Mark Bridges is equal parts librarian, historian, artist and visionary. Following him into a vintage shirt shop in the bowels of Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley is like following a Smithsonian archivist through timeless treasures. In a video from the Academy, the Oscar winner and 2015 nominee for his work on Inherent Vice thumbs through dusty manila envelopes searching for a fabric made in 1962, worn by Burt Reynolds. Like osmosis, each little discovery becomes a part of his repertoire.
His vibrant creations for Inherent Vice—a wickedly witty film adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel—are as authentic as they come. Bridges told Paste of the sleuthing lengths his team went to bringing to life the prismatic, seedy world of Larry “Doc” Sportello’s ‘70s California.
“I think the two most challenging costumes to make were the black vinyl jumpsuit that the receptionist Xandra [Elaine Tan] wears at Dr. Blatnoyd’s [Martin Short] office, and the bathing suit worn by Sloane Wolfmann [Serena Scott Thomas]. Both were inspired by the late ‘60 designs of California designer Rudi Gernreich and took quite a bit of engineering,” Bridges said via email. “We even went to LA County Museum costume archives to research some of his construction techniques. After many fittings with our cutter Kelly Gregson to get them just right, they worked beautifully on film.”
Outfitting one of cinema’s greatest pranksters proved a delightful quest for Bridges, whose styles have also been donned by Daniel Day-Lewis [There Will Be Blood], Adam Sandler [Punch-Drunk Love] and Jennifer Lawrence [Silver Linings Playbook]. Short portrays Dr. Blatnoyd, a lascivious dentist with a cocaine addiction, and the inspiration behind his outrageously purple getup came straight from the source.
“We made two versions of it: one in a fabric the color close to what Pynchon describes as ‘a suit in a deep, nearly ultraviolet shade of velvet.’ I also made one in a slightly more fun, photogenic plum color and that was what we ended up using in the film. Working out that character with an actor like Martin Short is always fun and one of the reasons I really enjoy what I do.”
And the costume designer had no shortage of notable actors to clothe in Inherent Vice. He gave Joaquin Phoenix’s “Doc” a dingy, freewheeling beach bum ensemble, where Reese Witherspoon’s Deputy DA Penny Kimball got the straight-laced yet elegant treatment. Bridges threw in plenty of paisley, some mauve and canary vertical stripes and fine embroidery, and up popped a menagerie of depravity—just the way Pynchon liked it.
Bridges had been to the big game before and came out a victor: His posh pieces for 2011’s Best Picture The Artist earned him an Academy Award among other accolades. But because his resume is so diverse, each honor has its appeal.
“The news always brings a unique feeling of surprise, excitement, happiness, pride and validation,” he said of his Inherent Vice nod. “The only difference this year is that I didn’t get up to hear the Oscar nominations when they were announced. I woke up a bit later to see the congratulations on my phone and knew it must have happened.”
The next thing happening for Bridges before the Feb. 22 ceremony? A little flick called Fifty Shades of Grey. The demure-meets-dominating fashion is just another facet of the veteran designer’s creativity. He excels in any decade of style, but he said he has a particular affinity for two epochs.
“I’m very interested in researching and designing something set in the late Victorian era, and would love to explore in more depth women’s fashions of the early ‘30s.”
Bridges is a costume designer who effortlessly weaves the fabric of time to the characters in his films. And as he takes great joy in perusing historic gowns and caps, a future generation of creators will undoubtedly admire his pieces.