Daniel Day-Lewis is known to go to extreme lengths when preparing for his roles, staying in character on set and getting inside their mindsets. That seems to be the case for his alleged final performance, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” in which the soon-to-retire actor plays fictionalized couturier Reynolds Woodcock. According to longtime costume designer Mark Bridges, the mid-fifties period piece found Lewis learning how to drape in preparation for his performance — just not exactly the way he should have.
The movie, a dark romantic drama that co-stars Lesley Manville as Reynolds’ sister and Vicky Krieps as the dressmaker’s lover, has yet to screen widely. However, Bridges revealed some details about the production process in an interview with IndieWire at the Key West Film Festival, where he received the Golden Key for Costume Design in honor of his career accomplishments. Bridges, who has served as costume designer on all of Anderson’s movies and won an Oscar for “The Artist,” had the chance to infuse the new movie with his knowledge of the fashion world. He also had to help Day-Lewis learn how to drape, since Reynolds is supposed to be a successful designer with a large body of work. That part didn’t quite go as planned.
“He learned to drape in a different way than ultimately he probably should have,” Bridges said. “He worked with a guy that I hooked him up with in New York who I knew, but I didn’t really know his methodology. Then we worked with a French cutter for the film who was a little more sculptural. Personally, I would’ve loved Daniel to work like that, but he’d already learned his other way.” Fortunately, Bridges worked kept a regular cutter on set, and a couturier who helped maintain the fashion of the era, which he described as “by hand and with this special interior construction.”
Anderson was inspired by real life couturier figures, using legendary Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga as a starting point. According to Bridges, everyone involved in the production read the book “The Master of Us All: Balenciaga, His Workrooms, His World,” in preparation for the project, but that wasn’t the only reference point. “He gleaned bits of it from that, bits of it from Lucian Freud’s life, and bits of Dior and bits of it from Charles James,” Bridges said, ticking off a range of artists who fueled Anderson’s story. “You look at photo spreads and it’s all kind of distilled through the eyes of fashion photographers and editorial — what they want you to see. We had to go behind the scenes a little bit.”
Ultimately, he said, they narrowed down Reynolds’ placement in the fashion scene. “Rather quickly, we decided that he wasn’t a groundbreaking couterie like Balenciaga or Dior,” he said. “Their things were very French. There are a whole group of contemporaries of Reynolds in the mid-fifties in London. Where does he fit in there? He actually was of them but ended up having his own artistic bent. So I was really pleased that we made a viable designer out of a made-up character.”
Bridges estimated that he designed close to 50 garments for the movie, including nine original pieces showcased in a spring fashion show. However, Anderson recently said he drew inspiration for the movie’s plot from Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” and Bridges was quick to point out that Reynolds’ profession isn’t the sole focus of the story. Instead, it’s a backdrop to his relationship with Krieps’ character, Alma.
“Paul wanted to connect things that happened in Reynolds and Alma’s relationships and turn them into couture garments, so you can see that he’s autobiographical in some of his creations,” Bridges said. “But we’re talking about their lives and their relationships. The fashion is nicely in the background. It just speaks to their lives. This is who he is, and this is what he does. I was happy with how it worked out because, as they always say about costume designers, you want to be there and not there.”
“Phantom Thread” opens theatrically on December 25.