By now, fashion has come to understand that the consumer wants what she wants. And right now, the consumer wants what Hollywood is having.
Even more specifically, they’re burning for “Bridgerton.”
Thanks to the much-buzzed-about Netflix period drama, they want Regency-era dresses. Thanks to “The Queen’s Gambit,” they also want Beth Harmon’s Pierre Cardin-inspired frock. Thanks to what “Bridgerton” head costume designer Ellen Mirojnick is calling “a new and direct” connection between the costume designer and the consumer, they want looks inspired by these on-set couturiers — and they’re searching vintage and custom-made to find them. Ultimately, designers, brands and retailers may look to deliver on some of that demand.
Films’ influence on fashion isn’t new, nor is the costume designer’s influence on ready-to-wear, but fashion and costume are moving more in tandem than they have in recent years because, now more than ever, the escapism each affords is proving an antidote to a quarantine-induced malaise. For now, consumers don’t want fashion to reflect reality.
“The creation of the world of ‘Bridgerton’ enabled the consumer to kind of be immersed in this world that they hadn’t been immersed in forever….There was something about the romance of it that just took you to another time and place and I think that’s what the consumer responded to and wanted –— anything that could take them to another time and place and actually allow them to feel romantic and pretty and desirable, or sexy, or many different things that kind of go into your emotions,” Mirojnick told WWD. “So whether it was a dress, a gown, a little jacket, a hair accessory, a piece of lingerie…beautiful little sheer gloves…I think the consumer grabbed onto it.”
Of the 82 million people who have tuned into “Bridgerton” since its Christmas Day launch, many are searching for something close to the looks they loved watching.
“Period dramas set in Regency England are nothing new, but it was ‘Bridgerton’ — with its record 82 million viewers — that sparked a fashion renaissance for corsets and Empire line dresses,” said Morgane LeCaer, data editor and content lead for fashion shopping platform Lyst. “Following the recent rise of other aesthetics such as cottagecore and normcore, and after having seen a strong rise in searches for Regency-inspired pieces, it made sense for the Lyst editorial team to name this trend Regencycore, a term that has since caught on in the industry at large.”
Though searches have slowed somewhat, and corsets may not catch on while loungewear has its hold, Lyst said, “Almost two months after the launch of ‘Bridgerton,’ searches for Regency-inspired pieces are still relatively high…searches for Empire waist dresses are currently up 16 percent month-over-month. Most popular terms alongside the category are ‘bridal’ and ‘wedding,’ with searches for ‘Empire waist wedding dress’ increasing 27 percent month-over-month.”
Mirojnick herself has fielded a recent request to make a “Bridgerton”-inspired wedding dress, to which her response was, “No I’m afraid not…I’m not set up to do that. But if I was, I might have done it.” She did note, however, that she’d be open to collaborating on a capsule collection.
Though Mirojnick may not be set up to do it, vintage sellers have some looks on offer, and historical designers and patternmakers are arming consumers with the tools to produce what they cannot acquire.
“One thing that we have noticed is that, as YouTubers, whenever we put ‘regency’ in a title, it gets basically 100,000 views no matter what,” said historical designer Dr. Christine Millar, better known as Sewstine (and who makes costumes when she’s not working as an anesthesiologist). “I think that we’re definitely going to see a lot more Regency influence and I’m really excited to see what the next runway looks look like.”
Sewstine’s videos walk viewers through how to make historical dresses, and while she has also turned down eager “Bridgerton” fans seeking custom-made gowns, Jennie Chancey, owner of Sense & Sensibility Patterns, has seen a swell of customers keen on “Regencycore” snapping up her patterns to make the dresses themselves.
“I noticed my sales started going utterly bananas around November and December, and I didn’t know what was driving it,” she said. Turns out it was “Bridgerton.” “It was like a 1,000 percent increase in orders specifically for the Regency patterns. And that’s what I found — people were searching for ‘Bridgerton’ gowns, Jane Austen gowns, Regency time period dresses, and that was driving traffic to my site.”
“‘Bridgerton’edits” are popping up at every turn, with brands curating what they have that may align with looks from show. Hill House recently curated one with its coveted Nap Dress and the brand’s latest English Garden drop has all the romance of a Daphne Bridgerton nightgown. Even collections from spring 2021 shows and Couture Fashion Week have been labeled “‘Bridgerton’-inspired,” despite having been conceived well in advance of the show’s release.
For Millar, it’s romance, rather than the period piece, that’s fueling the craze. And if it seems like “Bridgerton,” Maria Grazia Chiuri’s spring 2021 haute couture presentation for Dior and blossoming pink ballgowns from Chanel’s couture creations have collectively ushered in another era of romance for fashion, the confluence may have something to do with soul-sapped and society-starved consumers who have fallen for looks in the latest dramas they’re watching to pass the time.
“Rather than ‘Bridgerton’ having triggered this romantic nostalgia, I think this desire for romantic nostalgia and romantic fashion is what made ‘Bridgerton’ as popular as it was,” Millar said.
It’s something similar “The Queen’s Gambit” costume designer Gabriele Binder believes made the style in that Netflix streaming series such a success.
“My feeling is that if you watch a movie in a cinema, you watch it for two hours and after you go to have dinner with friends you kind of forget it and it doesn’t meet you very, very strong in your heart,” she said. “But if you watch it at home and it takes like seven hours…it comes much closer to you and there’s much more identification. And so the costumes are much closer to the people and the people start more to think about it and to love it.”
Since the show, Binder has been asked by consumers to produce actress Anya Taylor-Joy’s outfits, and designers have even reached out asking whether she’d be open to collaborations — to which, for now at least, the answer remains “no.”
“Many people reach out to me and they ask for the pattern of the coat that she’s wearing in the end or where is this hat from or where’s the green hat from or where they can find the Paris dress. And it was all made — or most of the pieces they were made — so mostly people are disappointed because they thought I shopped everything and I could give them a fashion designer’s name and they go there and buy it immediately,” she said.
The saga recalls one that would have been similar for Bonnie Cashin, a designer who played between costume design and rtw. The 1944 film “Laura,” for which she created the costumes coveted by consumers was, as Cashin’s heir Dr. Stephanie Lake called it in her book on the still very much influential designer, “nothing less than Cashin’s first full clothing collection.”
“’Laura’ is arguably the most fashion aware, one designer, one star film of all time,” Lake told WWD. “It was literally things that were from that wardrobe that were re-created for her first ready-to-wear collection, and the headlines would be, ‘If you liked the outfits from ‘Laura’ then you’re going to love what’s coming to a store near you.’ There were all these pieces about having real Hollywood fashion available at retail.” Even before Cashin had her own collection out (when she was also fielding “10 pounds of press clippings that came in just about their costumes,” according to Lake), retailers were re-creating looks from “Laura” to meet consumer demand.
It’s something Mirojnick — who, as Cashin, also began her career as a rtw designer, and is very familiar with fashion and costuming having a reciprocal influence on each other — believes may be happening now, too.
“I think that the Regency look, the look that we created, has inspired many designers, there’s a bunch of people that have seen spring shows that say ‘oh, ‘Bridgerton’ has influenced this, ‘Bridgerton’ has influenced that,’” she said.
Part of the reason looks in the show, which admittedly isn’t entirely historically accurate (by design) though it’s set in 1813, felt connected to au courant fashion, is that Chanel’s spring 2019 collection was among Mirojnick’s many influences. “I love the patterning and the colorations and everything that was done, and it felt really fresh and new at that time. I hadn’t seen the creation of the fabric and the layering of shapes of flowers as it was done in that Chanel 2019 show.”
Today’s designers, whether they’re yet committed to creating costume-inspired styles, are already “well onto” the current Bridgerton-Regency-romance trend, according to Mirojnick.
“Designers working today, companies working today, are inspired by something that has caught fire. And, subsequently, they’ll do their versions of it. They won’t copy it line for line. I think one would certainly go to their dressmaker or find a designer who has a very small business that can actually, if need be, copy a dress and make it for their client. That’s a possibility as well,” she said. “There is quite an impact on what the consumer is asking for, whether that be the color yellow [à la Penelope Featherington], or flowers, the color blue [a favorite for actress Phoebe Dynevor’s lead character], different types of flowering, accessories, or different types of gowns that might have an Empire waist.”
What remains to be seen, however, as both Mirojnick and Binder wonder, is whether, when removed from the streaming sensations and their characters, the sought-after looks will hold out as fashionable.
If you ask Sewstine, the Regency trend will stick around for some time — and it may even trickle all the way down through the fashion ranks.
“I think fast fashion is already following this trend. The fact that you’ve heard of cottagecore…cottagecore is so big that Target puts the 1860s prairie look into their normal stores. I think that we’re definitely going to see more and more of that,” she said. “I’m just waiting to see a Regency dress at Target now.”
Broadly, the costume designer to consumer connection and all the buzz about the “ton” looks inspired by these TV fantasies further proves the consumer’s increasing control over what happens next in fashion.
Today’s consumer, it seems, would well align with Cashin’s famous sartorial advice which, as Lake noted, was, “Think of yourself as a character and dress the part.”