Netflix’s “Bridgerton” takes place during 1813 in the aristocratic environs of London’s Ton, the upper-crust social circle who formally meet for a season every year to marry off the set’s eligible women. It’s the world’s fanciest meat market, replete with endless social calls, dances, and very symbolic walks in the park — and everyone involved must look their conspicuously consumed best.
But “Bridgerton” isn’t your typical Regency romance tale of virgins blushing when their bonnets get knocked off in front of the vicar. The show has a decidedly modern air — there is smoking, drinking, and sex, sometimes all at the same time — and that is reflected in glorious, edgy costuming that includes a vibrant palette of colors, intricate detailing on each and every dress and eye-catching embellishments to complete the look.
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Instead of re-purposing from the literal heaping piles of Regency-era empire waisted dresses littering the costume houses of England after countless period productions over the years, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, an Emmy winner for “Behind the Candelabra,” opted to make everything from scratch.
“If you open the Bridgerton Company, you have to stock the Bridgerton Company,” she said.
The end result is astonishing. Every costume you see in “Bridgerton” — from the more than 100 dresses worn by lead Phoebe Dynevor, who plays Daphne Bridgerton, to the most fleeting look at a background actor — was handmade. Every accessory, from gloves to fascinators to purses to the shoes to jewelry — Mirojnick declared early on, Edna Mode style, that there would be “NO BONNETS!” — also was a couture creation.
When all was said and done, the costuming in every scene is a witty, clever kaleidoscope that speaks to both the personality and social class of the characters in it. It was an immense task for Mirojnick. “We had to put together the best team that you could ever imagine, because there’s not one ounce of extra time to allow for any foul-ups,” Mirojnick said, noting that her team eventually had more than 230 people. “We had four cutters, a corset maker, an embellishment department, shoe makers, jewelry makers, hatters.”
The process was as streamlined as possible to hit the production deadlines; for the dresses, for instance, the initial swath of fabric was cut to the standard empire waist silhouette, and then the artisans were allowed to push every limit with the embellishments.
“All I need is the shape, and now we’ve got to twist it up,” she said. “The British pool of talent is very used to doing this — they’ve done it for decades. They are trained in the [fashion] history, they are trained in the cuts. They can do it blindfolded. And I was very fortunate to work with the greatest people that got really excited to be able to create something new and something fresh.”
By the time the first season’s eight episodes were completed, Mirojnick and her team of artisans made 7,500 costume pieces. It is enough to fill a gigantic “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-style warehouse, with teeming row after row after row of costumes hung in orderly fashion.
For the cast, walking into that cavernous space for the experience of costume fitting was a daunting thrill. “It was slightly terrifying, actually!” Dynevor said. “There was this warehouse of hundreds of people working on our dresses, and I was like… this is crazy. And then they said, ‘I think we’re going to make you about 100 dresses’ — and it’s just every girl’s dream, isn’t it? The silks, the velvets, all these incredible fabrics. I was living in these costumes, because I was shooting every day for seven months.”
Even harder than the hours of costume fittings was the imperative to not spill anything on the custom creations while filming. “100 percent, all of the time, I never stopped thinking about it,” laughed Nicola Coughlan, who plays the very, errrr, vibrantly costumed Penelope Featherington. “And they knew I was messy, so sometimes at lunchtime they would come and drape a coat over me, so you’re sort of eating like a T. Rex, with very short arms. That was a huge feature of my time on ‘Bridgerton.’”
“I had to, sort of, lean into the fact that something might go wrong,” Dynevor said. “But thankfully nothing did — although they did get a bit muddy at the end.”
Mirojnick’s dedication to making the details of the costumes flourish even extended to — gasp! — the series’ menswear, which is anything but an afterthought. After all, in ‘Bridgerton’s’ peacock world, a simple suitcoat with a cravat won’t do — and that “dress to impress” style accurately mimicked the tone of the time.
“In 1813 Regency England, the men were dandies,” Mirojnick said. “We took everything as it was, and recolored it and repatterned it and put a flourish at the neck, or with the shape of a collar or a silhouette. […] This was historically accurate up the wazoo.”
All eight episodes of “Bridgerton” are now available to stream on Netflix.
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