Phantom Thread review – Daniel Day-Lewis bows out in style with drama of delicious pleasure
5 / 5 stars
In his final film, Day-Lewis reunites with Paul Thomas Anderson to deliver a masterful performance as a society dressmaker beguiled by a young waitress
Thu 7 Dec 2017 17.00 GMT Last modified on Thu 22 Feb 2018 21.06 GMT
‘Carried off with superb elegance’ ... Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis in Phantom Thread.
A brilliant English couturier of the postwar age: fastidious and cantankerous, humourless and preposterous – and heterosexual, in that pre-Chatterley era when being a bachelor and fashion designer wasn’t automatically associated in the public mind with anything else. Daniel Day-Lewis gives us his cinema swansong in this new film from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. He is Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock, celebrated dressmaker to the debutantes of Britain, but now under pressure from the New Look and influences from across the Channel. He treats us to a fine display of temper on the subject of that unforgivably meretricious word: chic.
Just when he is at his lowest, Woodcock falls in love with a shy, maladroit German waitress at the country hotel where he happens to be staying. This is Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. With his connoisseur’s eye, Woodcock sees in her a grace and beauty no one else had noticed, certainly not Alma herself. Dazzled, she comes to live with him as his assistant and model in the central London fashion house over which Woodcock rules with his sister and confidante Cyril, played with enigmatic reserve by Lesley Manville. But, as Woodcock becomes ever more impossible and controlling, submissive Alma must find new, more dysfunctional ways to re-establish her emotional mastery over him.
Day-Lewis gives a performance of almost ridiculously charismatic outrageousness, the sort only he could get away with. He is Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell with a dash of Tony Armstrong-Jones – certainly Hartnell’s relationship with his sister and business partner Phyllis is evoked here. It’s a study in cult leadership to compare with Anderson’s The Master and a portrait of entrepreneurial loneliness to put alongside his appearance in Anderson’s There Will Be Blood.
Woodcock is a preening exquisite, theatrical, highly strung, with a borderline bizarre speaking voice, sinuous and refined: an acquired style perhaps hinting at a humbler beginning than any he will admit to now. This Woodcock has the etiolated grace of a dancer, the misanthropy of an artist, and also the careless hauteur of the nobleman. It’s the kind of character Day-Lewis has played in other films – the one who nurses a politely unvoiced contempt for the lack of integrity he sees in everything and everyone around him, especially here the vulgar, moneyed women on whose patronage he is forced to rely.
He is the definition of a gentleman: someone who never gives offence accidentally. I couldn’t watch Day-Lewis without grinning all over my face at this creation. But he is not supposed to be funny or camp. Krieps matches this as best she can with an intelligent, subdued naturalism, just as she did playing Jenny Marx in Raoul Peck’s new film . Yet there is no question of who is in the spotlight.
Joseph Losey is an influence, particularly in the superb scene-setting created by production designer Mark Tildesley and Mark Bridges’s costumes. The other influence of course is Hitchcock, with Krieps in the Joan Fontaine role from Rebecca and Day-Lewis the patrician Max de Winter, as played by Olivier. Manville is a combination of Mrs Danvers and Rebecca herself. There are no sugar-rush jukebox 50s hits on the soundtrack to establish the sentimentality of the period, or, for that matter, newspaper hoardings about Suez or Profumo. We stick strictly to a generalised sense of time and place and an orchestral score by Jonny Greenwood with classical pieces.
It all creates a feeling of heightened reality, like a dream, particularly when a madly jealous Woodcock goes looking for Alma at a raucous New Year’s Eve party. But is it a nightmare or a swoon, a reverie?
There is such pure delicious pleasure in this film, in its strangeness, its vehemence, its flourishes of absurdity, carried off with superb elegance. And Woodcock’s sartorial creations have a surreal quality, decadent, like dishes at a Roman banquet. Can this really be Daniel Day-Lewis’s final performance? He’s said that it is, and he is not someone for speaking casually. We have to assume that this is goodbye. Maybe this is how onlookers felt at Nijinsky’s last public performance in 1917, which reputedly made Arthur Rubinstein burst into tears. It’s a wonderful high note for Day-Lewis to end on: I feel a mixture of euphoria and desperate sadness.
The men who dressed Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread
Unlike the movie stars, moguls, heads of state and literary giants that they dress, these men would have otherwise remained unknown
BY ALFRED TONG
Friday 2 February 2018
If there was an Oscar for Most Elegantly Tailored Suits, then the men who dressed Daniel Day-Lewis’s character in Phantom Thread would surely win. So take a bow front of house sales Martin Crawford, trouser cutter Oliver Spencer, and senior coat cutter Leon Powell of Anderson & Sheppard. The Savile Row house with a long and storied history of dressing Hollywood’s most elegant leading men, including Fred Astaire and Cary Grant, can now add three time Oscar winner, Daniel Day-Lewis to the list. For alongside costumer Mark Bridges and Day-Lewis himself, these are the geniuses responsible for the languid, softly tailored suits, coats and jackets which drape gently over the frame of the Phantom Thread couturier, Reynolds Woodcock.
Unlike the movie stars, moguls, heads of state and literary giants that they dress, these men would have otherwise remained unknown, as is the Savile Row way, which is discreet often to the point of total anonymity.
“The main concern for Mr Lewis (everyone is "Mr" on Savile Row), was that the suits were made from authentic period cloth,” says front of house sales, Martin Crawford, who acts as a kind of textile sommelier, advising costumer Mark Bridges and Daniel Day-Lewis on the kinds of cloth that would have been used during the 50s. “The main difference is that today cloths are a lot lighter for comfort, now that we have central heating and so on. For the blue herringbone coat, we used a 34 ounce cloth, which is almost double the weight of what we would normally use, and one of the heaviest that I have ever come across.” That coat is fast becoming one of the key looks in the film, with American customers already asking after it. The coat also acts as something of a tribute to Day-Lewis’s father Cecil, who was a client of the firm and had a similar one made for him.
The company created a total of 7 looks including 2 city suits, a dinner suit, a tweed jacket, and a tweed suit, all using materials sourced from British mills, as would have been the custom during the 50s, including Somerset’s Fox Flannel, which still supplies many of Savile Row’s top firms.
The other thing to get right, of course, was the cut and detailing of the clothes. “Today everything is very fitted, very stylised,” says trouser cutter Oliver Spencer.“ The garments back then would have been worn a lot looser and relaxed, more louche. So the trousers on the grey city suit would finish high on the waist (up to the belly button) with pleats and also much wider compared to today.”
“It was a group effort,” says Martin Crawford. “They would come in together and it was a case of giving options, narrowing it down, just as you would a normal client. In fact, lots of customers come in with their partners or stylists, and so it wasn’t so different with Mr Bridges and Mr Lewis. We treated them exactly the same as we would any other customer. Mr Lewis was very involved in the details suggesting different types of lapels and so on. And while the clothes are correct for the period it isn’t so different to what we do now.” Indeed, almost all of the looks in the film are available to order, right now.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Hollywood has always been so enamoured of Anderson and Sheppard is not only for the way the suits look but also the way they move on screen: “There’s a signature softness to what we do,” says senior coat cutter Leon Powell. ”Instead of looking wooden on the screen, there’s a natural flow and movement to our suits. We want you to look elegant and stylish, but also feel comfortable too.”
For the famously method actor, the visits to Anderson and Sheppard were a kind of method shopping, “Towards the end of the process he came in wearing the clothes we made for him. He even had the character’s name on the inside of the lapel on one side and his own name on the other,” says Leon Powell. “They asked for the clothes to be ready several weeks before shooting so that he could wear them in a bit, so that they didn’t look new. They talked about beating them up a bit. ”
“My favourite suits are ones that are a couple of years old and have softened into the body. They take on a life of their own when they softly drape to individual’s physique. It’s a lovely process to see. A suit always looks better when you’re relaxed and so you can see the persona of the person wearing it.”
Phantom Thread has picked up 6 Oscar nominations, including one for Best Costume, so perhaps the boys will be putting on their dinner suits in readiness for the red carpet? “Perhaps we’ll put them on when we go to the pub to celebrate,” says Martin Crawford. Well, they deserve it.
What do fashion insiders think of Phantom Thread?
The film paints a wistful picture of the rarified world inside Reynolds Woodcock’s 50s London townhouse atelier. Four industry experts give their verdicts on its authenticity, from the Belgian princesses to Daniel Day-Lewis’s pin-pricked fingers
Sat 3 Feb 2018 07.00 GMT
For fashion insiders, the star of Phantom Thread isn’t newcomer Vicky Krieps or Oscar contender Lesley Manville. Instead, it’s two people – Sue Clark and Joan Brown. Playing the women who run Reynolds Woodcock’s atelier in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1950s fashion tale, Clark and Brown are not budding actors but real-life seamstresses whose hands have touched countless couture gowns. Clark, 67, spent her working life as a fashion teacher, while Brown, 71, learned her trade at Savile Row tailor Hardy Amies and fashion house Worth. They are now volunteers at the V&A’s Clothworkers Centre archive, where they bring their expertise to the museum’s fashion collection. That’s where Anderson, on a visit to study the work of mid-century designers, found them, and cast them in his film.
It is details such as these that make Phantom Thread something of an exception for fashion, a world more accustomed to seeing itself on screen in an exaggerated form, in films from Funny Face to Zoolander.
Paul Thomas Anderson: ’You can tell a lot about a person by what they order for breakfast’
Anderson’s film is a study of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Woodcock – a mix of mid-century couturiers such as Amies, Charles James and Cristóbal Balenciaga, and the technique and craft that became the objects of their obsession.
Rather than take place in the more familiar environs of Paris, it is set in the postwar world of London couture. Woodcock is a control freak who lives among a coterie of women catering to his every creative whim. These include his sister, Cyril, played by Manville, and Krieps’s Alma, a waitress whom he turns into a muse for his creations.
While the rarified world of a Fitzrovia townhouse in inner London, Belgian princesses and white-coated seamstresses might date Phantom Thread, this scenario of a designer atelier, or versions of it, have arguably played out in fashion since the industry began, and remain familiar today. To discuss how much Phantom Thread chimes with fashion then and now, four insider names give their verdict:
Alistair O’Neill, professor of fashion history and theory, Central Saint Martins, London
Phantom Thread paints a largely authentic picture of London couture in the 50s. Day-Lewis handles a needle beautifully, his fingertips dry and splitting, punctured with pin-pricked blood spots. The house of Woodcock is set in a handsome townhouse on Fitzroy Square and its layout and many of the scenes played out in it are reminiscent of the house that Hardy Amies restored after the war at 14 Savile Row. It too has two sets of stairs, a larger one at the front for clients, and a smaller and concealed set at the back for staff. Its first-floor salon was also used for fashion shows and client fittings. There are fashion editorials published in British Vogue in the late 40s where Amies poses next to his model in a tuxedo like a handsome escort, and there is a fashion shoot scene in the film that is similar. The scene of Woodcock greeting a princess on the street as she arrives by chauffeur for her fitting makes me think of the 1952 photo of Amies and his seamstresses carrying Princess Elizabeth’s wardrobe down the steps of the house into a black cab set for Clarence House.
Like Woodcock, the French couturiers of the time were very superstitious. Coco Chanel was interested in numerology and Christian Dior used to pin lily of the valley into the linings of skirts prior to the fashion show, for luck.
The jewel tones of silk taffeta – amethyst, emerald and aquamarine – that much of Woodcock’s couture is made from are indebted to Cecil Beaton’s photograph of designs by Charles James taken in 1948. They are combined with lace detailing, which is a typical couture fabric, but the results are uneven. In the film, it works beautifully in the dress that makes use of an antique piece of Flemish (Brussels) lace, but less so in the dress Alma models with a lace apron at the skirt for the fashion show. This scene features Alma smiling as she walks, a detail that wouldn’t have been tolerated in a couture house at the time. The only emotion models were paid to show in the 50s was indifference, expressed with condescension and hauteur. In a recent obituary for Lady Astor, who worked as a fashion model in the period and was the muse of Pierre Balmain, journalist Katharine Whitehorn described her walk as “dirt-beneath-my-feet style of modelling”. The only other detail that feels off is the luminous quality of the film. Postwar London has never looked so bright.
The depiction of Reynolds is reminiscent of a number of designers from the period, such as Sir Hardy Amies.
Katie Grand, editor-in-chief of Love magazine
I thought it was really accurate, and there are so many parallels between how designers behave then and now. Within five minutes of watching the film, I thought: “It’s like being at work.” Creative people have unusual behaviours – they don’t want to talk to anyone before 12pm or they don’t talk to anyone after 6pm. Obsessive-compulsive is too harsh, but there are peculiarities. You get used to it and watching it in a film just made it more heightened.
I didn’t recognise Cyril as anyone specific, but it wouldn’t be unusual to have someone in a house who provides a lot of emotional support. You get accustomed to quirks – such as when Woodcock makes too much of the noise Alma makes eating her toast. I have seen Marc Jacobs eat chicken for lunch for more than 15 years. Mrs Prada always drinks tea and still water. But then, you learn the tastes in food and drink of anyone you spend a lot of time with. As for the muse relationship that Woodcock has with Alma, I have seen Jacobs work like that with the model Jamie Bouchet. He has collaborated with her for maybe 10 years, and he doesn’t like to see work in the raw form on anyone other than her.
All of the scenes that involve the fittings on Alma are very accurate – the standing around for hours, the fittings at 4am. Jamie is very patient. When something goes wrong, the atelier does have to work all through the night, as they do in the film when the wedding dress is torn. That’s the same as any creative arena though – I imagine it’s the same when you’re making an album.
The appointments with private clients, as seen in the film, felt real. I don’t think that process has changed all that much. I don’t know about London, but the couture houses in Paris now are similar to the atelier depicted in the film. When you work in a couture studio – such as Chanel or Dior – there are people with white coats. The atmosphere is super-respectful, everyone in those structures is very reverent to the designer, and there is an etiquette. I didn’t pay much attention to the clothes, but I was pleased to see that the structures underneath the clothes were correct. I was focused on that, rather than the silhouettes or fabrics.
Roksanda Ilincic, London fashion week designer
The mid-century is probably my favourite era. The volume, shape and line is so much what I am drawn to. It was also very interesting to watch a film about a designer. I am not so obsessive that I cannot have breakfast without silence, as Woodcock does, but I understand that to be creative you have to keep your thread of thought. When I’m designing, I’m usually in a room by myself. You see Woodcock collapse after the show, and it is true that you are emotionally and physically exhausted because this thing has been all you have thought about for such a long time. Even when you’re at home or with friends, you’re still thinking about it. When you first start working, it’s like work is the only thing that matters, as it is with Woodcock. It takes a long time for that obsession to go; for me it went after the birth of my daughter. I worked literally until I gave birth. Afterwards, I realised life needed to be a bit more balanced.
I identified with his attitude to his dresses; it’s as if they are alive. They are something so precious and dear to him, he can’t bear the idea of harm coming to them. I would never take a dress from a client, as he does, but you get so attached to your work. I have had dresses come back from photoshoots totally ruined and it’s heartbreaking.
I don’t have a particular muse, for me its more like a sisterhood of women. I can understand why one muse or woman, such as Alma, can epitomise everything, though. She’s not a drawing, she’s alive.
Woodcock has to appear at events and so do I. I wish being a designer was a bit less about being a public figure but spending time with my clients is important to me. They fall a little bit in love with the world you present as well as the dress. That time also really helps me understand their lifestyle and what they need.
My team don’t wear white coats in the studio, but they do have the same commitment to what they’re doing and they are almost proud to work hard, as they do in the film. Before every show you have some kind of disaster and we all work together to solve it. They are like a family. They have to be. I like the film’s idea of this beautiful house that is his whole world, there’s no need to leave the bubble. But, for me personally, I think it’s probably healthier to have a separate space.
Alexandra Shulman, ex-editor-in-chief, British Vogue
Fashion and fiction rarely make successful partners. There is something about the intangibility of what fashion is, alongside a widely held assumption that there is something inherently trivial, even fake about it, that means any fictional portrayal of the world veers to caricature. And this includes Phantom Thread. Daniel Day-Lewis’ character is a mashup of any number of designers.
Certainly the beautiful salon of his townhouse looked almost identical to the Amies’ Mayfair HQ I knew. And the intensity, dedication and near silent skills of the white-coated ladies – the petit mains – as they stitch and fit was identical to the scene in any famous couture house, whether London, Rome or Paris. The crisp character of Woodstock’s sister, Cyril, who runs his business and, in large part, his private life, was utterly convincing. It was a pitch-perfect depiction by Lesley Manville of the many people employed by some designers to enforce a protective ring that keeps away anybody or any information that might disturb their creativity.
But the general silliness of the plot, and the clunky cartoon-like behaviour that inhabits many episodes undermines so much of the real passion and industry that the film and Day-Lewis work hard to demonstrate. The combative relationship between Woodstock and his lover, Alma, struck me as unconvincing, while a scene where they snatch back a dress from a bulky, comatose Barbara Hutton-type is ridiculous and would have finished off his business. Luckily Day-Lewis’s physical beauty and his wonderful period wardrobe was some compensation for a tale I found simply unbelievable and peopled by characters that I had no sympathy for.