Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock [Daniel Day-Lewis] and his sister Cyril [Lesley Manville] are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a strong-willed young woman, Alma [Vicky Krieps], who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. –Focus Features
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, Paul Thomas Anderson’s exquisite PHANTOM THREAD was designed and decorated by longtime collaborators Production Designer Mark Tildesley and Set Decorator Véronique Melery SDSA. Focus Features proudly gives us some behind-the-scene details of the film, with notes from Tildesley and Melery...
Although never a serious rival to the dominance of Parisian couture, London’s couture industry enjoyed significant success after the war, with a distinctive character all of its own. The London designers produced beautifully crafted, elegant creations. They were known for their fine craftsmanship, particularly tailoring stemming from the Savile Row tradition, and the ability to cater to the needs of the refined upper-class client for which they designed.
Instrumental to both the design and casting process of the film were Joan Emily Brown and Sue Clarke, who were working as volunteers at the Victoria & Albert Museum when Anderson, Costume Designer Mark Bridges and Day-Lewis were researching British couture during the summer of 2016. After helping the trio examine a Balenciaga original, Anderson discovered that both women had extensive backgrounds in fashion, with Brown having worked in two major houses on Savile Row during the 1950s. He hired both as creative consultants, based on their ability to verify in an instant whether a bobbin or pin was appropriate to the era, advising Melery as well in the details of the cutting room. She notes, “They gave us all the indications for the dressing and the props to be absolutely right. They were present during the dressing and didn’t leave any detail unattended: threads, scissors, needles, patterns, pins...all had to be perfect, as in a real fashion house.” PTA also gave them roles as actors, playing the crucial backroom roles of head seamstresses Nana and Biddy.
Filmed on location whenever possible, the design and décor team were able to being about full settings for the actors to inhabit. Manville describes, "The London house is elegant and stripped back, a neutral palate punctuated with flowers and natural light. Owlpen is a classic English country house with oak paneling, a housekeeper, large comfortable sofas, and dogs. Both echo the precision and details of the clothing Reynolds creates."
Working closely with Anderson and Day-Lewis early on in the production, Tildesley and Melery helped establish the psychological dimensions of Reynolds's character, which were then reflected in the movie's sets. They discussed in detail where Reynolds had been in his life and the things that surrounded him, creating an elaborate backstory for his life before establishing The House of Woodcock. "He's traveled abroad and seen lots of things, including agony and angst," says Tildesley. "This is reflected in his choice of paintings and artifacts, including the memorabilia he's collected on his journey through life. From a design standpoint, the worlds we've created are Reynolds Woodcock."
"A space like the Grand Salon for TheHouse of Woodcock had to allow the colors and glory of Reynolds's creations to vibrate and exude wonder. The background had to stand out — but it couldn't interfere with the majesty of Reynolds' designs.”
The minimalist-but-regal backgrounds were punctuated by deep silk taffetas, embossed silk velvets and statement florals...the floral arrangements offering the underlying message of the freshness and newness of design Reynolds was bringing to classic lines.
“We thought a great deal about the inherent drama of the spaces inside both the House of Woodcock and the clothing it produced—in stark contrast to Owlpen, which is dark and cluttered, a haunted world," says Tildesley, “Owlpen is a family home he's inherited, a place of dreams and memories."
For the Owlpen interiors, including Reynolds's study and bedroom, Tildesley and Melery created a brooding environment where the temperamental Reynolds retreats from stress. They focused on furnishing the environment with personal artifacts that reflected Reynolds and his taste...paintings by friends, family photographs, heirlooms and furniture at once stern and relaxing.
Day-Lewis, already deep in character as Reynolds before cameras rolled, was collaborative in designing the Owlpen decor, approving and rejecting furniture and accouterments, including the color of paint! The ever-gracious Melery recalls, “I spent a lot of time talking about these choices with Daniel, who was involved in every step of the making of the movie. He had clear ideas about what kind of paintings would exist in his world, what kind of flowers he would have around, what book he would be reading. It is forcing a set decorator to go far into the psyche of a character, And with Daniel, you talk literally with the character. It’s fascinating and challenging work. You need to know every single detail about every piece you dress on set, and be prepared to evaluate your choices with an actor who is inhabiting the character in a very intense manner.”
“For instance,” she continues, “The drawing pads that Reynolds is using everywhere were made in different sizes, using old green moleskine for the covers, with his monogram in embossed gold.
The paper itself has a soft quality, ideal for drawing. We did visit a London secondhand shop selling high quality fountain pens to find and choose his main one...in his company. This was primordial.”
Editor's note: Melery gives us additional wonderfully detailed notes below and in the photo gallery above. Enjoy!
The House of Woodcock, Dining room...
We began with the strange and lovely oval shape for the room.
Paul wanted a table that allowed the characters to each occupy a different space. Considering the shape of the room, I thought an oval table was the most appropriate, and Paul insisted on having perfect semi-round ends to this table. We had to look very far to find the right one: a really good quality old 18th century table, in great condition, with the perfect top, of the right dark color, the legs allowing guests to sit comfortably, a width not the most common.
The mahogany chairs were beautifully shaped, rented from a prop house in London. They offered the right profile, their back and legs slightly curved. Solid but very elegant, like the House of Woodcock.
And from the back, offering a delicate and rich sculpture.
The silver tableware was mainly bought in France...Reynolds Woodcock is influenced by his travels and his foreign interests, but we decided to use also some ‘50s English pottery as a contrast to the formality. And he would have a Japanese ironware teapot, Belgian linen mats, heavy 18th century hemp napkins...contrasts between the traditional image of the perfect aristocratic, as in silver English breakfast utensils, and the audacious choices of an artist touched by the qualities of authentic craftsmanship.
The House of Woodcock, Petite Salon...
The pastel green velvet on the chairs creates a contrast to the deep red silk seats of the Grand Salon, and the white painted frames give a feeling of lightness to the room. This is where Reynolds and his sister Cyril receive some of their clients in a less formal atmosphere than the Grand Salon.
The side table is a French marble and brass 18th century version of an antique design. The curves on the two pieces are responding to each other. The choice of mixing these styles shows again the ability of Reynolds Woodcock to play with the design codes and detach himself from these to create his own world.
The House of Woodcock, florals...
The floral arrangements were created by our magnificent florist Juliet Graves, who deserves an award for her artistic qualities, her patience, her sense of humour and resilience on this movie. She also played the florist of the House of Woodcock. Juliet Glaves cultivates her own flowers in the English countryside, and if she was not bringing her own, she would procure the perfect ones to make the floral arrangements of the fashion house look luxurious without affectation.
[Editor’s note: See photos above for more details!]
The House of Woodcock, Grand Salon...
The choices of the elements of this Grand Salon were influenced by that of Dior in the late ‘40s and ‘50s. Daniel chose the red of the curtains, dark red with hints of black. We incorporated silk taffetas in three different tones for the curtains/draperies and the covers of a variety of pieces of seating.
The carpet is a classical French Aubusson of an 18th century design. Light and pale in tones, it offers a background to the dresses without being too much of a statement.
The mirrors were created for us, based on a 1950s mirror found in a French flea market. They offer an interesting contrast in their strict shapes against the elaborate chandelier and the brass sconces.
We placed very large French crystal chandeliers in the salons. They were recurrent elements of decoration in the fashion houses of the time, and the crystals played nicely with the lights. The chandeliers were a detail of luxury in these otherwise quite Spartan rooms.
The House of Woodcock, workrooms…
The workrooms were on the top floor of the house, the modest environment that the clients never visit. They were the engine rooms of the fashion house, entirely dedicated to the work. Workroom floors were linoleum, resistant, easily cleaned. The sets had to feel and be practical and realistic. These were the requests from the director and the actor-immersed-in-character.
All the furniture elements were made to measure. They could be moved around the rooms and down to the salons when the seamstresses needed more space. The salons look luxurious only when a presentation was happening, which was not everyday. They were also used as larger ateliers.
The worktables were covered by cotton with an undercoat of soft lining, so the precious fabrics wouldn’t be damaged on a piece of rough wood.
The lights are extremely important for the work of hand sewing, thus strong ceiling lamps were manufactured to give the right type and power of light. There are also table lamps, desk lights and side lamps, rolling lights, all very mobile, some are moved down to the salons as well when needed.
The House of Woodcock, Wedding dress…
The disastrous tear in the haute couture wedding dress was repaired in the Petite Salon. As the seamstresses need a lot of space, they have moved down to the salon to work.
The lights are on in full—they need to see well what they are doing. We used some very practical working lamps, but the chandelier and the brass sconces became working tools, too. The carpet was kept in the room to avoid the dress getting soiled, but was partly covered with a large white piece of paper, renewed regularly.
Each seamstress had her own pouch with her own tools. These pouches could be biscuit tins or personalized soft pouches. They were essential and very precious to these ladies.
We used the main restaurant of this charming old-fashioned hotel in Yorkshire. The room had been redecorated recently, and it was a heartbreak to strip all the new bits and pieces, lamps, wallpapers, and redo it all. The owners of the place played the game charmingly.
We re-created an outdated wallpaper—it had to be blue, to echo the sea and sky’s colors.
The furniture was typical of these places in the ‘50s: traditional Thonet chairs, tables covered with charming but faded embroidered tablecloths, robust tableware.
It was important that this room would convey a sense of faded, modest, old-fashioned time and place. Alma is coming from this world. Woodcock will bring an air of freshness, richness and audacity when he appears. Entranced and dragged into these emotions, she will move from an old world to a new unknown and fascinating one.
Owlpen Manor... Owlpen Manor was the perfect location for Reynolds’s country house, his real home, where he can be totally himself. During my first days on board the movie, we did a scout with Paul T. Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis in search of this house. We visited several places...lovely, impressive, deceiving. Kelcott Manor, property of William Morris, was the most inspirational.
Walking into Owlpen Manor made us feel the evidence: this was HIS country place. A very old building, kept in its authenticity, showing evidence of a real life with a talent for collecting art over generations. Everything in the house was giving us the right feeling, from the tableware used in the kitchen to the dogs sleeping next to the Aga, from the vegetable garden to the authentic William Morris embroidered fabric hiding leather-bound books. Each room had a story to tell. Too much of a story, in fact, and the main job was to strip the house of a lot of personal items and furniture, then redress with our own...trying to be almost as good as what was already existing, and matching the two choices to make them merge in a believable world of Woodcock.
Reynolds has a workplace everywhere. Even in his country house, his rest place. Rest is nothing for him. He IS his work. The table here in the attic room was made in the same way as the worktables in the atelier, using simple but elegant legs (French 18th century retailers table legs), one side of the top covered in fabric to keep it clean and neat, the other one left in raw wood to put books and tools on.
He has a well-organized workplace: a corner to draw, a corner to rest and think, a corner to sew on his old machine, a corner to dress his muses in front of a large mirror, and a large table to cut and assemble patterns, along with some practical pieces of furniture made to measure to store all his tools and props. As in his house in London, there is no loss of energy or time.