'Inherent Vice' costume designer Mark Bridges on Pynchon's world

'Inherent Vice' costume designer Mark Bridges on Pynchon's world
The crocheted dress worn by Katherine Waterston as Shasta in "Inherent Vice" was a vintage store find after attempts to hand-crochet a costume. (Wilson Webb / Warner Bros.)

"Inherent Vice" marks costume designer Mark Bridges' seventh outing with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. "Lucky number seven," says the Oscar-winning Bridges. "We started out together on "Hard Eight," hit it off, and here we are 20 years later." Anderson adapted the trippy 1970-era detective story from the Thomas Pynchon novel, and he got Bridges on board even before the script was completed.

How did you prepare for this outing?


Paul gives me the dead-eyed look and says, "Read the book," and I dutifully noted any description about any of the characters, not exactly knowing who was going to make the final cut. And then we kept looking at films, like Paul Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland," about life in Hollywood in 1970, and "Mondo Hollywood," "The Baby Maker" with Barbara Hershey … a whole bunch of things to get the flavor of the time and how low-tech and flat-textured everything was, and how even though it's set in 1970, it still has a real flavor of the '60s. Right there you've got a starting point.

Did any other period elements inspire you?

The music was huge on this one. Pynchon had sent us a little playlist that he was listening to when he wrote the book. The breadth of that song list was really fun and inspiring. Paul also was reading Neil Young's autobiography, and there was a book out about the musicians in Laurel Canyon in the late '60s. Those photos were really evocative. There are some really iconic looks and musicians of that period. In an off-chance way, we applied those to some of the characters. I looked at a little Joni Mitchell of that period for [the character] Sortilège. You'd never get caught at it, but there's a flavor there of what she was wearing at the time. There's a Neil Young-James Taylor vibe about Doc [the protagonist played by Joaquin Phoenix] a little bit.

The men seem to all have uniforms, even Doc.

Absolutely. This is a very convoluted story, so by keeping everybody with their own kind of icons, it maybe helps you follow a little better. So you get it that in a conversation between Doc and [police detective] Bigfoot, it's a conversation between the establishment and the counterculture, so naturally things went that way to clarify the story a little bit visually.

Meanwhile, the women resemble a Halloween parade — sexy hippie chick, sexy DA, sexy whore, sexy junkie, sexy wife of a missing millionaire …

It's going back to the Pynchon sensibility and trying to bring the essence of that book to the screen. He's the one who wrote about a massage parlor at a construction site. He's the one who described Penny in a gray polyester business outfit with a very short skirt. He's the one who talked about Shasta just wearing a bathing suit bottom and a little T-shirt. Even the character that Maya [Rudolph] played, the sexy nurse, is in a very short pastel nurse's uniform. That's Pynchon's world, and we were just faithful to that.

That bathing suit was a showstopper.

We made the bathing suit. It was maybe four fittings to get the engineering right, exactly where it hit on her back, and did it look good coming at you and walking away from you. We went to the L.A. County Museum of Art and looked at some Rudi Gernreich clothes from the period to see their construction techniques. That was really fun, because it becomes scholarly and historical as well as cool clothing. There's something behind it.

What about Shasta's crocheted dress?

We tried to crochet a dress. I got period patterns, and we had a little old lady knitter in Burbank, and it never quite worked out right. It wasn't her ability either. Maybe it's just the way the yarn's made, I don't know. So I happened to find the dress at a vintage store, and I tweaked the color a little bit. It was a really lucky find, which often is the case for me. I have, knock wood, some really great costume gods watching over me a lot of the time.

Did you have a favorite piece?

It's hard for me to pick just one. If I had to, maybe it's this crazy embroidered chambray shirt that I found from the period. It's such a moment in time where somebody took a little reefer and decided to get really creative with embroidery floss on a chambray shirt. Doc wears it underneath his green jacket, and it just says it all there. Pieces like that sing out to me.