Coppola's eye has been refined through a long association with the fashion industry, including launching her own label with a college friend (MilkFed, which the partners have since sold to their Japanese investor). She began as a 15-year-old with a dream internship at Chanel in Paris, working in proximity to the Kaiser himself, Karl Lagerfeld.
"He was very friendly and very nice," Coppola recalled, looking relaxed in a gray Céline sweater and brown corduroy pants by her friend Marc Jacobs. "I thought it would be more intimidating, but he was very sweet with the interns, and it was just interesting for me to watch someone so creative who does so many different things."
Coppola has gone on to many other fashion industry collaborations, including designing a handbag and shoe line with Louis Vuitton and an ongoing relationship shooting commercials for Dior fragrances (the next of which comes out in 2011).
"California is much more causal," said Coppola, who considers herself Californian, despite living in Paris and having been born in New York City. "New Yorkers are a little bit more dressed up -- they're closer to Europe maybe, the more east you go. But I feel like nowadays, with the Internet, there is not as huge a difference as when I was a kid, when you would see a big difference between places, because everyone is looking at the same references."
Coppola brightened when asked about one striking fashion moment in the film, when Fanning (who was tall and athletically built at 11 when she made the film, and is even bigger a year later) dons a beautiful pale-pink dress to attend an awards show.
"I actually bought that dress. It was my dress but I'd never worn it," she said. "It's Prada. I bought it at that store Corso Como when I was in Milan one time, but I never ended up wearing it. So I ended up giving it to Elle."
Coppola's most treasured memory of the Chateau Marmont, a famous nexus of the Los Angeles film and creative communities, was of meeting legendary fashion photographer Helmut Newton.
"He was a hero of mine," she said. "I met him in the elevator and I got to talk to him and tell him how much I admired him. He actually had sent me a photograph because I wrote an article about him, so I was really happy that I got to thank him in person. It was the day he died."
In 2004, Newton, who lived in the hotel, lost control of his car as he was leaving the garage -- possibly as the result of a heart attack -- and died when it struck a wall across the street. "In the movie, there's a crashed car that's a reference to him," said Coppola.
As for her personal style, Coppola says she likes Céline, Marc Jacobs, Acne jeans and Louis Vuitton shoes, which her friend designs. "I'm not as sloppy as Johnny Marco, but even when I'm working, I like to have a uniform: I wear the same jeans and shirts. And I have a bunch of button-down shirts made at Charvet in Paris so I don't have to think about what to wear. For work, I wear sneakers because I'm on my feet all day, but in the evening, I like to wear a heel."
Despite this casual confession, the director also really likes dressing up -- "It's fun sometimes, especially at movie premieres, because in real life I don't make that kind of effort" -- as this Sofia Coppola "Style Evolution" demonstrates.
Meanwhile, find out why 12-year-old Elle Fanning is fashion's new favorite star.
"Somewhere" opens in cinemas Dec 22.