There’s a lot to recommend about Phantom Thread, which is in theaters now: famed director Paul Thomas Anderson’s extraordinary vision, the fact that Daniel Day-Lewis claims this is his last film, the Oscar buzz surrounding it. But two things stand out the most: actress Vicky Krieps’ breakout performance and the stunning costumes created by Mark Bridges.
Of course, the two are inextricably intertwined. Krieps plays Alma, a young waitress who meets Day-Lewis’ Reynolds Woodcock, an exacting, talented couturier in 1950s London. Alma becomes his latest muse, and a whirlwind romance ensues—but as Alma gains more confidence in Reynolds’ world, their power dynamic shifts. This push-and-pull is reflected, subtly but masterfully, throughout the clothing Reynolds designs and Alma wears. As he feels turmoil over the state of his household, the fabrics become darker and moodier. As Alma becomes more self-assured, her style becomes more elegant—even her posture changes.
That was biggest challenge, Bridges says: creating clothes that felt believable for the world of ’50s couture while still telling a story about the characters and their choices. So to start, his team did extensive research on the major designers of the time. “There was a lot of occasion dressing,” he explains. “You see that, in the scene with Reynolds’ fashion show, there’s a dress for an opera gala, a rainy day suit, an exquisite lunching outfit, an evening hostess dress that Alma wears. It was a more structured society, so we did a lot research on what was happening in London at that time and then tried to fit Reynolds into that realm.”
But Reynolds clearly doesn’t need to see a model in his dresses to feel inspired. When he first meets Alma, she’s wearing a simple waitress uniform. When she puts on a gown created by him for the first time, her whole being transforms. “For their first date, Paul and I had the idea that it would have been homemade,” Bridges reveals. “So she goes from homemade dresses to wearing these gowns. Vicky Krieps really wore them as Alma. You see her, when she’s suddenly thrust into this London world, and she’s very elegant. She wears it very well. She goes from sort of this slouchy waitress to really taking on these clothes. I think that really talks about how she wanted that life, she pursued that world.”
Once she moves into Reynolds’ home, Alma starts dressing in the signatures of the house. “There was the idea that once she came into the House of Woodcock that the dresses were all from him, even the simple woolens,” Bridges says. “That’s why I tried to trim things with velvet cuffs and belts and things, so that you went from sort of the homemade dress into things trimmed in velvet, because those were hallmarks of the house.”
But though Alma is reverential to the House of Woodcock, she still voices her opinion—something Reynolds is not used to. “Doing the spring collection for him was really interesting because you have to not just be me—doing the costumes and telling the story—but I have to get into, ‘What is the Reynolds Woodcock spring fashion show like?'” Bridges explains. “First of all, it’s London. It’s not the most springy mood over there in the house. Alma talks about his black pattern fabric [in one scene], and she’s like, ‘This is ugly, to me.’ So I used that in the spring collection because I thought, “If the House of Woodcock is going to have a spring floral, it’s going to be black with deep purple and deep blue flowers in it. It’s vaguely comical that’s his idea of springtime.”
Alma gains so much confidence that she starts designing herself: specifically, a red dress that she wears on a date night with Reynolds. The scenes of her making the dress never made the final cut of the film, though. “We had a whole thing,” Bridges reveals. “Paul had it where you see her working on it. [In the movie,] Reynolds says, ‘Oh is that your dress? Is it done? Let me check it out.’ And he’s kind of like, ‘Interesting.’ We added these hand-done embroidered flowers that felt like she’d been embroidering during the show. It’s vaguely awkward; it’s vaguely passé; but it’s passionate color and fits her really well. But it’s a vaguely awkward dress, so it’s not so couture.”
And like Alma, Krieps gave her input on the designs for Phantom Thread. She had a hand in the green dress that’s seen on the movie’s poster, for example. “You know, we were constantly looking for the language of the period of the ’50s, and I saw a lot of strapless dresses,” Bridges explains. “But at some point, I heard [Day-Lewis as] Reynolds say he thought strapless was vulgar. I really wanted to get a strapless gown in there, but [I thought I couldn’t because of] Reynolds. But Vicky was like, ‘No, he doesn’t. I was talking to him the other day about that, and it came up about me wearing a strapless gown.’ She questioned him about it, and his response was, ‘Not on you.’ That was my in—because it was going to be on Alma, I could get away with it. It’s on the poster, and it all just came from this sort of casual conversation. Talking to Daniel as a character and Vicky as a character gives me clues of how to proceed, really. It was just a casual conversation that led to this iconic dress.”