Forget the village, it takes an army to costume the likes of ‘Queen Charlotte’

In the first minutes of the “Bridgerton” prequel “Queen Charlotte,” the namesake character complains heartily how her elaborate gown and its restrictive corset made of brittle and sharp whalebone means that if she moves too much, “I might be sliced and stabbed to death by my undergarments.”

Oh, dearest gentle reader, young Queen Charlotte hasn’t suffered in vain. Her every ensemble, and those of the show’s sizable cast, are crafted with such sumptuous detail, that surely all who view them would gladly have them suffer even more.

Even though period costumes are notoriously cumbersome, Emmy-winning costume designer Lyn Elizabeth Paolo and co-costume designer Laura Frecon dispel notions that the actors suffered much (thanks to light, modern fabrics and stretchy panels in their corsets). Still, the yearlong shoot in grand estates across the United Kingdom overlapped the pandemic lockdown and required worldwide sourcing. It seems that their brand of elegant finery was a tonic for distress, and a cause for celebration. The work, helped by a 220-person costume crew, has earned them a 2023 Emmy nomination for period costumes.

Queen Charlotte's undergarments are adjusted in a scene from

Replica undergarments were crafted from light, modern fabrics and stretchy panels to be slightly more comfortable than the actual period clothing.

(Liam Daniel/Netflix)

“This [shoot] was challenging, but also joyful. Every time a piece of a costume would come back, it was, ‘Oh, my God! It looks better than we thought it would.’ There was a lot of joy there,” says Paolo, the longtime designer for other Shonda Rhimes productions, such as “Inventing Anna” and “Scandal.”

The six-episode costume drama on Netflix explores the early days of the difficult marriage of Queen Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and King George III (Corey Mylchreest). The fictionalized story of the actual royals takes place in two time periods — the Georgian era of the 1760s and the later Regency era in which “Bridgerton” is set — and includes key characters from the original show. There are several grand balls, a royal wedding and a coronation to wardrobe. No biggie.

Or so Paolo was led to believe.

“I remember Sara Fischer, who is head of production at Shondaland, called me and said, ‘Shonda has this idea for a small, intimate show. She really wants you to do it.’ And, what are you going to say?” recalls Paolo, who was a consultant on Season 2 of “Bridgerton.”

She invented a time-twisting concept inspired by Monet and Matisse paintings and modern fashion designers who themselves referenced historical costume such as John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Moschino, Zuhair Murad and Christian Dior in his New Look era. Yet Paolo kept the silhouette appropriately Georgian.

“The pitch was, we kind of want it to look like a Met Ball … but to be slightly more on point with the period. We still wanted to have our own stylistic elements that would make sure that the modern eye understood the costumes,” Paolo says.

King George and Queen Charlotte toast the crowd in all their finery.

Corey Mylchreest as King George and India Amarteifio as Queen Charlotte all but sparkle in their lustrous clothing.

(Nick Wall/Netflix)

“For the men, we had images of rock ‘n’ roll icons from the ‘70s and ‘80s. So a lot of images of Prince, the New Romantics and Adam Ant. All those people back then who had that pirate chic going on.”

That vision required a mostly custom-made wardrobe that sourced from London, Los Angeles, New York, Budapest and Spain. Jewelers Joseff of Hollywood, Manhattan’s Larkspur & Hawk and Italy’s Pikkio custom made the period jewelry and other adornments. British manufacturer James Hare supplied traditional fabrics as did a mill hours from London that wove custom fabrics. Smaller artisan shops focused on hand embroidery or a particular character.

“It was sort of a small army,” says Paolo, who relied on the organizational skills of Frecon. A giant calendar and flow chart helped them track the flow of work, particularly of the embroidered pieces, which were outsourced to UK specialists Twan Lentjes Creations, Beth Parry and Hattie McGill, whose Instagram accounts illustrate their handiwork.

Tunji Kasim (as Adolphus) wears patterned fabrics while Arsema Thomas (as Agatha Danbury) shines in a brightly colored gown.

Other members of the court stand out in patterned fabrics (on Tunji Kasim as Adolphus) and brightly colored gowns with hats (Arsema Thomas as Agatha Danbury).

(Nick Wall/Netflix)

“It’s so complicated,” Paolo says, describing a process of sample making, initial embroidery, further tailoring and additional hand embellishing before a pattern piece is ever fitted into a garment. Even fabric-covered buttons were embroidered.

The women’s gowns are especially intensive. The earlier dresses, from 1760 onward, required 13 to 20 yards of fabric and at least four weeks of construction; five if they’re heavily embellished. Each ensemble requires petticoats that can add five to 10 more yards each, plus a corset, a pannier (a cage-like underpinning), a padded bum roll, shoes, stockings and garters. The jewelry sets were matched to each costume and included rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets and tiara-like hair jewelry that was fitted into fantastical wigs by hair and makeup designer Nic Collins.

With two sets of characters to dress in two different eras, the costume designers were careful to build visual continuity, typically with color. Young Queen Charlotte, for example, keeps to innocent pastels in her early scenes, but her colors grow bolder as her power does too. The designers cannot precisely count the number of costume changes, or quantify the number of pieces they used, only to say “in the thousands.” Paolo says Jeff Jur, director of photography, was on board to capture the spectacle and regularly texted her and Frecon to say, “‘I’m doing a full head-to-toe shot of this one.”

Still, it’s tricky to absorb all of the detail, even though it’s there on the hand-embroidered initials on a man’s handkerchief, or the restored antique jet beading and lace on Queen Charlotte’s mourning gown, or the Easter eggs, as Paolo calls the references she wove into many costumes, particularly those in the final episode, which features an astronomy-themed ball, hosted by the king and queen.

King George loves astronomy, so stars and moons are embroidered and beaded into their clothes. The ball was shot outdoors at night, which usually obscures costume details. Jur expertly lit the scene to illuminate the clothes that were so laden with sparkly bits that they twinkle.

Though the final episode was picked to submit for Emmy consideration, the choice was “brutal,” Paolo said. “It’s a huge group of amazingly talented people who all deserve recognition. If we are lucky enough to win, I would want 220 miniature ones to hand out to everyone.”

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