We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what’s “you”? These are some of the questions we’re putting to prominent figures in our column “How I Shop.”
You might have already fallen in love with Nicola Coughlan on “Derry Girls” (or, perhaps, on “The Great British Baking Show: Holidays” special starring the “Derry Girls” cast), but many are being introduced to the Irish actor as Penelope Featherington (and…) on the highly-anticipated, much-talked-about Shondaland series “Bridgerton.” Since the latter dropped on Netflix on Dec. 25, she’s been promoting it pretty much non-stop — from home, of course, as the U.K. and Ireland are in lockdown. That hasn’t discouraged Coughlan and her stylist from pulling all the stops when it came to her wardrobe, though.
Even as press days and premieres went virtual, Coughlan has continued documenting her many, many outfits for the socially-distant TV appearances, photo shoots and Zoom events she’s been “attending” on her Instagram. Some of the most memorable ones represent a who’s-who of the design scene across the pond: a #fashiontheology-embroidered Simone Rocha shirtdress for a junket, a J.W. Anderson runway look for “The Graham Norton Show,” a golden Klements gown for a Refinery29 shoot. In conversation, she’s proud to talk about a designer’s roots in the U.K. and Ireland (Rocha, Jonathan Anderson, Orlagh McCloskey and Henrietta Rix of Rixo).
She’s equally excited to put the spotlight on the ones you might not know yet: Recently, she and her ‘Bridgerton’ cast mates did a photoshoot for Netflix U.K. in partnership with the British Fashion Council (BFC), where they wore pieces designed by BFC Scholars inspired by modern-day gossip columns.
“They all had the same brief and they all took it really, really differently,” Coughlan tells me over — what else? — Zoom. “The designer that I worked with, his name is Edward Mendoza. He’s a print designer, so he designed these really graphic prints that were ‘Real Housewives of Regency,’ a burn book, Twitter birds and stuff like that. They were just so cool.”
“That whole shoot day was just great, because it just felt like having fun and expression,” she continues. “And it was so great for the BFC to support those young designers, and for us to get the chance to meet them and be in the fittings with them and all of that stuff. That experience was really, really cool.”
Coughlan herself has never attended London Fashion Week, but don’t be surprised if, when the world is able to open back up safely, you see her sitting in the front row, repping some of the U.K.’s most exciting talent. “I think I was terrified before, and now I really want to go,” she says. “Now I’ve started just having fun, I would love it.”
In the meantime, her wardrobe is split between her family’s home in Ireland and her flat in London. To illustrate how she keeps everything organized, Coughlan showed me her closet at the former: She’ll prominently display whatever piece is bringing her joy at that moment. (This time, it’s two furry-collared Charlotte Simone coats and a green Henriette von Grünberg bow.) “I’ll be sitting here doing work and go, ‘Okay, they’re nice,'” she says. “I mean, when I’m going to set, I’m just a complete scruff ball — I don’t even try. I’ll just wear a horrible tracksuit and Ugg boots. I sometimes feel like the uglier clothes are, the more comfortable they are. It’s a big contrast then when I dress up.”
Ahead, the “Bridgerton” breakout talks prepping (and dressing) for a press tour from home, buying special pieces to remember projects by and working with legends like Ellen Mirojnick and Mr. Pearl.
“I had a revelation within the last year that my favorite way to dress is the way I do [when]… Well, I love to get people over to my apartment and us to all have cocktails, and throw on [clothes.] I have this pink feather jacket that I only wear in my house. I have hats and big earrings and sunglasses and stuff. I spoke with my stylist, Aimée Croysdill, who’s amazing, about that, and said, ‘That feels more me than maybe some of the other stuff I’ve worn in the past.’ I don’t really feel that comfortable in a pretty dress with a pretty blow dry. I don’t feel like that’s very me. We were able to talk about that and adapt it. It’s something that felt more fun and whimsical and that had a lot of expression, color and prints to it. That excites me a lot more than, I think, a general pretty dress.
“I’m in another show called ‘Derry Girls,’ and when it launched, we didn’t know if anyone was going to watch it. It ended up being this great hit, which was amazing. But then it all of a sudden meant doing red carpets and events and stuff. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I’d almost dread it, and think, ‘Okay, I just have to get something to wear.’ I think that fear of going up against a bank of photographers is quite a terrifying thing. I just didn’t enjoy it. I just was like, ‘I have to do this. And I’ll do it, and I’ll put something on.’ The press can be quite cruel. I had some of the stuff I was wearing totally slated, and then part of me just went, ‘This isn’t even really me. If I just do this and I’m happy and comfortable in myself, and I feel like it’s an expression of myself, then I honestly don’t really care what anyone else thinks of it.’ That was a realization — I was like, ‘I just want to have fun.’ And there’s so much fun to be had with fashion, that I think, ‘Why not?’ I’ve been so lucky. We’ve got to work with some amazing designers. It’s just been a dream. It’s been so cool.
“[For the ‘Bridgerton’ press tour] I went to Aimée with a very general, ‘I want to have fun, experiment and not wear something basic.’ And the thing is, it was strange, because I did all the press from my flat in London. I was just sat at home, but I was like, ‘I want to just treat it like we’re not.’ The press was split up in that we did Asia and Australia the first day, then we did Europe and Middle East and then we did North America and South America the final day. So we worked with different looks for each day. We wore Simone Rocha for the U.K. press day, because she’s an Irish designer. It was great to do that and just have that real-life fashion expression; the makeup that we did with Caroline Barnes was really OTT but it was so much fun. And then, Emily London did this beautiful big bow that we had. That was great.
“We went for a more classic look for U.S., Canada. We had a Rotate Birger Christensen dress. And then these beautiful Margaux Studios little pearl pieces, and really dainty, really soft makeup that day. When I made that connection in my brain, that it’s almost like playing a character in a certain way, that made me feel a lot more comfortable with it. It feels much more that you don’t have to put on a dress and look a certain way, because that was, I think, maybe the block I had before.
“Aimée was great, introducing me to designers that I hadn’t heard of before and trying on a lot of pieces. The looks that she pulled were so cool. We got these really amazing Miu Miu heels that I did wear for a certain amount of time, even though I was on Zoom, because it just makes you feel like it’s all together. She’s got such great knowledge. It’s just been a joy. It’s opened up my horizons massively.
“We only started working together, crazily, in February. It feels like so much longer. I had met with other stylists before, and they were lovely, but I just didn’t feel like we had a connection or they couldn’t translate what I thought into the look. It just didn’t work. But when I met Aimée, I was like, ‘Oh, you get it.’ I had this really… It’s a really bizarre reference that I don’t know if many people will know, but I loved a style like Mary-Kate Olsen when she was at NYU. Remember, she used to wear all the layers and the Starbucks and the big glasses? There’s something in the essence of that that I love. And she got that.
“I actually went for a trip to L.A. back in February. I originally was just going there to visit a friend from school, but then I didn’t realize it was Oscars week. My friend Jonathan Van Ness was hosting the Elton John Oscar party, so I said to Aimée, ‘I might be going to this, it’s a possibility.’ And then she was like, ‘Okay, lets get something.’ That was our first experience working together. We got this Rixo dress — again, another Northern Irish and English design team. I was getting ready in this Airbnb in West Hollywood, but it was just so much fun.
“We talked, obviously, through lockdown. We thought we were going to get to do all these amazing things, and then it didn’t happen. So when the opportunity came for ‘Bridgerton,’ we were like, ‘Let’s just go all-out. Let’s just have fun.’
“Working with a costume team on ‘Bridgerton’ with Ellen Mirojnick and Mr. Pearl, having a custom corset made by him, it gave me a whole other level of appreciation, because I think I had a slight fear of fashion in a way — like fashion can only cater to a certain type of woman. Working with that team and these beautiful couture costume pieces, [I thought], ‘That’s dumb, let’s just have fun.’
“I was the first person cast on ‘Bridgerton.’ I was going over to London to do something and my agent said, ‘Would you have time to go for a fitting with them?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course. I’ve got an hour between this and this.’ And he said, ‘No, they need you for four hours.’ And I went, ‘Four hours? How does a costume fitting take four hours?’ I arrived at this empty warehouse, and I was like, ‘What is this? What’s going on?’ I met Ellen, and she’s this amazing New Yorker — she’s so funny, vibrant, brutally honest and just brilliant, just this creative genius. She started explaining to me and showing me all these color palettes that were so bold. I mean, you think regency, you think cream and bonnets, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is so not that, in any way.’
“I had read the books, and I knew that a big thing for the Featheringtons were these really brash, bright colors. It was really refreshing that they were going to do that and stick with that. They always refer to the Featheringtons [is] as the Kardashians of regency London: three daughters and the ambitious mama, dressing way more over-the-top than everybody else. That was a really interesting contrast with the Bridgertons — they were so classic. You would go in and they would drape fabrics against your skin to see what colors suited. And these head pieces and tiaras, and there was a jeweler… The scale of it was phenomenal.
“Working with Mr. Pearl was so special, because he had just done Kim Kardashian‘s corset [for the 2019 Met Gala]. Mine was the next one that he made after that. There were about seven fittings I want to say, for that corset, because they take every single measurement. They put your hand down and draw outlines for gloves, they were spraying shoes a certain color to match a dress… That definitely gave me this new appreciation. I thought, ‘Why, if I can have this much fun at work, am I not doing it in my normal life? Because I love this, I love this expression, it’s so much fun.’ Being a Featherington, having it [be] that over-the-top was so much fun, too.
“I do buy myself a little treat when I start a job, that I connect to it. When I got ‘Derry Girls,’ I bought this Marc Jacobs satchel handbag. I wore it to death. But it’s quite nice, because I think you have to put the value in something, not just buy willy nilly. I’m not just somebody who goes online and buys a bunch of stuff — I’ll try and really think about it, because I think you appreciate it more then, too. When I got ‘Bridgerton,’ I got myself a tiny little Mulberry satchel. I was like, ‘I can’t splurge to a big one.’ It freaked me out too much. I was like, ‘But I’ll get a little one. Little black one.’ And I’ve worn that to death. When I wrapped ‘Bridgerton,’ I bought myself these Gucci platform Marmont heels. I wear them in lockdown. If I’m doing a Zoom, I’ll put them on. I’ve definitely stopped buying clothes for the sake of it. I’m like, ‘I’m going to invest in this.’ And that’s been such a difference, I think.
“Sometimes I’ll just fall in love with certain things. I love stuff that’s a little quirky. I’ve had no chance to wear it because of the pandemic, and I can’t wear it down the grocery shop, but I got another Marc Jacobs handbag. It’s the vanity one — it’s in this gorgeous, not-quite-Tiffany blue, a little more green with gold. It’s got these little clasp on it. I just loved it so much. I love something that has something a little bit different.
“I’ve really fallen in love with Batsheva. I just love their dresses and think they’re so much fun. They’ve got this really beautiful, feminine shape, and then they can really juxtapose it with the prints that they use. I feel like you can dress it up or down. There’s a brand in London, Charlotte Simone, that does the best coats in limited batches.
I do love Gucci as well. I got a lot of Gucci bee accessories, because the bee is the Bridgerton symbol — I got little bee earrings and the ring, and I wore them a lot during our press tour. It was great to discover someone like J.W, Anderson, a Northern Irish designer, and to wear that opening runway dress on ‘The Graham Norton Show‘ was such a special thing.
“It’s quite exciting, because it feels like a whole new world’s opened up. And Aimée is amazing for introducing me to things that I didn’t know about, and had never heard of. It’s been really cool.
“I have an older sister who we used to call my unofficial stylist, because she’s helped me pick stuff out before I had Aimée. I still get the second opinion from my sister. We send each other stuff back and forth all the time. And I actually really love scrolling through Instagram and seeing how people put things together. But if I’m shopping just for myself, I know my own thing, what I like.
“I bought this Charlotte Simone coat, which is so OTT — it’s pink suede with fluff all around — but I was like, ‘I just love it, and I need it.’ It’s something that I never wear in Ireland, I can only wear in London. Because I just can’t go down to the local shop wearing it. It’s too much. But there are certain pieces that I think excite you, if they make you think of a certain movie. I feel like that one, it reminded me of ‘Cabaret. ‘ It makes you feel different. I think it’s amazing how much clothes can affect how you carry yourself and how confident you feel. And that’s fascinating to me, because that’s what happens with costumes: You’re wearing a Mr. Pearl corset, you hold yourself so differently to if you were wearing a tracksuit.
“I bought those red Miu Miu shoes [from the ‘Bridgerton’ press tour], because they just were so special and they’re also bizarrely comfortable. I’ve been a big advocate for the platform. And you’ve just got to do it a little bit under the foot, and then you can wear any sort of high heel. We had an at-home premier for ‘Bridgerton,’ just over Zoom, but I wore them for that and I was like, ‘Oh.’ Just kept looking at my feet, really happily.
“No one should tell themselves that they can’t wear a certain thing, because that’s just silly. If you want to dress a certain way, or express yourself, you should do it, because it will give you so much more confidence. It’ll make you feel so much more yourself. And life is short, so you might as well have fun.”