Dearest readers! It is with utmost delight that we invite you to once again return to the opulent world of Bridgerton, as the incomparable Shonda Rhimes unveils her latest masterpiece: Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story. As expected, the splendorous court of Queen Charlotte is filled with some of the most beautiful costumes, designed by costume designers Lyn Paolo and Laura Frecon. The two costume designers joined The Art of Costume to discuss their inspirations, a royal wedding, the use of jewelry, King George, and some hidden costume details.
Spencer Williams: Let’s just start from the beginning. In one of the very first scenes of the show, soon-to-be Queen Charlotte is explaining to her brother the strictness, pain, and beauty in her costumes in reference to the whalebone corset she has on. Immediately, I became a big fan of this show. This takes place before Bridgerton, so we’re not exactly in the Regency era at this point. How would you define this period, and what kind of research were you two doing in preparation for this show?
Lyn Paolo: Well, thank you for the question, and thank you for watching the show! It is super exciting for us to have it out there in the world. We did extensive research and dove deep into the period. I actually love this period and prefer it over Regency. Then we explored more contemporary fashion like Dior and Charles James. How could we create a more youthful version to our modern eye, and how can we address the dichotomy between the old and new?
Then we ended up doing sketches and sending things to Shonda and explaining our palette to her. Mm-hmm. It was sort of the normal process we would do as costume designers, but on steroids. We had two periods to deal with! This show is an amazing gift. Laura, you would agree, wouldn’t you?
Laura Frecon: It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I just can’t even… It still feels surreal that we did this show and spent a year and a half of our lives working on this. The stockings are embroidered, the shoes have embellishments, there were gloves, hair pins, accessories, and so many details! I could go on and on and on. We could not have enough jewelry or accessories for this show.
Spencer Williams: It’s so exciting. We’re definitely not talking about Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder anymore. Let’s talk about Queen Charlotte in her earlier years. It’s clear to me that even from a young age, Queen Charlotte always had an eye for style and fashion. Her costumes are always very elevated. What was the overall concept behind Young Charlotte’s costumes?
Lyn Paolo: The main thing for us was that we wanted this sort of youthful exuberance. We wanted her to be able to climb a wall. We chose fabrics that were lighter and bounced. When she walks, everything moves with her, doesn’t it? It’s not stiff; it’s not formal in any way. There’s a lightness too, even in her sadness and loneliness at the beginning. As Laura said, we did use impressionistic paintings as our palette. Young Charlotte’s fabrics are really all very soft silks, and we based her gowns on Charles James’ designs from the 1950s.
Spencer Williams: Beautiful. We also get some visions into Charlotte’s life in the present day of the Bridgerton story we’ve been following. Laura, there’s a reason why Queen Charlotte has always been a fan favorite. She commands the camera. How would you describe Queen Charlotte’s style later on in life?
Laura Frecon: First, I want to say that Golda Rosheuvel, who plays Charlotte, is a force in herself. She is the queen. But what Lyn and I wanted to show as we get to the discovery of George’s illness, Charlotte adopts this style that becomes almost like her armor, her way of being the crown. So we had her throughout the series getting into the deeper colors and adopting this more structured silhouette from the young, youthful exuberance to the Queen Charlotte we’ve come to know.
Spencer Williams: I’m not going to lie to you two… I love a royal wedding! Princess Augusta wanted Charlotte to wear something else. It was nice, but it was not what Charlotte wanted to wear… So I’m so glad Charlotte was defiant. Lyn, we have to talk about that wedding dress. It was such a moment.
Lyn Paolo: Well, you know from Scandal, I’m obsessed with capes. There can never be enough. Shonda had written this scene, and she had this horrible discussion between Augusta and poor young Charlotte, where she insists that she wears the British wedding gown. If you look closely in the garden, you’ll see that there are Tudor roses and Yorkshire roses all the way around the bottom of her gown. They’re embroidered and are also on George’s jacket. That was planned by Augusta. This is her way of saying, “You are ours now.”
I’m so proud of the character in that garden scene; she decides not to conform to tradition. “I’m going to be much more fabulous than these people want me to be.” Then when she enters, I mean, that was such a great moment on the set! We had done all this research, and we found tons of different representations of stronger, bolder embroidery, and we decided we were going to go for it. With the help of our amazing embroiderer back in England, we spent about six weeks on this gown. We just wanted this strong moment where this woman walks in and shocks everybody. She was going to be a force of nature, and that’s what we wanted that gown to do.
Spencer Williams: It was beautiful! Laura, what did you think of the gown?
Laura Frecon: I love that thing. I want the cape for myself. I also love what Lyn said about all the work that went into it. It was a team effort on behalf of everybody in our department.
Spencer Williams: It was definitely worth all the effort. When it’s all said and done, my favorite character has and always will be Lady Danbury, and I was so excited to see that she also got her own origin story in this show. Lady Danbury has always had such a cool sense of style. She loves a high collar and a good hat. But this was exciting because we get to see what she was like when she was younger too, and how her style evolved. So Laura, what was it like designing the costumes for a younger Agatha Danbury?
Laura Frecon: Arsema Thomas is just a beautiful, wonderful human. So getting to have her play the part of Agatha was amazing. We really went for it with the color story of Agatha’s costumes. Lord Danbury’s favorite color was gold, so we put her in a lot of gold and metallics well. Once he passes and she goes through her mourning period, you’re going to start to see her embrace the purples and the deeper, darker colors. That’s how we got get to the Lady Danbury of the Bridgerton series, wearing the purples and the burgundies.
Spencer Williams: Such a great character. I mean, I could watch her all day long. She needs her own show too. After this, tell Shonda for me, please! Speaking of Lady Danbury, I love a good ball, and Lady Danbury always knows how to throw a ball. I was obsessed with the pastel palettes and all the costumes. I’ll be honest, I’m not a jewelry person, but even I was falling in love with the jewelry. Lyn, how did your team bring the scene together?
Lyn Paolo: I’ve been talking about this quite a bit because I am a jewelry person. I’m obsessed with jewelry.
Spencer Williams: You might have converted me.
Lyn Paolo: I’m a little bit of a freak, and this is a very jewelry-heavy period. I mean, we’re talking bracelets, necklaces, earrings. But then we’re also talking jewelry on the bodice of every single dress, and then the hair adornments as well. Nic Collins is the head of hair and makeup and was such an amazing partner on this because I would call and send her trays and trays of jewels, feathers, rhinestones, and pearl strands for every single character, including all the dancers and the background artists. Then we’d get to set and just watch her create magic.
I will tell you this story where we kept running out of jewelry. We literally kept running out because we couldn’t repeat anything, right? We had this big room, and one day you would walk in, and you’d think, “Oh my God, this amazing jewelry. It’s fantastic. We’ll be fine.” Then I would turn to Laura and go, “Yeah, it’s all gone. Laura, there is nothing left. What are we going to do? Who can we hire to make more jewelry?” It was sort of desperate to the point where the production manager couldn’t believe that we were ordering more. I mean, they, they just couldn’t fathom that we kept running out *laughs*. They were really getting a little worried about us.
Spencer Williams: It’s such a good scene with the music, colors, and all of the very necessary jewelry. I wish there was a whole episode of just actors dancing. I would definitely watch that.
Lyn Paolo: Our choreographer does such a good job. And those dancers… we had a couple of the dancers come up to us and ask if they could take certain things home *laughs* Not quite!
Spencer Williams: We certainly learn much more about Queen Charlotte’s husband, King George. Like the Queen, I have a soft spot for George. He’s clearly going through a lot, and I would say his dress is actually a bit toned down, and I think that’s because he has a lot more important things going on. Of course, when there’s an event or ceremony, he’ll dress up. But when he is at home, he wants to garden! Laura, how would you describe George’s style?
Laura Frecon: You nailed it! He was just George. As he said, because of some accident at birth, he is the king. Whenever he had to be in the public eye, it was very embroidered, very embellished. But anytime he could be at home, we put him in much simpler jackets and sometimes not a jacket at all. Sometimes it was just a shirt and a trouser. We really wanted to show that he wanted to be more simple and really just embraced his love for farming, astronomy, and the sciences, which was true in real life. He loved all of those things, so we tried to convey that in his dress.
Spencer Williams: I admit I kind of fell in love with him. Lyn, there were so many variations of men’s clothing within the palace. We get to know Brimsley, who works with Charlotte day in and day out. What was it like just kind of designing all the costumes for the palace as a whole?
Lyn Paolo: I’m so glad you asked that question. You are so smart because I think most people aren’t going to notice that. Brimsley and Reynolds are my personal obsession. I am determined to find out what happened to Brimley and Reynolds. They’re amazing, and they’re amazing together. When they touch hands… my heart! If people really look at their costumes, you’ll see that. Reynolds has George’s initials are cast into the buttons. There were tiny little details like that while we had the buttons cast.
Spencer Williams: I don’t think people realize that you’re not just getting these costumes off the rack. You had to build out this entire palace. This is part of the process. It’s not just Queen Charlotte. It’s every single person. There is just so much detail, which is why costume designers are so essential.
Final question for both of you…What do you hope the audience will take from the show, and what did this experience mean to you?
Lyn Paolo: I do hope that people watching this will understand this little slice of history a little bit more. I feel like our show, as opposed to Bridgerton, does really touch on the sadness of King George. It wasn’t just about his madness and losing the colonies. For example, the tragedy of them losing their granddaughter. I just do hope that it convinces people maybe to read a little bit about this time in history. It was such a fascinating time for me personally. Getting to work with Laura as a team was amazing, but also my continued relationship with Shonda. Getting to work with her as closely as we did with Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story was really special for me.
Laura Frecon: I would like the audience just to enjoy the beauty of the scenes, the beauty of the costumes, hair, and makeup, and hopefully, they’ll see all of the hard work that all of the crews put into this. We had over 200 people on just our costume crew. Just… how much of a labor of love it was for all of us. I love the story because, as Lyn said, Shonda wrote every episode, and it’s such a beautiful story told in such a beautiful way.
Spencer Williams: Well, I could say that you two definitely nailed it because I found myself crying, laughing, screaming. It was fantastic, and I know everyone’s going to love it. Thank you. Costume designers Lyn Paolo and Laura Frecon… Thank you so much for joining me!