Exploring the world of fashion in film

Luggage by Louis Vuitton, suits by Ralph Lauren. Film is perfect for a bit of product placement, says Cath Clarke

As emotional baggage goes, who wouldn't carry Louis Vuitton's? Anyone who saw Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited over the weekend won't have missed the 11-piece set of matching trunks and suitcases in the film. Custom-made by Louis Vuitton, its interlocking LV monogram has been substituted for a pack of animals marauding across the leather.

As Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman, who play a trio of brothers, meander across Rajasthan by train, like the Beatles looking for enlightenment, they cling on to the oversized luggage. Inherited from their father, they just can't let it go.

Scene-stealing these bags might be, but without that much-imitated monogram, this is as discreet as product placement gets. And while the fashion crowd will instantly recognise the classic style of Louis Vuitton, whose designer Marc Jacobs is a friend of the director, to anyone else, they're just one more prop in Wes Anderson's curio-crammed doll's-house aesthetic.

In addition to the trunks, Louis Vuitton is also responsible for the impeccably tailored suits sported by the Whitman brothers (they are, after all, moneyed Manhattanites) in the film. But Anderson's collaboration with a top designer is nothing new - they have always sought to extend their influence beyond the catwalk.

Modesty, according to the French actress Catherine Deneuve, was the secret of Yves Saint Laurent's success in designing her film costumes, from Belle de Jour onwards. He kept his eyes firmly on the script, rather than his ego, and made Deneuve feel "protected" in his clothes.

Audrey Hepburn enjoyed a lifelong friendship with Hubert de Givenchy after he lent her pieces from his collection for Billy Wilder's Sabrina, in 1954. She later wrote that it seemed as if Givenchy had "created" her over the years, though many believed that it was the aristocratic Hepburn who gave the label its definitive chic look.

Both women were muses to the men who dressed them, both on- and off-screen. Each, in their own way, brought attention to the labels they wore, becoming the glamorous face of a fashion house. And this relationship has modern incarnations. When Sofia Coppola asked Marc Jacobs to dress Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation, his designs inspired a generation of teenagers, all desperate to mimic the preppie style favoured by her character, a Yale philosophy graduate in knee-length skirts and ballet pumps.

"If clothes maketh the man, then costumes certainly make actors and actresses." Audrey Hepburn again. If her words are true, the Italian designer Giorgio Armani made Richard Gere a sex symbol. The soft lines of his suits were designed to draw attention to the upmarket escort's body in American Gigolo. With their conspicuous elegance and suggestion of wealth, they set the tone for the excessive Eighties. Armani was an instant hit in Hollywood.

In the early Seventies, Ralph Lauren's fledgling label was best known for making wide ties fashionable, until an invitation to make the men's wardrobe for The Great Gatsby turned the designer into a household name. His reputation was further enhanced when, in 1977, Diane Keaton picked Lauren to tailor her mannish - and much-referenced - outfits in Annie Hall.

Curiously, however, designers rarely get the credit come awards season. It was the costume designer Edith Head who won the Oscar for Sabrina, even though Givenchy had supplied Hepburn's wardrobe. The costume designer on Gatsby was reportedly so annoyed with the attention that Ralph Lauren was getting that she asked for his name to be taken off the credits. Yet this doesn't seem to put fashion designers off working in film.

As Giorgio Armani explains: "When I started working with actors in the 1980s, Hollywood was a very different place. Today, I continue to dress my friends in the world of film. It is always a pleasure for me to see someone wearing and enjoying my designs, but it is especially satisfying if I can give someone an extra sense of confidence and ease while the world's media is watching them."

We have never been more obsessed with what actresses wear. Stars - as they were once more deferentially known - have always influenced fashion. In the 1930s, Jean Harlow's platinum hair sent women rushing to their hairdressers, while Greta Garbo's fondness for berets made them a must-have. But those examples are quaint by today's standards. Now, magazines not only photograph celebrities on the red carpet, but snap them as they shop, eat or loiter in the hope of being papped. "The look" - from Miu Miu headband to Louboutin toes - is then dissected on the pages of the gossip magazines.

The designers have wised up, and the practice of sending "gifts" to favourites has become commonplace. To mere civilians, it can seem a little cruel that Christmas comes every day to women who can earn millions for a movie, but product placement is a win-win situation.

Salvatore Ferragamo was the shoe designer who famously gave Marilyn her wiggle. Eyes were no doubt fixed elsewhere, but it was in Ferragamo stilettos that she stepped on to the air-vent in The Seven Year Itch. Ferragamo is about to launch its Varina shoe: patent ballet pumps with neat bows in candy colours. They will be on the pages of all the magazines come spring. We're also likely to spot them in paparazzi shots of Kirsten Dunst, Drew Barrymore and Kate Bosworth, who will receive theirs with the compliments of the house.

Tearaway Lily Allen's wardrobe has looked up since Karl Lagerfeld took a shine to her. And since barely a day passes when she is not photographed out on the town, those frocks are presumably paying for themselves. Keira Knightley, meanwhile, has rarely been seen on the red carpet in anything otherthan a Chanel gown since she signed a deal, reportedly worth ?500,000, to be the face of its Coco Mademoiselle perfume.

In the climate of product placements and endorsement deals, there is something charming about Louis Vuitton's suitcases for The Darjeeling Limited. They are a one-off, so no one else can buy them (not that many can, with Louis Vuitton's prices starting at ?1,500 for a suitcase and ?7,250 for a trunk). Instead, the suitcases were auctioned in New York in aid of Unicef and an Indian medical charity. (Louis Vuitton is hardly averse to courting publicity - its advert featuring the former president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev in a limousine cruising past remnants of the Berlin Wall made headline news.)

It could all sound a little cynical, but maybe the last word should go to Anderson, as to his choice of luggage: "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 on to trains, and have them really take a beating, and yet still they lasted."

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
When the Givenchy dress worn by Audrey Hepburn as she stepped out of a taxi at 6am to window-shop at Tiffany's, was auctioned at Christie's last year, it was expected to sell for about ?70,000. In the end, the original LBD went under the hammer for ?467,200, amid gasps from the assembled bidders.

Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen battled with the wardrobe department to let Diane Keaton, left, wear her own boyish look as Annie Hall. Where would fashion be without those Ralph Lauren waistcoats and ties?

Lost in Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola denied basing Scarlett Johansson's character on her herself, but she did dress the actress in clothes by her favourite designer, Marc Jacobs. Coppola is the face of Jacobs' perfume, and the designer named his Sofia handbag after her.

The Great Gatsby (1974)
Robert Redford's suave outfits made Ralph Lauren a household name, which reportedly annoyed the film's costume designer, who didn't want him credited.

Belle de Jour (1967)
Catherine Deneuve has told how carefully Yves Saint Laurent studied the scripts of her films when dressing her. For Belle de jour, he even fitted Velcro into the dress that would be ripped in the rape scene.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
The three stars of Wes Anderson's latest odyssey were suited and booted by Louis Vuitton, which also made the scene-stealing luggage, with its wild-animal design by the director's brother.