One thing Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews) didn’t seem to have in her 1800s societal gossip pamphlets is how the various men and women get their hair game on before heading to all those afternoon teas and fancy balls. Enter “Bridgerton” department head hairstylist Marc Pilcher, who received his first Emmy nomination for the Netflix series (following an Oscar nomination for the Saoirse Ronan-Margot Robbie drama “Mary Queen of Scots”) that captured lots of beating hearts and high-profile ratings over the 2020 Christmas season.
“I wasn’t expecting it to have such a huge reaction,” says Pilcher. “We knew that we were going for a new kind of audience, not necessarily going for the people who would watch ‘Downton Abbey,’ although I think the people who watched ‘Downton’ probably love ‘Bridgerton,’ we just wanted to do something new and different.”
And the new and different presents itself as genuinely multicultural period society, something rarely seen in television to date. And this being a Shonda Rhimes production, attention to detail was essential. “I always like to bring other influences into what we’re doing because otherwise you’re just end up doing the same thing that that’s been done before,” Pilcher says. “So, particularly in working with African American actors, it ended up being a great way to celebrate them. It’s nice to be bringing to the forefront something that should have been done a long time ago.”
Much of this is expressed through the countless wigs seen throughout the show, including one inspired by Beyoncé that received a fair amount of notoriety when first seen on Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), the U.K. diva constantly unnerved by the sneaky pen of Lady Whistledown. “I used the silhouettes of the period but added locks and Afro-textured hair and things like that. I would tell Golda about these things, and she’d get really excited. We always used to keep them a bit of a secret.”
But Queen Charlotte is only one of about 130 human beings that Pilcher and his team had to bring to life, particularly in his submitted episode, Season 1’s “Art of the Swoon” which is where Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon (Regé-Jean Page) begin their uneasy courtship before he eventually “burns for her.” Says Pilcher of the submission: “The reason I chose that installment is because there is so much content, I think there are three balls, there’s a private view, there’s all the promenades. And another great thing is we go to the slums of London as well. So, we’re seeing the beautiful side of it, but also seeing the poorer side. So, for me there were so many things to create and make.”
The creations involved a team of about 20 hair and makeup wizards fighting nature’s elements such as humidity and rain, as well as nearly 50 more on the really big days, and upwards of 100 wigs for the various partygoers. And one of the more original aspects of “Bridgerton” is how, despite the swirls and swooshes atop one’s head in the series, much of the styling feels like it would fit into a soiree in 2021 just as easily, with a particular attention to jeweling and asymmetrical angles.
“Getting to create new hairstyles for a new generation is really exciting,” Pilcher says. “I think just the fact that we were going for a different group of people, we knew that you could make it totally different, but still be period. We were aiming for the Netflix audience rather than a cinematic audience, and I know so many people who said things to me like, ‘We never watch period dramas, but we were transfixed with ‘Bridgerton!’”