In "Phantom Thread," Daniel Day-Lewis plays fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, the most popular dressmaker in post-WWII London. Although he dresses movie stars, royalty and all manner of the well-to-do, he falls in love with a young waitress, Alma, who becomes his muse and romantic partner.
Costumes are an integral part of any film, but in a period drama set in a couture fashion house during the 1950s, clothes can make the movie. And the man who made many of those clothes is costume designer Mark Bridges.
He’s a veteran of the industry who has worked on eight Paul Thomas Anderson films, including "There Will Be Blood" and "Inherent Vice."
Bridges recently spoke with The Frame's host, John Horn.
On how he and Paul Thomas Anderson start their creative process:
Typically I see a script as soon as he feels ready to show it to somebody, just to get some feedback or see how it plays. I had several versions of "There Will Be Blood" or "Inherent Vice." ["Phantom Thread"] didn't change that much through a couple of different versions. About a year-and-a-half out from shooting we first sat in Paul's office. I looked at all the pictures he'd been looking at and things that were catching his eye and getting his mind going. He gave me [fashion designer Cristóbal] Balenciaga's biography to read. So you're able to go away and think about it and do your own research. We get back together every couple of months and review and then we put together a book of what we thought were the major dresses in the film for the fashion show or a client. Then we took that to Daniel about six months before shooting.
On the significance of the fashion in 1950s London:
The country was just coming out of their final amount of [war time] rationing, I think a year before, so luxury was kind of back. There were really interesting different types of designers in London at that time. There was Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, John Cavanagh, Michael Sherard, Digby Morton. So we looked at all of them, saw what they were doing. How they were dressing their clients for events. We wanted to figure out where Reynolds fit in that scheme of things.
On whether the fictional Reynolds Woodcock is actually a talented designer:
I think there's subjective versions of whether he's got chops. There were a lot of people at that time in the fashion world of London who we're not really familiar with today, but at the time they were popular and had a clientele and a following and a reputation for representing English couture at its best. I think [Woodcock] falls into that category. He wasn't perhaps groundbreaking as Balenciaga or Dior, but he had a kind of style that appealed to society. It worked very well, he had an artistic temperament — a charming man — and had a place in that world at the time.
On how he decided on what details would define the House of Woodcock style:
Paul and I had a meeting with Daniel once we were all in London about what the hallmarks of the House of Woodcock was. We all agreed that it would be rich colors, rich fabrics, a lot of wools from the UK, British Isles, colorful, interesting woolens, heavy laces, so those parameters were set up early on and then a lot of the design decision came from that.
On the challenge of finding period clothes versus making them from scratch:
I had gone into it thinking we would do the film the way we typically do — using real clothes. I search for the most interesting examples of a period, but what we found was that things hadn't held up so well. It's 60 years of heavy silks weighing on themselves or moths eating the woolens. There was a lot of real period clothes that weren't in good enough shape to use [for] a story about clothes just coming out of the work room. So we ended up making a lot more than I thought we were going to. Of course I'm happy about it, I'm thrilled.
On using real seamstresses in the film:
Seamstresses we taught to act was a part of our scheme in the film. There were women who we met who were volunteers and docents at the Victoria & Albert [Museum] Archive when we went to examine some gowns up-close. Paul started talking to them and they had said when they were young, one of them worked at Hardy Amies. The other one worked in a couple of different couturier shops and then went on to teach. After about 15 minutes Paul [said], "You're going to be in my movie." They ended up being the characters of Nana and Bitty. They were really invaluable as far as guiding us on the protocol of a fitting, who would do what. You can see their stitching technique. They don't [use] long threads. You can always tell when someone's an amateur because they have a huge, long thread. They just kept an eye on all of those wonderful details.
On the best part of his job:
It really is a magic moment and it is why I do this. It continues to interest me because of those moments in the fitting room where a character comes to life. Someone will put on a pair of shoes or a jacket and start to walk differently. Or underpinnings make them stand differently. We had this in this film with [Vicky Krieps' chartacter] Alma, who [is a] fisherman's daughter. I try to do my fittings in order of the characters' arc in the script. She sort of magically fit all the things that I had brought to the table. When she started putting on the couture things with the underpinnings, she became very graceful. It was a real wonderful experience working with her.