Phantom Thread costume designer Mark Bridges talks sewing story into costume and meeting Paul Thomas Anderson

Courtesy Focus Features

When Mark Bridges answered Paul Thomas Anderson’s call to once again work with him as costume designer on one of his movies, he was happy to return to the ultra collaborative process that is a PTA movie. In an interview in Miami New Times, after this writer met Bridges at the Key West Film Festival, the costume designer revealed that he, as well as others, were brought into Phantom Thread as Anderson was still writing the script for the project. Actor Daniel Day-Lewis was so involved Anderson has acknowledged him as an uncredited co-writer of the script.

As visual arts, fashion and film have much in common. However, usually the audience does not think about the story sewn into couture work. In these outtakes of our conversation for Miami New Times, Bridges, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his work in the movie, notes there was always an element of story to the dresses Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) designed. In my review of the movie (Phantom Thread shows how love transcends tension of power dynamics), I acknowledge how this is a characteristic that made Reynolds endearing. Below, Bridges talks about weaving the story into his designs, the joys of working with Anderson since the director’s first feature film and how he and the director first met.

Courtesy Focus Features

Hans Morgenstern: Did you feel any sort of added pressure since costumes would be so important in this movie?

Mark Bridges: You know, I wouldn’t say pressure. I think there’s always the exercise of trying to figure out how to distill all the gowns, and all the designers and all the fabrics down to best tell the story. I think the biggest challenge was finding that period and then doing all the research and then how do you distill it down and not directly copy someone and make it relevant to the story. So that’s where the challenge was, but the attitude was more like of fun rather than pressure.

I can see that being exciting more than pressure.

Absolutely. The possibilities were close to endless, so you had to figure out through the process of elimination getting down to what the film finally looks like.

Courtesy Focus Features

What kind of designers were more influential than others?

I think we finally focused on what was happening in London at the time that Reynolds Woodcock would be designing and kind of the styles that were coming out of London and how they would use their woolens and how they would use their fabric for the kind of clientele they would be making dresses for as opposed to sort of romantic, groundbreaking French fashions. You know, I think there was more of a practical artistic bent for a specific world in the London designers during that period, and that’s kind of what we went for.

Woodcock felt like a real person that existed at the time.

Good! That means that we’ve all done out jobs.

The love story is also relatable to anyone who has found themselves with somebody powerful on the other side. It’s a relationship that holds a sort of truth to that dynamic.

Yes. And having Daniel and Vicky [Krieps] too, in those roles was incredible to watch… and so we did a little bit under Paul’s suggestion. He had wanted to somehow see Reynolds being influenced into one of his designs by his sort of story with Alma, so that’s where we came up with what she wears in the fashion, the lace and the wine colored dress, with kind of a take of her waitress uniform we see in the beginning, and so it kind of becomes him expressing how she influenced his work, so subtleties like that goes back to me talking about the storytelling aspect of the clothes. We just wanted to kind of give a visual to how she may have changed him a little.

Courtesy Focus Features

Speaking of those details, I remember something about a 16th century lace design. Was that real?

Yes, actually the dress he speaks about, he saved the lace in the war, and he makes that dress. It’s the photo shoot dress that they do. We were actually able to find a very unique piece of 17th century Flemish lace. I think we bought like three meters of it. It was only 18 inches wide, and that’s what we used for that dress, so Daniel was able to be true that it was a special piece of lace that Reynolds had saved and saved until the time he found that person to create with that rare piece of lace.

How did you meet Anderson?

In my version of it, I got a telephone call from one of his producers saying that he had started a show, and it had gone down and that he had lost his costume designer, and the show was coming back, and he needed a costume designer, and I was recommended to this producer by someone, and would I be interested in doing it? So I said, sure. He was a first time director and everything, and I had been assisting for a long time, so I was ready to take the leap, and do my own projects. So I got the script. I read it. We met over breakfast and kind of hit it off. And I took him to see a short film that I had designed that was showing at the writer’s guild, so he liked that and said, OK, let’s do this, and it was his first movie. It was called Sydney at the time. I think it was released as Hard Eight, but when we were shooting it, it was called Sydney after the lead character. We shot it in the beginning of 1995 in Reno, and we’ve been working together ever since.

You think of the variety of Paul’s movies, one is oil derricks and one is hippies in 1970 and one is London couture. I mean, it’s incredible, the breadth of his interest and what he latches into to put on film. It’s crazy. It’s incredible.

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On Monday, Jan. 29, the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Books & Books will host a discussion on film and fashion at Books & Books, located across the street from the theater, featuring Gables Art Cinema programming director Nat Chediak and Christian Garcia, “one of the world’s last – and one of the finest – bespoke tailors.” Details on this free event can be found here

Hans Morgenstern

Phantom Thread runs 130 minutes and is rated R. It is currently playing in our South Florida area on Friday, January 19, at the Coral Gables Art CinemaO Cinema Miami Beach, Cinépolis Coconut Grove, AMC Aventura 24, AMC Sunset Place 24, South Beach Regal 18 Miami Beach, Cinépolis Coconut Grove and the CMX Brickell City Centre. Further north, in Broward County, it is playing at the Regal Oakwoood 18, Regal Sawgrass Sawgrass Stadium 23 & IMAX, Classic Gateway Theatre, Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie. For screenings in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. Focus Features invited us to a preview screening last year for awards consideration.

(Copyright 2018 by Independent Ethos. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


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