When It Comes to Style, All Eyes Are on Directors

style points

Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.

The red carpet has been a barren place for fashion observers lately. As the SAG-AFTRA strike continues, actors have been absent from step-and-repeats (with the exception of those who’ve received waivers to promote their projects). While the norm has long been movie stars in high-glamour, head-to-toe runway looks, often from the brands they endorse, the sartorial spotlight has shifted a bit in recent months. Directors have had to be more present when promoting their work, whether at premieres or in photo shoots. As a side effect, their fashion—which often feels more functional, interesting, and less PR-managed than what we’re used to seeing on actors—is stepping out from behind the camera, too.

“I’ve always looked to directors over actors for personal style,” says Hagop Kourounian, who operates the popular Instagram account @directorfits, on which he chronicles the fashion highlights of auteurs past and present. Some recent favorites of his include the look Justine Triet wore while accepting the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, “this bulky, double-breasted blazer, and hardly any makeup except for red lipstick. She just looked really elegant, I thought.” And at the Telluride Film Festival, “Wim Wenders had this insane goth ninja look, with this big black fedora on.” Wenders, Kourounian has found, often breaks out pieces like the Adidas Y-3 Qasa, “which is a shoe that was popular maybe eight or nine years ago. It’s kind of weird to see it back now. I’m sure he just pulled it out of a closet somewhere.”

a blonde woman in a suit

Director Justine Triet at the Cannes Film Festival.

Daniele Venturelli//Getty Images

That’s one of the exciting things about following directors’ style: They don’t necessarily opt for the most on-trend, au courant piece. They’re shopping their closets, and their archives run deep. Directors are also dressing for a physical job, so they favor function: for every Sam Raimi in his impeccable suits, you’ll see a Brian De Palma in safari wear, or Tony Scott in a fishing vest crammed with filmmaking gear. (“That vest was originally designed for [storing] bait and tackle. Now, it’s being used in a totally different work setting, but it still is purposeful,” says Kourounian. “That’s a thing of beauty, in my opinion.”)

a blond woman in coveralls with pink headphones

Greta Gerwig on the set of Barbie.

Jaap Buitendijk//Warner Bros.

The account has also tracked the way some directors go method with their on-set fashion, like Stanley Kubrick wearing a Vietnam-era army jacket for Full Metal Jacket. Greta Gerwig favors boiler suits, directing Barbie in the garment, including a bubblegum-pink version from Pistola. For the prom scene in Lady Bird, she wore a prom dress, just like the cast members. “She said she was trying to do a little bit of cosplay to get her actors in the spirit,” Kourounian explains. “She was one of them in that moment.”

a man wearing glasses

Spike Lee at Cannes in 1991.

Images Press//Getty Images

The inspiration goes both ways, with directors’ aesthetics spilling over into their characters’ wardrobes at times. Kourounian notes that Bill Murray’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums “is dressed identically to Wes Anderson in that era, down to the John Lennon-style circular glasses,” and that even the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox features a main character in one of Anderson’s signature suits. Sofia Coppola falls into this category, too: “There’s this amazing photo of her and Rashida Jones on the set of On the Rocks: both of them are wearing the same identical green work pants, and they’re hiked up in the same way.”

a man holding a bag

Wes Anderson on the set of Asteroid City.

Courtesy of Roger Do Minh/Pop. 87 Productions/Focus Features

The visual precision directors bring to every part of their onscreen work is often reflected in their wardrobes as well. “Directors, especially auteurs, are such creative, world-building people who have all-encompassing visions. There’s no way what they’re wearing wasn’t premeditated and meticulously thought-out.” Paul Schrader is a frequently featured fit god on the account. “It’s not like he’s just wearing something just to wear it, or because it’s popular. It’s almost like a costume designer trying to build an outfit for a character. You can understand a lot about who he is through this very buttoned-up uniform he puts on.”

a man holding a baby

Robert Altman directing Warren Beatty and Julie Christie on the set of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Bettmann//Getty Images

Asked about the directors he thinks are slept-on style-wise, Kourounian cites De Palma, whose aesthetic feels inspired by a previous generation of filmmakers, “like a John Ford, John Huston kind of vibe. I guess even your favorite director has a favorite director.” A more obscure style icon is sexploitation auteur Doris Wishman, who sports what he calls “these very chic, Old Hollywood-ish looks.”

a man wearing a hat and a microphone in front of a desert

Brian De Palma directing Mission to Mars.

getty images

The growing interest in filmmaker fits can also be attributed to the ever-expanding number of young cineastes. Kourounian, who lives in L.A., notes that many new repertory theaters have opened in the city over the past few years. Cinephile merch has become the new band tee, and every time Kourounian goes to the New Beverly Cinema he’ll see someone in a film T-shirt; sometimes it’s one of the designs he himself has created. Fashion-y film merch is thriving, in part, because the official kind is often “printed on the absolute worst blank T-shirt. Even if the design is cool, you would not want to wear it because the fit is trash.”

He doesn’t see the momentum dying down anytime soon. After all, “everyone I know somehow has a Letterboxd account now.”

Headshot of Véronique Hyland

ELLE Fashion Features Director

Véronique Hyland is ELLE’s Fashion Features Director and the author of the book Dress Code, which was selected as one of The New Yorker’s Best Books of the Year. Her writing has previously appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, W, New York magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Condé Nast Traveler. 

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