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Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis may play the role of 50s couturier Charles James in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film

What to expect from Paul Thomas Anderson’s fashion film

The master is teaming up with Daniel Day-Lewis to make a movie about… couture in 1950s London

Inherent Vice director Paul Thomas Anderson is reuniting with the guy who basically invented method acting, Daniel Day-Lewis, for a movie about 1950s couture in London. The pair haven’t worked together since 2007’s There Will Be Blood, for which Day-Lewis won best actor.

Lately, Hollywood has had fashion in its crosshairs. Anderson isn’t the first to discover that fashion is a goldmine when it comes to histrionic cinema. The egos are all there. This year alone we’ve had Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon and Olivier Assayas’ spooktacular Personal Shopper, two rather bone-chilling takes on the rag trade.

Then there is the upcoming Andrew Haigh McQueen biopic, Ava DuVernay’s couture showdown The Battle of Versailles, and the three most recent Vogue-centric docs (The First Monday in May, Franca: Chaos and Creation and the BBC’s Absolutely Fashion). All anyone knows about Anderson’s as-yet-untitled film is, according to a press release, it will “explore a distinctive and surging milieu of the 20th century – the couture world of 1950s London.”

There is a lot to unpack here. The detail is a bit overwhelming, but let’s see what we can divine with a closer look.


Before the official announcement that the film had landed at Focus Features, the story was thought to have been embedded in 1950s New York City. In 1950s American fashion there was only one real couturier: famed designer Charles James. Vulture writer Kyle Buchanan speculated that he might be the focus of the film. Some have now ruled that out as the setting has been confirmed as London. James may have been based in New York, but he was born in Britain, so he may very well be the film’s protagonist. Anyone with a surface knowledge of the designer knows that he would be the ideal subject for a melodrama. As Buchanan writes:

“He made an impression with his famous taxi dress, which was boldly zipped around the torso, and quickly became a favored couturier of dynamic women like Marlene Dietrich, Babe Paley, and Gypsy Rose Lee(…) A gossip and man-about-town, (James) was given to mood swings, and he once tried to kill himself over a boy he had romantic designs on.”


Charles James makes for an obvious contender as the couture grenade that would propel Day-Lewis to another Oscar (James allegedly once emptied a jar of cockroaches onto the front desk of the Delmonico Hotel to refute debts owing). Yet if we shift our gaze to British fashion, there was plenty going on at the time.

During the 50s, when America was still establishing its picket-fence American Dream, a handful of British designers were at the height of their fame. Norman Hartnell, a London designer who – at his most impressive output – employed a staff of 500, was the man British fashion rightly hinged itself upon until the come-up of younger designer Hardy Amies. Hartnell was commissioned with creating the wedding dress of Princess Elizabeth to wed Prince Philip in 1947 and was a favourite of the out-and-about younger sister of Elizabeth, Princess Margaret. He was also a founding member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc) and counted many actresses du jour as close friends.


Amies, who dubbed Hartnell a “silly old queen” and called himself a “bitchy old queen”, was a younger contestant in 1950s fashion. He got his start in 1945 when the Countess of Jersey financed his Savile Row beginnings, where the label is still based. He was a couturier during most of the 50s and helped kickstart ready-to-wear in 1959. While he may have been more outspoken, his designs were known for being traditional. He, too, struck up a relationship with HRH Queen Elizabeth II, outfitting her for her royal tour of Canada when she was still Princess Elizabeth.

Hardy Amies later went on to famously create costumes for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. So it would seem a bit sus to leave out such a critical part of Amies’ career. Plus, the brand is still going strong and would assumedly have to sign off on such a film. (Although I’d pay to see Day-Lewis refer to himself as a bitchy queen.) As for Hartnell, his story could make for a stunning by-the-book biopic – but as daring as PTA has been in past, this is another unlikely guess. Our money is still on the PTA version of Charles James’ volatile rise and fall.

Anderson’s film is set for a late 2017 release. While it would have been more fitting to cast Puss-in-Boots-cum-designer Antonio Banderas, we can’t wait to see what Day-Lewis brings to the high-stakes world of couture.