For the second instalment of our Staff Picks, Features Editor Niamh McCooey explores the world of haute couture in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film...
What do we talk about when we talk about haute couture? The answer of course is extravagance, luxury, and even the superfluous. It’s the one-off, the bespoke, the beautifully preposterous gown in all of its squeezed-into glitz and glamour.
Haute couture was taken to its height in the mid 19th century by an arsenal of elite designers in the world’s chicest cities (think Cristóbal Balenciaga in Paris and Charles James in New York). It’s no secret that these characters became admired – deified, almost – by their contemporaries, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, Phantom Thread, pulls back the curtain on these powerful figures, revealing the obsession that so often feeds the fashion house.
Anderson’s new film takes place in 1950s London and follows Reynolds Woodcock, a fictional fashion designer played by Daniel Day-Lewis (who’s stated that this will be his final role) as he manages his own label, The House of Woodcock. With costumes designed by the Oscar winning Mark Bridges, this film is filled with lavish, sumptuous outfits that every Selvedge reader is bound to be dazzled by.
Famous for his intense preparation before filming, Day-Lewis learned how to drape with a specialist in New York, before training with a French cutter to achieve the unmistakably sculptural elements of haute couture fashion found in the film.
Embroidering secret messages into his garments (much in the way that Lee Alexander McQueen was once said to have scrawled profanities in the lining of a jacket for Prince Charles), Reynolds strives to control everyone around him in his attempt to create the finest fashion in haute couture. Through this lens of 1950s glamour Phantom Thread asks, do the ends really justify the means?
Against a backdrop of truly stunning craftsmanship, this film reveals the darker side of what fuels the fashion world – something that blurs the line quite finely between what’s real, and what is perhaps a figment of the imagination.