Looking to fill the chessboard-sized hole that The Queen’s Gambit left in your life? Chris Van Dusen’s new Netflix show Bridgerton is just the fix you need right now. Adapted from Julia Quinn’s bestselling novels and produced by Shonda Rhimes, this Regency romp follows Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor) and her fellow debutantes as they make their social debuts.
An eight-part series, Bridgerton is a story about love, marriage, rivalry, gossip and class, one that defies the confines of its genre with queer plotlines and diverse casting. It’s also a visual feast, in no small part due to the opulent (almost to the point of camp) costumes and flamboyant wigs, with each character dripping in pearls, feathers and crystals.
How long have you been working in the TV and film industry?
Marc Pilcher: “Since 1988. I did 15 years in West End theatre, then I went into TV and film. A friend of a friend needed a good wig dresser for a TV movie in Romania, so I flew over and had an amazing time. I loved that, for the rest of my life, I can watch that film again and all those memories come flooding back. It made me want to work in film more.”
Claire Matthews: “I’ve been working since 1988 and, like Marc, I worked in theatre first. We both went to the London College of Fashion to train. Then I got a job at an ITV company as a junior make-up artist, and have been working in the industry ever since.”
When approaching a period piece like Bridgerton, where do you start?
Marc: “First, I research paintings and books of the period, then I like to add my slant on the looks using the influences of other periods and old Hollywood movies. I have a huge collection—I like to feed off that and mix them up with my historical knowledge to create the right look.
“The Regency look was based around the shapes of ancient Greece. It then reemerged in the 1980s with the UK’s New Romantic scene—I’m sure it will pop up again, that beautiful Grecian shape for the women and quiffs for the men, and that use of make-up.”
One of the most interesting things about the show is its diverse casting. How much did this play into your approach?
Marc: “From a design point of view, it was amazing. When I researched Queen Charlotte and found out that she was of African descent, it gave me so much more scope to create her beautiful looks. I used the silhouettes of the period but in a celebration of her ethnicity, I used locks, braids and Afro-textured styles. Her giant Afro was in the shape of a Gainsborough wig, but influenced by Beyoncé as Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002).”
How important is the way the characters look to the show’s storytelling?
Claire: “It is the most important thing. If you have a story behind your creation, then it helps to build their character. I love working with the actors in the early stages, to feed off each other so that they’re happy and confident about the way they look when they leave the make-up truck.”
When it comes to hair, there was a lot of nuance, from wigs and accessories to fringes and updos. Was there a particular message you wanted to convey about the characters through the language of hair?
Marc: “I like to see how I can represent a character’s personality through the hair and make-up. For instance, I wanted to reflect the no-nonsense attitude of Eloise—who is a free thinker and a feminist—so I gave her a mullet, which was in fashion in Regency times.
At the first fitting of Lady Featherington, I noticed that her outfits were heavily influenced by the 1950s, so rather than giving her straightforward Regency hair and make-up, I looked at pictures of [Hollywood legends] Elizabeth Taylor and Deborah Kerr, and amalgamated a 1950s look with a Regency silhouette. Meanwhile, Cressida was based on Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie. Sugary-sweet with ringlets, bows and flowers, topped off with ribbons and pearls. Pretty on the outside, but mean on the inside.”
Where did the inspiration for the make-up come from? It looked quite contemporary.
Claire: “As a make-up artist working on Marc’s team, I listen to what Marc wants and I interpret that on the actor once they’re in the chair. Marc would always have the final say on the look, but with the women that I made up on Bridgerton, I used products to make them as radiant and glowing as possible. We had a broad artistic licence, so using illuminating products was possible. On a production that is true to the period, we probably wouldn’t have been able to get away with it.”
What are your tips for recreating the ultimate Bridgerton hair and make-up look?
Claire: “Use a fine foundation or tinted moisturiser (Laura Mercier, Clarins, Bobbi Brown, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation), and an illuminator (Shiseido), running a cream shade lightly under the cheekbones and under the jaw bone. Then add a pink-colour cream blusher (Laura Mercier Face and Cheek Palette) on the apples of your cheek and a very fine powder to set the make-up (By Terry Hyaluronic Hydra Foundation).
“For the eyes, I used a taupe or natural colour in the sockets, and a lighter highlighting colour on the lids and under the brow bones (Viseart Neutral Mattes Eyeshadow Palette, Laura Mercier Parisian Nudes Eyeshadow Palette). Opt for a natural eyeliner using a brown-black or black liquid eyeliner or gel eyeliner using an angled brush to soften.
“To define the eyebrows, I used a liquid eyebrow liner and eyebrow brush to tidy and soften. (L’Oréal Paris Brow Artist Micro Tattoo 24hr Eyebrow Definer, Laura Mercier Sketch and Intensify Pomade and Powder Brow Duo).
“For the lips, I used a natural lip liner, matching the colour of the actor’s lips (Laura Mercier Longwear Lip Liner, MAC Lip Pencil) and either a matching natural lip colour (Clinique Chubby Stick Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm, Pixi Sheer Cheek Gel) or even just a lip balm (Carmex, Vaseline Lip Therapy Rosy, Burt’s Bees).
“And for the queen, I used a matte liquid lipstick when she had a brighter lip (Smashbox Always On Liquid Lip Set) but without a defining line as I didn’t want her lips to look too perfect.”
Season one of Bridgerton is streaming now on Netflix