegna around the early Aughts as his career was booming, and today his most recent appearances, at Cannes and the Met Ball, have seen him opting for classic Dior tailoring. A far cry from yellow Wu-Tang Clan hoodies, but the man has range.
Below, WWD chats with Brody, who can be seen in both “The French Dispatch” and the new season of “Succession,” on all things style.
WWD: Growing up in the New York area, you must have been very aware of fashion and style.
Adrien Brody: Queens definitely influenced my fashion sense. New York City and my mother working at the Village Voice, and growing up in an artistic environment…and I think having meager…I shouldn’t say meager, it’s not fair, but I feel like when I was very young most of my clothing was secondhand. So it was a matter of finding pieces that I thought were really interesting and making them work. What designer I gravitated to and what cut, that came much later in life. Even for my first film premiere, I’ve told this story before, but I didn’t have a suit that was right for it, and it was up in Lincoln Center. I rode my GoPed with one of my oldest friends up the West Side Highway, from the Village, up to Lincoln Center to my premiere. And I had gone and bought a suit for like 26 bucks and it fit like a glove, and it was amazing. It was a beautiful tan suit, and I was thrilled with that. It was great.
WWD: So that’s kind of the beginning of your career. Then you win the Oscar 2003 and —
Adrien Brody: Which was 15 years after that!
WWD: Right! Years later in 2003 you won the Oscar for “The Pianist.” During that time you were in the Ermenegildo Zegna campaigns and all of this attention ramps up. Was it surprising to get all that fashion attention following the Oscar?
Adrien Brody: I don’t know if I felt like I got a lot of fashion attention. The Zegna campaign began well before that: they had a trio of actors that they liked, and this was during my nomination or prior to the nomination, but it was that year. And then, later as the film started to pick up speed, it was still through the nominations, they hired me to be the face of the brand and then clearly capitalize on the attention of the film, which was wonderful for me as well. It was very elegant. The clothing was really elegant, but the campaign was very elegant and they had these building-size images of me with my name on them.
It was at a time in my career that people would start to recognize me, but I think that probably helped me as well as them in a lot of ways, because there were images from here to China to São Paulo, in airports and buildings on Fifth Avenue. My mom has this most amazing photo of Jennifer Lopez in a Louis Vuitton ad with a purse, kind of bashing it out on a full side of a building on Fifth Avenue, and then me on the other full side of a building, and it’s like King Kong and Godzilla-like size proportions battling, these fashion titans. It’s got so much humor, just the perspective of looking up at this. It really looks like she’s bashing me with this purse. It’s fun, it’s really cute.
WWD: What was your relationship like to fashion around this time?
Adrien Brody: I think I appreciated it, but for years I had been working, and…I think you have a responsibility to dress up for press work and premieres, etc. I had a nice relationship with Gucci at the time when Tom Ford was there. I just saw Tom at the Met Ball, and I was telling him how much I still have. I just packed one of [the shirts] with me — I still have and wear my Gucci shirts and pieces from that era when he was there and designing. So that was all going, it’s just nobody really knew or paid any attention. I think the visibility of that one [Zegna] campaign had really just solidified people’s association with me and branding and fashion. But I had been going to events for Mr. Armani and I’m grateful for that, I’m really grateful for it. I love the creativity that goes into it and I appreciate having access to certain pieces that were definitely unattainable before. I know what is involved and what goes into it, and I’m very grateful for that.
WWD: As an artist, how do you view fashion as a form of your creative expression?
Adrien Brody: I think it’s pretty evident how our personalities definitely come across in what we wear, and…there’ll be shifts in fashion sense. When I was young, hip-hop fashion was baggy pants that were associated with jail culture originally, but that’s gone, right? And so now, there are new things that are fashion trends, but you definitely see all kinds of how a person relates to…what kind of music they probably listen to, etc., by what they wear. Like, I’m wearing a blaringly yellow Wu-Tang hoodie right now. And a trucker hat. It’s pretty obvious what my influences are. I’m not really discreet at the moment. I have a camo polo vest with yellow lining in my bag. I have a black backpack and black track pants and a pair of blue sneakers. I mean, it’s really funny. My hip-hop roots are still running strong.
WWD: You’ve worked with Wes so many times now, has working with him changed the way that you view fashion?
Adrien Brody: Not my personal view. Wes has such a specific attention to detail across the board beyond fashion, but obviously the look of the characters is so unique in his work — but that’s also in partnership with Milena Canonero, who’s an amazing, amazing costume designer, award-winning designer. And I worked with her prior to meeting Wes, back when I did “The Affair of the Necklace” and I played Count, and she’s just wonderful. The opulence of that era, she created as well. So, I think he’s immensely creative, but Wes, his aesthetic is very different from mine. He likes a very short kind of tight cuff on the pant, etc. And I prefer much more of a break, if you’re going to ask me personally what I’m comfortable wearing, but I’m happy to wear them as a character. They’re very playful. I don’t think it’s all just his personal sense of style. It’s really designed and well thought out and how they all play together and tell the story, and it’s quite fun.
WWD: How has your approach to red carpet dressing changed over your career?
Adrien Brody: I don’t give it very much thought. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive way. I mean, I try to be true to me consistently in my life decisions. So to speak of it as “has it changed?” I’m different, yeah. Fifteen years ago on a red carpet, what I thought might be cool is different from what I think might be cool now. It depends on what’s inspiring me at the moment, what I’m gravitating toward and what the vibe is, what I have at my disposal.
Sometimes I’ll just keep it simple and grab a suit or a tux that I have in the closet. Sometimes I’ll be in touch with a designer that we’ve been discussing doing something together and that’s an opportunity. And then that year’s influences on them will be something that becomes something that works for me, and it might be very different from what I’ve worn, but I give it a shot, you know? I just try to gravitate toward things that feel fun and authentic.
WWD: Are fashion magazine cover shoots something you still enjoy doing?
Adrien Brody: Yeah, I do actually. They’re fun. I’ve done a few shoots recently that were so fun and cool, and the designs…the selects that they chose were just amazing. And we were able to be really playful, and sometimes they’re really far from what appeals to me personally, but I’m willing to give it a shot and treat it as a character and exploration. I think I try to find a balance within that, but sometimes…you gotta embrace an overall sense of what the magazine and the art direction is, etc. I try to be supportive of that, but I recently had a few shoots that were just really, really fun, and felt like a great character, like a cohesive thing.
WWD: What is your best memory of working with the fashion world?
Adrien Brody: That’s a great question. My best memory. It’s been, I would say half of my life, that I’ve… I can’t give you one specific thing because I feel like I don’t have that, but I also feel like it wouldn’t really be fair to represent what it’s been. I really appreciate all that I’ve been exposed to. As a result of being aligned somehow with that world — fortunately I still fit a sample size, and it’s relatively easy to dress me. But I’ve traveled the world over and met so many interesting people and gained such an intimate understanding of the process of what goes into the presentation of a show, and leading up to that, and being there with the designers, and being treated very well by them. All of that doesn’t go unnoticed. And that is a cumulative thing that I appreciate about my life. That is, it’s directly related to my work, but it is not necessarily what comes with being an actor, or even being a successful actor for that matter. But I am grateful for being embraced and it’s been really fun.
You know, growing up, like I said, I really didn’t have access to much of that. I got made fun of for my clothes many times, in junior high school, and I think that gives you a real sense of what works, and what works for you, and what works for your peers. I remember I got made fun of because my pants were too short and they used to say to me, “The flood is over.” Now kids are going to school when there are floods and it’s like you can get away with high waters. Or, that is what’s probably in style.