Do you love sweeping period dramas and romances, but sometimes find the oeuvre a touch too subdued and chaste, especially compared to your usual premium cable or streaming content fare? (Like, enough with the repressed feelings and lingering stares, already.) Well, Netflix‘s “Bridgerton” arrives just in time for a salacious holiday binge, bringing the elegance, allure and pure decadence of Regency Era British high society with a Shondaland twist. That’s right, this eight-episode series hails from the home of steamfests like “Scandal” and long-running “Grey’s Anatomy.” In other words, anything and everything goes — even the period authentic-ish costumes by Ellen Mirojnick (“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” “The Greatest Showman“).
“When you watch the show, it’s like reading a romance novel,” writer-creator Chris van Dusen said on a media panel in November of his modern interpretation of upper-crust, early-19th century London decorum. “Things are sexy and dangerous — and it can be a really wild ride — and there are scenes and moments that are going to make you blush. They made me blush writing them, of course.”
Based on Julia Quinn’s historical romance novels, the story centers on two families: the old-money Bridgertons and nouveau-riche Featheringtons. The viciously competitive marriage market season commences with the ultra-Brit-sounding Danbury Ball, the first of many glamorous galas. (Seriously, the names on the show are straight out of this New Yorker British murder mystery spoof that felt like a much-appreciated personal attack.) Intrigue and scandal proceed to rock the swishy Grosvenor Square set, thanks to a widely-distributed (by hand) society scandal broadsheet (like, printed on paper) written by Lady Whistledown, a Regency Period “Gossip Girl,” voiced by legend Dame Julie Andrews.
Mirojnick previously costume designed the pilots for Shonda Rhimes-produced scandalous thriller “How to Get Away With Murder” and Elizabethan Era teen romance “Still Star-Crossed.” So she had an understanding of the Shondaland look — and what that might look like when reinterpreting 1813 for a modern audience. With a generous Netflix budget, Mirojnick and her 230-plus strong team custom-designed and built over 7,500 complete costumes, from foundation garments to gowns to shoes. (The principals alone had upwards of 700 changes.)
To start, the designer — who won an Emmy for her work on 2013’s “Behind the Candelabra” — dove into research for period authentic silhouettes of romantic cap sleeves, corseted empire waistlines and glorious neck flourishes, especially on the dashing menswear. Then she asked herself: What would Shonda do?
“There’s a very clear aesthetic that we always look for that is fresh and young and aspirational,” Mirojnick said, on a panel. “The aspirational aspect is: Would a modern girl wear it today?”
With influences from a mélange of decades, if not centuries, Mirojnick updated period authentic silhouettes with no-holds-barred vibrant colors, contemporary fabrics, inventive embellishments, intricate embroideries and innovative layering. On a call, Mirojnick explains she studied fashion trends of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, plus the 1960s, which experienced a revival of the empire waist.
“The ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams‘ show was up at the Victoria & Albert Museum [in London] and we frequented it once a week,” she explains. “There was always something in Dior that we went, ‘Ah, that has to be included.'” (Tangent: That same exhibit played a strong influence on the anachronistic, 18th century Imperial Russia costumes in Elle Fanning‘s “The Great,” too.)
Mirojnick even looked to the contemporary runway, especially for the spectacular floral and nature-themed appliqués, she adds: “A lot of the inspiration for the embellishments actually came from Chanel Spring 2018 or 2017. There’s always something in Chanel you could use.”
Creating the copious amounts of elaborate adornments involved a dedicated embellishment team, which designed and built all the bows, florals and nature-themed appliqués, plus beaded and bejeweled motifs. Hazarding a guess, but the unabashedly flashy Featherington fam (above) probably consumed a considerable amount of the department’s labor and supplies.
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“That whole family, they were spicy. They were citrusy and over-embellished,” explains Mirojnick. “They basically were breaking the rules by virtue of having not the same taste — at all. They were brash and bold and they were not purposely brazen, but appear to be brazen, and bigger than life, so that they could be seen.”
On the show, the local dressmaker or the Modiste sniffs, “I seem to have these fabriques no one wants,” as she enters the family’s over-decorated, Versace-meets-19th-century parlor. She hands off a series of audacious, acid-toned green, pink and tangerine gowns to Lady Featherington and her daughters, including sweet and clever Penelope (“Derry Girls” MVP Clare and “The Great British Baking Show” contender, Nicola Coughlan, above).
Always clad in her lemon and golden yellow hues, Penelope always adorably oversteps with a tad too many sparkles, bows, embroidery and appliqués — sometimes all at once. She wears a glittery sunny-hued gown with massive glitzy aphid overtaking her bodice to the Danbury Ball, where she hopes to run into crush-next-door Colin (Luke Newton, top), the Nick of the Bridgerton Bros.
“The butterfly was the signature of the Featheringtons,” Mirojnick says. “As a butterfly, Penelope always wears something with butterfly insignia. We thought, ‘This is a comedy at the same time.”
In contrast, posh neighbors — “the shockingly prolific family known for its bounty of handsome sons and perfectly beautiful daughters,” as Whistledown dishes — politely reign in a “Bridgerton blue” palette of demure and aristocratic pastels (second from top). Along with producer Betsy Beers and Van Dusen, Mirojnick looked to artful ceiling patterns, delicate macarons and dignified Wedgwood tableware for inspiration to achieve their delicate, French pastry-reminiscent aesthetic.
Overbearing eldest brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) — or whom I refer to as Blocker Bridgerton — attempts to manage the close-knit family and younger siblings, especially pursued Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor, a.k.a. Clare on “Younger”). After a sexual tension-filled meet-cute with McRoyal Hotness, Duke of Hastings, Simon (Regé-Jean Page) at the eventful gala, Daphne embarks on a character… awakening, shall we say. And her stately Regency wardrobe, full of demure empire waist gowns with romantic cap sleeves, follows suit.
“She is not as innocent any longer,” Mirojnick argues. “Moving Daphne from her innocence into a bit of maturity about relationships and about people was our goal.”
Daphne’s “Bridgerton Blue” theme evolves into “milkier, dustier and icier” hues, including a sumptuous platinum, according to the costume designer. However, unlike the Featheringtons, her decorations and embellishments minimize as her journey progresses.
“Things became a little simpler,” she continues. “Although her relationship got more complex, her dressing didn’t. It was quite the opposite.”
While Daphne accepts her duty to follow the expected betrothal path for a high-born Regency young lady, little sister and Penelope’s best friend Eloise (Claudia Jessie, below) isn’t having any of it: She laser-focuses on unmasking the enigmatic and elusive Whistledown and scoffs at entering the marriage market. To give the sartorial middle finger to societal rules and traditions, Eloise prefers menswear-inspired elements — tailored vests and cropped double-breasted jackets, layered over ruff-neck blouses with bow-tie and cravat-like flourishes.
“Eloise was absolutely rebellious. Capital letters rebellious,” says Mirojnick. “We wanted most definitely to give a bit of a masculine twist to her, as opposed to being sent out and decorated. Her shapes were very simple and she remained basically covered up.”
In the midst of Operation Whistledown Takedown, Eloise storms into the Modiste’s shop in her most capable outfit: a natty blazer-like jacket with darling puff-shoulders and perfect pleats atop long tails at the back. “That is basically taken from a man’s cutaway shape,” Mirojnick, who chose a more “feminine” print of delicate blue cornflowers against lovely ivory and layered the jacket over a sheer satin-striped blouse and long skirt, explains. “It’s really pretty. A bit of femme masculine.”
Proper London society is shaken up when Sir Steaminess Simon returns to inherit the dukedom after the death of his estranged father — and just in time for Regency cuffing season. He stands out from the buttoned-up gentlemanly types, not just for his disinterest (if not disdain) for the whole society game, but also for his dashing bespoke suits, with rich velvet jackets and lushly embroidered, patterned brocade vests. (Simon has a some choice undone looks, too, including what felt like an homage to Colin Firth’s famous Regency Era soaked-white-shirt moment in 1995’s “Pride & Prejudice.”)
‘We just imagined the most magnificent leading romantic man. The man who comes in on a horse and sweeps you away,” says Mirojnick.
Despite Simon’s detached demeanor and reluctance to discuss his traumatic childhood, he’s a total softie and wears his heart on his… lapel, in the form of his late mother’s diamond- and emerald-encrusted enamel brooch.
“He’s a world traveler,” Mirojnick explains. “All of the fabrications and choices of color and pattern and shape came from his travels. He was not part of that [Bridgerton world], if you will.”
While his guardian, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), admonishes him for not wearing enough color, he does smolder in his signature red palette, also differentiating him from the rest of his cohorts. Fittingly for such a seductive romantic drama, finding the one happened behind-the-scenes, too — well, in a costume-related sense, anyway.
“He just looks gorgeous in red,” says Mirojnick. “When he put it on the first day, we couldn’t go further. There was no other choice, and that’s what happens sometimes when the right actor moves into the fitting room and you start your work. When you find it in the very beginning, all is very clear.”
‘Bridgerton’ premieres on Friday, Dec. 25 on Netflix.