Who can resist being swept up in the romance and opulence of Netflix's popular drama Bridgerton – and in the gorgeous costumes that take centre stage in the Shondaland production of author Julia Quinn's historical romance novels?
Beautiful ballroom scenes of Regency-era London, ablaze with society swans dressed in embellished empire-line silk and elaborate hairstyles dotted with fairy tale jewels sparkling in the candlelight, have left us yearning for some of that fashion magic.
Set in 1813, the series – which has been renewed for a second season – follows the ups and downs of the romance between Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter of the Bridgerton family and “incomparable” debutante of the season, and the dashing Duke of Hastings. It is joyful candyfloss escapism, breaking the mould of stereotypical costume dramas with diverse casting and not a bonnet in sight.
Bridgerton, which has now been watched by more than 82 million households, has fuelled the imagination. As we lounge in front of our television screens in our comfy leisurewear, we are tapping away on our mobile phones searching out empire dresses, long gloves and, would you believe, corsets, the absolute antithesis of our current preferred attire.
The global fashion shopping platform Lyst reported last month that so-called “Regency-core” has sent searches for corsets up 93 per cent, pearl and feather headbands up 49 per cent, long gloves up 23 per cent and empire-line dresses up 93 per cent (and soaring). Among the most viewed are Erdem’s dreamy empire-line dresses and glamorous girandole, or chandelier, earrings; Brock and Dion Lee’s corsets; and Simone Rocha’s pearl headpieces. There are other sources, too – Chanel’s ropes of pearls, Cecilie Bahnsen and Luisa Beccaria’s sweet puff-sleeve dresses, and Dolce & Gabbana’s brocades and enamel flower necklaces, similar to those worn by the Featheringtons.
The couture houses are not immune to Bridgerton fever, either. Regal empire-line dresses appeared in the latest Dior and Chanel haute couture collections, while the oyster silk dress modelled by Kate Moss in Kim Jones's debut collection for Fendi was a dead ringer for that Regency style.
The costumes are a vital part of the show's immense popularity and Shonda Rhimes's Shondaland production company tapped costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, who won an Emmy in 2013 for Behind the Candelabra, to create them. A total of 7,500 eye-catching costumes fill the show's ballroom scenes, promenades in the park and boxing matches.
“The size of the show is mammoth,” says Mirojnick. “It was daunting when we first looked at it, but I’m very proud to say that this team [of 238 people creating everything from gowns to fascinators and jewellery] has risen far above expectations.”
Bridgerton's interpretation of the 19th century, she explains, required "an overview of how we could add modern elements to it. We have made it more luxurious, more sumptuous, and we've introduced a modern colour palette [almond pastels for the Bridgertons, Wedgwood blue for Daphne and gaudy brights for the Featheringtons], but really stick to the basic foundation of the 1813 silhouette."
The process of embellishing was where the fun really began, she admits. The approach was bold and adventurous – hence the larger-than-life wigs, neon colour schemes and myriad hair accessories.
The glittering faux-heirloom jewels were a particular delight. Mirojnick borrowed tiaras from Swarovski’s archives and had designer Lorenzo Mancianti and a jewellery team make hundreds of dazzling pieces for each episode. Elaborate hairstyles are liberally speckled with silk flowers, diamanté clips, feathers, tiaras, micro-crowns and aigrettes that are inspiration for contemporary Zoom-constrained waist-up partywear. It is easy to recreate the prettiness with a mix of vintage and modern, with Simone Rocha and Chanel’s pearls and the vintage-inspired jewels at Erdem and Dolce & Gabbana.
With red carpet events cancelled and street style having all but disappeared, it is of little surprise that television has been providing our style kicks and influencing our fashion choices in recent months. With Netflix delivering The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, Emily in Paris and, of course, Bridgerton, it has transformed costume designers into the new celebrity stylists, inspiring trends that whisk us away from our current leisurewear wardrobe.
The highly stylised series, The Queen's Gambit, triggered an interest in the 1960s look that then dominated the spring/summer 2021 catwalk at Miu Miu and the more sensual 1960s nightclub looks in Azzaro Couture's most recent collection. Costume designer Gabriele Binder cleverly tells the story of American chess protégé Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) through her clothes – from prim 1950s American Midwest to stylish 1960s counter-culture New York and Paris.
“I immediately fell in love with the script as it was so full of inspiration,” says Binder. There were countless clever touches, such as the check weaves that connected the character with the game of chess and the all-white outfit in the finale that reiterates her position as queen of the chessboard. “Attention to detail and colour palette are all part of moving the story along,” Binder says.
Costumes from The Queen's Gambit and another Netflix favourite The Crown, by veteran designer Amy Roberts, are currently on show in a virtual exhibition hosted online by the Brooklyn Museum. Princess Diana was a famous fashion icon and The Crown's depiction of her early years in the royal family prompted one British brand to link up with the original designers of the memorable black sheep sweater that she wore before her engagement to Prince Charles. The replica sweater, by Rowing Blazer, sold out as soon as The Crown hit our screens. Diana's signature piecrust collars are also making a comeback, as are pearl necklaces.
Peggy Grosz, an American pearl specialist and senior vice president at Assael, says the gems are experiencing a revival. “There has been an overall resurgence in pearl demand for many reasons, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and the film series and movies about the royal family.”
Queen Elizabeth II is never without her three rows of pearls, while Princess Diana was seldom seen without a simple strand or pearl choker. And we can expect to see more rows of pearls in the next series of Bridgerton, too, given they are the traditional jewel of young debutantes.
The number of people watching television makes it an extremely powerful platform – it's a magical medium that has caught the attention of the big fashion and jewellery brands since the early days of Sex and the City, which is also about to get its second reboot, as a miniseries.
Emily in Paris was styled by the reliably madcap Patricia Field, who originally made her mark with Carrie Bradshaw and her friends. The mash-up of styling – from bucket hats to ankle socks – worn with heels by the lead Lily Collins, alongside some more questionable looks, such as hot-pink lace, have had French fashion fans up in arms. However, the Audrey Hepburn moment in the black 1950s dress at the opera was a hit. Lyst found that searches for some of the brands Emily wears rose more than 200 per cent in the weeks after the show was broadcast, including Chanel and its double CC handbag. Views for berets rose 41 per cent and bucket hats by 342 per cent.
This begs the question of whether we will see greater brand collaboration with television streaming services, an established practice in cinema if you consider Giorgio Armani's many film credits. Prada is currently creating costumes for the new film The United States vs Billie Holiday, about the jazz singer. Tiffany & Co has loaned its famous yellow diamond, worn by Lady Gaga to the 2019 Oscars, for the new Agatha Christie film Death on the Nile.
"Luxury brands, like film and television content, are the world's best storytellers," says Kathryn Vanderveen Drake, founder of Createology in Los Angeles, which facilitates many a luxury jewellery brand's exposure on screen, including the Tiffany & Co diamond in the Agatha Christie film and Baz Luhrman's version of The Great Gatsby.
Her job is to make sure the project's plot, genre, cast, filmmaker and costume designer “are a good match for the luxury brand I am representing,” she explains. “Costume designers are key to high-end jewellery and fashion brands. They breathe visual life into the character, speaking through their clothes, jewellery, watches and accessories.”
Television is catching up quite quickly with the film industry’s ambition, budget and capacity to make us dream. And if the costumes appearing on our television screens in the past year are anything to go by, fashion is no longer just a fun guest star; it is now the leading lady.