Phantom Thread’s Oscar-winning costume designer on how to tell stories with couture

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There is a common theme among the films that were nominated for Best Costume Design at this year's Academy Awards. You will not find any superhero costumes or exotic space opera designs. In contrast, films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Darkest Hour and The Form of Water focus on the traditional designs of the time, using the art of costumes to establish their highly specific worlds and offer an idea of ​​their characters.
In the case of Phantom Thread, by Paul Thomas Anderson, who took home the prize on Sunday night, the creative challenge goes a step further. The story of the strange relationship between haute couture designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his latest young muse Alma (Vicky Krieps), Phantom Thread, is set in the London fashion world of the 1950s, with the movie about how the clothes are. designed, draped, adjusted and sewn. But it's also a film where the inner life of her main character is expressed through the dresses she designs, which gives costume designer Mark Bridges the opportunity not only to create beautiful clothes, but to help shape the character of Woodcock through his creations. I sat down with Bridges to talk about his work with Paul Thomas Anderson, the inspirations behind the designs and characters of the film, and how to remove the exuberant aspect of the film required leaving behind modern approaches and adopting techniques that the characters would have used .

You have worked with Paul Thomas Anderson from Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, and together you have recreated some very specific eras and looks. But in many ways, Phantom Thread is about the design of the garment itself. What was your initial tone for you?
He approached him in a very indirect way, like, "Do you know who he is [fashion designer] Charles James?" I think that from the beginning, I was fascinated with that character. That man. His work. And then I think that as I researched more, Cristóbal Balenciaga was really interesting, and [Christian] Dior was interesting, and Jacques Fath was interesting. And so he gathered a little bit about them, and created his own kind of Reynolds Woodcock stuff.
But [his pitch] was probably something so casual and similar, "Uh, do you want to make a film about the sewing of the 50s?". I'm just like, "Uh, it's okay, sure." I was probably so excited when he came up to me, "Do you want to make a movie about the 1911 oil drilling rigs in Texas?" Because you always know it's going to be great, Exciting and not usual. And then we did The Master, which also had its own trippy quality, and then Inherent Vice – triple trip. So I always wait for its initial release.
It is assumed that many of the clothes you designed in the movie were created by Reynolds Woodcock. They must express who they are and what they care. Did that change your focus?
"To make Woodcock's House, one had to enter into the mindset of another person."
Well, I think that for the characters themselves, [approaching it from the perspective of] storytelling and who they are in "the real world" is the usual way I would do it. Just try to tell your story and how your outside reflects your interior. Especially Alma from the beginning, when she is like the fisherman's daughter, and recording that progress: country and city clothes, and trying to fit in with women in the workshop [Woodcock] and things. I think that when it was a little different than doing the Woodcock House [collection] one had to enter into the mentality of another person, or there were parameters on how the Woodcock house was, and make decisions between those lines. He continues telling stories, but channeling the sensitivity of another designer, and always taking into account that moment and place.
So that's where that got a little different. Paul wanted a spring collection for the fashion show [sequence]. There is a kind of wealth and solemnity and historical references and things for the Woodcock label, so how do you make a spring collection? You know that they are not going to be flowers and gauze in pastel colors, as they would have been doing in France. It will remain in English, with a large dose of lace and using wool even for spring.
And then there is a personal expression in the fashion show too. Something that Alma uses makes reference to something that he had before in history. And so, in a very subtle way, we see how she has entered into her life and affected both her life and her work.
In addition to the design, the film also analyzes the manufacturing process of a garment. The Woodcock store has this team of women who are meticulous artisans. Were there techniques you had to go back to when you created the garments for this movie? How has the manufacture of this type of clothing changed with the advent of new technologies?
We were fortunate enough to investigate and examine the royal garments at the Victoria and Albert Museum [in London] to touch them, look at them, carry our cutter there, and really see that many of these fabrics were lined with silk organza. to give them a little more body, or how they did the interior construction, or how the finish was on all the seams and things. Or a technique on how they made certain embroideries that they would later use in one of the costumes of the film. So we try our best to do it that way. Then you get a result that was accurate and credible.
Fortunately, we had a cutter [the artist that translates the designer’s sketches into patterns, and then garments] that came from a haute couture background. His mother worked in haute couture. She was a dazzling dazzler, and to her great emotion, as well as the level of exhaustion, she really tried to do it for us, and handed us a truly haute couture garment at all times. I have pictures of six people sewing on a train at the same time because [the dress was needed] the next day. We were making clothes during the whole shooting, until the end. It was a constant state of creation, adjustment and finishing.

Photo of Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Had I had the opportunity to use any of these techniques before?
No, I really had not made these kinds of dresses, and you're always trying to do something authentic. If I were going to do Renaissance Germany or something like that, I would like to investigate how the doublets were made, how they were cut and how they ended. It is the same whether it is 1650 or 1950. We will try to recreate it as close as possible. Then you get a real sense of reality. I think it was key, undoubtedly for Daniel. Creating that world and feeling real in that world. And Paul is also very strict about having a real world, which does not feel false or cinematic.
Daniel Day-Lewis has to put on a robe in this film, and is known to be intensely practical in his preparation. How closely did you work with him when it came to craftsmanship, and how deep did he go?
"Daniel came to a point where he made a pledge for his wife."
He worked with a boy in New York to learn how to dress and even reached a point where he made a garment for his wife, which was a copy of a Balenciaga dress. And it was good enough that it was worn, so it was a lovely and wearable garment. Then he certainly came to do his homework. And then it was a kind of world that he knew, certainly in a sartorial way. I had a father who did things in Anderson and Sheppard; He remembered what his grandfather would use, like, "my grandfather would always wear gray flannels" or whatever. So we incorporated all those personal reminiscences, and we even used Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row to make their clothes, and we made the shoes for Cleverley at The Royal Arcade. Then there was an authenticity that I think helped him to be Reynolds Woodcock. I was happy to be guided through that, and I was always very considerate and friendly with us when consulting about it, but I also have to make clothes worthy of the film.
And he has the pink socks, which were Daniel's idea. I think he knew people who were kind of eccentric or British artists, and then in that kind of serious world, to have some kind of turn or individuality he speaks similar volumes. I was fine with that because I thought, "Of course if it works for your head, I'm great with that." Because I'm there to facilitate the performance of an actor. And at ease, it's just another rich dimension of telling that story.
What makes a garment "film-worthy"?
Things that photograph well. There are patterns or textures that do not read well. We try not to use black too much. I just do not photograph so well, even though this particular film material and the way it is processed have really exuberant blacks. Of course, we had Daniel's tuxedo and things like that.
If I used black, I had a kick or a shine. They are choices like that, which are a conscious list and [part of the] of what a disguise should be: relative to the character, relative to the scene, which can be done in time, pleasant to look at and then also photograph well.
In the film it is about the designers sewing messages or other items in the lining of their garments. Was that a true historical tradition?
I think during Paul's investigation, he read somewhere that someone had done it. It's nothing I had heard about, but Paul is really … I swear, in addition to filming the movie, his favorite thing [is research]. He would investigate for years. He simply loves the academic aspect of everything, and I think that the more he delves, the more ideas he gets. Then I think it was part of his reading about seamstresses. There is a mystical quality to all the invisible hands that work in some of these elaborate valued dresses [Charles Frederick] because everything was made by hand. And the passementerie and the embroidery and the beading and all this. Literally 30 people could have worked on a dress, and the idea that their spirit is in the garment is a kind of Phantom Thread environment. I think he must have seen that one step further is to put a talisman on a garment like that.


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