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Interview: Ellen Mirojnick and John Glaser Talk Food Groups, Creating a Costume House from Scratch, and Designing the World of ‘Bridgerton’

Few shows in recent memory have exploded onto the television scene quite like Netflix’s Bridgerton has. Blurring the lines between the historical and the fantastical, the Technicolor pastel world of Bridgerton is undoubtedly iconic. At every turn, Bridgerton takes viewers into a world that is part Regency and part modern day, part history and part intrigue. The show created not just a cultural phenomenon, but an aesthetic one as well. Six months after its release, the show is still being talked about by viewers and academies alike. Bridgerton’s costume designers, in particular, are garnering their fair share of Emmy buzz for their work on the ShondaLand production.

The incredibly talented costume designers behind the aesthetic world of Bridgerton, Ellen Mirojnick and John Glaser, each have impressive lists of credits in their own right. However, in spite of their wealth of experience, both designers name Bridgerton as the biggest, most ambitious project they have tackled yet. Mirojnick and Glaser knew that if they wanted to create a world that felt unique and true to their vision, they would have to do it themselves, so that’s exactly what they did. Creating a costume house from scratch that would accumulate approximately 7,500 individual costume pieces to be used in Season One of Bridgerton, Mirojnick and Glaser lovingly brought their vision to life over the course of ten months.

Here, Mirojnick and Glaser give an in-depth look at the process of creating a costume house from an initial lookbook, going from inspiration to reality on a unique and massively scaled project, and the unexpectedness of a project striking a zeitgeist in just the right way. 

Casey Tinston: I have been a Bridgerton fan since it came out. It’s such a beautiful, aesthetically driven show and the costuming is a huge part of that–it was one of the first things that grabbed me when I started watching. Each family has their own beautiful costuming style, but those styles really tell stories about who the characters are as well. What was that process like, of gaining inspiration and deciding aesthetically how each family would appear on screen?

Ellen Mirojnick: Well I think that, basically, the first and foremost way to look at it is that we approach the whole world of Bridgerton with a specific idea and a specific aesthetic. Obviously all the characters have to be designed–the families, the characters, the situations, that we need to address throughout the course of the series–however, the first and foremost part was designing the world. The world is quite luxurious and quite beautiful, with a bit of a modern twist to the aesthetic of a period piece. When it comes to the Bridgertons, the first things that we actually looked at, with both families, were food groups, truthfully. For the Bridgertons, the first thing we looked at was the color palette because we shifted the entire color palette of the period to accommodate what the overall aesthetic was going to be. So for the Bridgertons basically the first inspiration were French macarons, and for the Featheringtons the first inspiration were acidic fruits. So basically those two ideas filtered into the whole idea of the families. Don’t you think, Johnny?

John Glaser: Absolutely. I never thought of it as two food groups, but they were.

EM: (Laughing) Maybe we were hungry that day, I don’t know, but that’s how it did kind of come to pass. 

JG: But also, you know, macarons are of course pastel but they’re also kind of a little soft and dusty, and acid fruits have a nice sheen to them. The Featheringtons had a harder surface and a sheen, and the Bridgertons were softer and a little powdery. 

EM: And prettier. I would say one is audacious, and the other is elegant. One is bolder, has a sheen, and is actually purposely overdone, and the other is far more elegant, simple–

JG: Understated.

EM: –and understated, yes. Fine filigree as opposed to wild fruit. 

JG: So, we always said that the Bridgertons were the Kennedys or the Tiffany store, and the Featheringtons were the Versaces. 

CT: I love that, and I think, too, those contrasts really speak to who the families and the characters are. The Featheringtons are new money, they’re trying to be seen and noticed, and the Bridgertons are more secure in their spot in society. 

JG: Yes, they have nothing to prove.

CT: Right, and I think that is communicated so well in the aesthetics of the costuming and the colors and textures, as you said. How different is that process of designing something that needs to be understated but still so elegant, versus something that is meant to be overdone and showing itself off–but still that people want to look at, since your names are still on it as designers?

EM: Oh, well I don’t think that there’s anything that is bad about the showy part. Quite frankly, I love the Featheringtons more than anything in the world. That’s not my favorite thing in the show, but it’s part of my favorite thing. There’s nothing that appears in the show that we would ever be sorry for or not want our names attached to.We design the world, and then within the world we have to break out the characters. There’s no difference in the approach to design. Yes, of course in the aesthetic, but there’s no difference in the approach to the design. It’s the same process, it just has a different flavor–no pun intended. 

JG They each have different challenges. The Bridgertons are “less-is-more” and restraint, but knowing the line of the period. You have to be very careful, we learned the line of the period. 

EM: We learned the lines of the period and changed the lines, actually, of the silhouettes slightly so that it would create a blur. We blurred the accuracy of the period, and we were able to do that by changing certain lines of the silhouette actually, in cases of both families. 

JG: Right. And with the Featheringtons, it was how far can you go without going too far.

EM: It was never too far! We never went too far! (Chuckles)

CT: I guess that’s what I’m getting at. It’s such a hard balance to strike with the Featheringtons, and you really did it, for viewers to look at this family and think that they’re doing a lot and they want to be noticed, but it’s something that you still want to look at.

EM: You know, it was actually. This is the first time I’m remembering this in all the conversations that we’ve had about Bridgerton, in speaking of how far is too far. I remember the very first time we found the fabrics that we really loved and those were for Lady Featherington–the prints, and the golds, and the gold-crusted fabrics. So we found these prints, and we absolutely loved that fabrication, and we looked at each other, and said “Is this too much?” We didn’t know, we had to check ourselves. 

JG: Or not far enough? (Chuckles)

EM: Exactly, because we hadn’t started out that way. We happened upon the fabric and we knew what her silhouette was going to be, but we had something a little bit different in mind at first. She wears all of it together as an end result, but we were really like, “Well, do you want to really try this? This could be great, or it’s going to be horrible.” So in designing the show, and having that challenge in front of us, it really is such a luxury to be able to have the opportunity to try something that you didn’t initially intend to do. To be inspired by a piece of fabric that could say it all about the character, and leap off from there. Are we jumping to our death, or are we really flying? I don’t know. We didn’t know until we tried it, and then we loved it. 

CT: That is something so interesting to hear too, because I did read that by the end of the season you all had 7,500 individual costume pieces that were used, and that attention to detail is wild, considering that it all started with one swatch of fabric. It seems overwhelming, because you have to consider whether you’re going to be historically accurate and whether you’re going to consider the characters’ personalities, but also I noticed that so many of the little costuming elements become part of the plot too. For example, there’s a scene where Daphne asks Simon to button her sleeve. How much did you have to consider how the costumes were going to interact with the story of the show?

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EM: It is a lot. When you break it down like that I think I would be overwhelmed as well, but we didn’t start out like that. We started out knowing that the first step was that we had to build a costume house, because there was no costume house that had what we needed. We knew that originally, after creating a lookbook that we used until the last day we worked. It was quite precise in its color palette and its feel for how we were going to integrate period and modern in textures and things that you might not think about. It was all within this book. You have to do the big picture first. There’s no way you can start with a sleeve–you have to do the big picture first and, truthfully, get everybody on board with that, because we did have the opportunity to work with ShondaLand prior to Bridgerton and so we knew what the aesthetic was that would be what they were looking for. And [showrunner] Chris Van Dusen without a doubt said, “no bonnets–I don’t want any bonnets.” And it was really quite clear that he was not interested in creating a history lesson, and that gave us liberty like nobody’s business. But you can have too much liberty, so we had to kind of prepare for a beautiful feast.

JG: I looked at it like we built a department store and everything was in the store, and then the people that were working with us, the people that did background or were cutting the principal dresses and the men–everybody knew where to go for ribbons, accessories, and how to continue developing the costume for the character. So it was a huge team effort, but everyone knew how to shop.

EM: That’s well put. This was all in one space, we’re not talking about going outside to shop, this was all in this space, and within that space we had more cutters and tailors and so on. We had a magnificent team. Creating that book was the most important thing. It’s usually an important element as you are beginning your work, however, this was even more important because it set the tone and the idea of what Bridgerton was going to be. Not only for the costume department, but for production design, cinematography, the whole ball of wax, because we were there first in this case. And everybody was really happy with it, so it was wonderful for us all to be on the same page, but when you design and you have to take into consideration for example the buttoning of a sleeve, or the butterfly on Penelope’s bodice, everything is figured out beforehand. I think also what it does is it gives us an opportunity sometimes to even exaggerate what’s necessary in the scene and be able to present ways in which the actor and the director or the producer can be able to enhance a point that they are looking to express at that moment, and all of that is taken into consideration as we go along. 

CT: I did wonder, as the characters come to life and the season is filming, how much the actors’ performances influence the costume design because there are so many individual details. Did some of those develop as you saw the characters come to life, or were they all decided ahead of time?

EM: Things of that nature were in the material, and when things are written in the material we of course take that into consideration. But one thing we did have to do as time went on was that the actress who played Hyacinth was growing like a weed. She was becoming a teenager before our eyes, which was very dangerous because we had ten months that we had to think about ahead of time. So from the first time we met her, to the end of her fittings over the course of a couple of months there was a big change and a growth spurt, and she was supposed to be the littlest. Gregory was supposed to be older than Hyacinth, Hyacinth was supposed to be the littlest. So what we had to do with her is change her hems to be proportionate so she continued to look younger. We had to continue to work hard to make her look younger over the course of filming because she just grew very, very quickly. That you have to do, but there’s so much that is incorporated when we get it, as it’s written, so it usually gives us a clue as to what we have to do in terms of the specifics. 

JG: Also in this situation, if we were filming the episodes in order, let’s say if Lady Danbury was in a costume in Episode One, as time went on we may have changed her a bit, but in this case everything was shot at the same time. You never knew if you were going to shoot Episode Four or Episode Three because of the locations and the logistics of how it was shot. So I would say their looks were established way up front, even sometimes in the first couple of fittings, because we couldn’t change it after that, they were established. 

CT: That’s so interesting. So then, considering how much detail goes into this, I have to ask–did you know going in who Lady Whistledown was? I heard in an interview with Nicola Coughlan that she didn’t even know who it was right away, so I wonder if that played into the design of her character. She is supposed to be this fly on the wall, but at the same time Lady Featherington is dressing her and putting her in this acid lemon yellow. Did you know who she was?

JG: We didn’t know, right Ellen? We guessed–

EM: That’s right, we guessed and actually I think somebody confirmed our guess but it might not have been at the very beginning.

JG: No, it was towards the end. They really kept it under wraps.

EM: Under wraps. But we didn’t dress her accordingly, we dressed her just as you said. We did not design for her to evolve into Lady Whistledown, not at all. We kept Nicola in as acid-y yellow, green, and whatever kind of tangerine color we could find. But you know, there were occasions where she did wear bubblegum pink and she looked so pretty in bubblegum pink as well, I thought.

JG: Who’s your favorite character, Casey?

CT: Oh! My favorite character? I just love Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington. I loved her in Derry Girls as well, she’s so great. But yes, I’ve got to love Penelope. She’s such a funny character too, because she even says in one scene, I think in the bubblegum dress you’re talking about, that it’s a good thing her mother’s not there because she’d never let her out of the house in a dress that’s not yellow enough. I also do like to see the costuming and the acting working together in that way. 

EM: Well I think that what happened with Bridgerton, much to our happiness, is that yes–it was absolutely the biggest adventure we could ever go on. It was the biggest challenge we could ever create. It was the biggest show I’ve ever done–I think Johnny, you’re the same.

JG: Absolutely. 

EM: It was massive. It was a massive attempt at the beginning, but that’s really exciting. And how are we going to do it? Well, we’re going to do it by putting a great team together. And from that great team we’re going to be able to have octopi arms all over the entire process, and with that the actors and all that they had to do–because not all of the scripts were given to everybody at the same time. They came as things went on, and they were not all ready on day one at all when we started.

JG: We actually started off with just two outlines, yeah. So those two outlines gave us the basis for the episodes and it also showed us the volume. It showed us the expanse of people that they wanted to see.

EM: And with that, each actor that actually was cast and came into the room, each and every one of them became excited about what we presented. No one had any preconceived notions, and any preconceived notions that they might have had about Regency London in 1813 were thrown out the window as soon as they walked into the room. They saw the book, they saw the colors before them, and they saw we have never done this before. And each and every one of them got more excited each time they came into the room. And it’s not a question of never considering any ideas that the actors bring to the table, of course everything is considered, but I think we were in a great position because we had the objectivity. They were stunned by it all and excited, and we could serve all of their costumes up and they could actually walk into and become their characters with ease, without any overthinking of anything and they could see themselves in that moment.

JG: Yeah, breaking from as I always say a history lesson from the Regency period–once they understood that we were breaking from that, it liberated them and they began to think about their characters in different ways, like “Oh, i’m not going to be restricted, it’s not going to be Jane Austen, maybe I’ll try this.” So it was freeing for everyone.

CT: You know, I have heard the show described as a cross between Jane Austen and Gossip Girl

EM: It really wasn’t Jane Austen. I think in the beginning people would say it’s a cross between Jane Austen and Gossip Girl, and certainly Gossip Girl comes into play. But I would say Jane Austen with a question mark more than anything else. I mean, there’s really nothing that applies to Jane Austen with the exception of certain silhouettes. That’s about it. It’s our easiest reference point, but I always thought about Jane Austen with a question mark next to it because that was never any part of our inspiration. No offense to Jane Austen at all, quite great literature and some really great movies as well, but we went off into a different world and I think that what separates Bridgerton is the fact that we created a world. We created a world that was an adaptation of 1813 and it was romantic and fanciful and sexy and luxurious, and beautiful at the same time as being no other place that you’ve ever been.

JG: No. And what was also interesting was that as we went on and if we needed some research it became difficult, because anything that we looked at that was real or a painting that was a Jane Austen look felt out of place and we could never use it. So we always had to look for inspiration elsewhere.

EM: Even the extent of the paintings in the portrait gallery of Queen Charlotte. They’re beautiful paintings, beautiful research. But even going back and looking at them, because Queen Charlotte became bigger than life and that actually is because Golda [Rosheuvel] could do it. I think she was inspired by Queen Charlotte, but she pushed her to definitely the next level, and she actually allowed her to become as fabulous as I think she’s presented.

JG: And because her silhouette was different, she used it to her advantage. She made a very powerful silhouette. I als always bring up, because there were no bonnets, the hair became very important, and the hair designer Marc [Pilcher] followed right along and went outside the lines, which was great. 

EM: He’s a genius, and he created hairstyles that basically became the millinery and his hairstyles were sensational. And I think when we say we created another world, it is another world that you haven’t seen before in this period of time, which became each and every day very exciting.

CT: Before I let you go, I know the two of you have been interviewed several times for Bridgerton by now. Is there anything you wish someone would ask you, or anything that just hasn’t been brought up that you’re proud of or want to share?

EM: I’m proud of the whole thing and I think Johnny is as well. 

JG: Oh, yes.

EM: Quite frankly, I have never done a project that has inspired–

JG: (Laughing) I only got mad at Ellen and walked out once.

EM: You only walked out once?

JG: On you. 

EM: I know, but I don’t remember when that was.

JG: I walked out to get fish and chips and decided, you know maybe I won’t go back (laughing). 

EM: I actually don’t remember that. ANy kind of bad stuff I put aside.

JG: Well it was only about ten minutes.

EM: Oh, okay, then that’s why I don’t know. But you know, listen. We have to maintain our sense of humor while working with as many people as we work with. But I think the one thing that I’ve never experienced until this particular project is that it let us see and be part of a conversation, and the culture of Bridgerton inspired so many people across the world. All different nationalities, diversities–not only did it inspire people, it inspired all kinds of things. It inspired the way you want to look, it inspired the way you wanted to think, it inspired what you thought was beautiful. It also gave you a hopefulness in a time when our world was pretty dark. For me, that was really an experience that I have never felt at the level that Bridgerton created. The frenzy and the level that Bridgerton created was something really special. 

JG: It actually tight me not to have any preconceived notions and this sounds stupid, but it’s like once you’re working for SHondaland you think that way, but at the same time you have to remember not to expect the unexpected because sometimes it won’t be there.

EM: It was a really great experience. You know, you work on a lot of projects and a lot of projects have different kinds of people and expectations and so on and so forth. We always really fulfill our mission. But this one was very different and very special as an end result. We left the show when it was done–Casey, we never would have been able to say anything that we said to you today. Ever. That expectation was so far removed from any thought process at all. John went off and did his work, I went off and did my work, and so on. When the show was released, we never expected in a million dreams the response to be so next level to what we had created for the world to see. It was out of this world.

CT: Oh, it absolutely created a phenomenon. It came out on Christmas, and six months later people are still talking about it.

EM: People are still talking about it, and Bridgerton–I’ve seen it in sentences now that things have become “Bridgertized.” It hit a zeitgeist that you can never, ever expect. You can’t ever say well, “I’m going to do a show and it’s going to hit the zeitgeist and it’s going to be really great” because that will never happen. It’s the right time, the right place, the right notion, the right tone, and–

JG: And the right group of people working on it, and I say that as far as the costume staff. Every person contributed, every person had ideas, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

EM: It was a hugely talented group of people.

CT: What you managed to create is incredible, and I wish you the best of luck in the Emmys because it would be so well-deserved. Costuming doesn’t often get enough credit but it really is a major thing that sets Bridgerton apart is how beautiful it is. I do wish you both the best. Thank you so much for creating what you created.

EM: Oh, thank you.

JG: Thank you.

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Written by Casey Tinston

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