Although Bridgerton has been out for less than a year, it’s impact on the fashion and beauty world has been staggering. If you look on Youtube, there are now hundreds of DIY tutorials to get those amazing, luxurious makeup and hair looks. Even more spectacular, Spring 2021 runways are already showing a large Bridgerton influence. A romantic fantasy, Bridgerton is certainly a visual wonder to behold. The costumes are impeccable, but what really rounds out the look of the series is the hair. Tumbling curls, basket weaves, Audrey Hepburn-esque bangs, and the Queen’s magnificent, ostentatious hairstyles have delighted viewers worldwide.
The mastermind behind the hair and beauty looks of Bridgerton is Marc Pilcher. Prior to his stint on Bridgerton, Pilcher has worked on elaborate projects such as Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey, Mary Queen of Scots, and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, among many others. Seasoned with fantastical period pieces, Pilcher underwent a massive undertaking in creating the memorable work of one of Netflix’s most successful series. Pilcher was previously nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling for Mary Queen of Scots.
AwardsWatch was able to speak with Marc Pilcher and ask him about his creative process, inspirations, and the challenges of working on Bridgerton.
Adriana Gomez-Weston: Since Bridgerton has been out for a few months, what has it been like for you to see the overwhelming response to your work, especially in the fashion in the beauty community?
Marc Pilcher: I mean it’s kind of crazy. I wasn’t really expecting it at all. And also, the weddings as well. Oh my God, I can’t tell you how many people who will be sporting the Cressida Cowper basket weave hairdos at their weddings. The response has been amazing, and we weren’t expecting it.
So yeah, I’m quite shocked. I mean, I can’t tell you how many interviews I’ve done. I just wasn’t expecting it. It’s so wonderful and welcoming and I knew that we were making something special, but I wasn’t expecting this response really. Yeah, it’s great. It’s amazing.
AGW: I see you worked on projects such as Mary Queen of Scots and Downtown Abbey, which I really enjoyed, and Beauty and the Beast. Since Bridgerton is a series, it’s a lot bigger in scope. How did you begin to start tackling such a huge project?
MP: On the other productions, I wasn’t head of department, I wasn’t designing. I mean it’s still an awful lot of work to do. Whereas with Bridgerton, everything was my vision. The buck rested with me. We have a huge, huge cast. I think there was over 130 cast.
Throughout Bridgerton, I was constantly designing, constantly fitting, and trying to create new looks for new people. Especially characters like the Queen, when we started prep, I got her a natural textured Afro wig and then one white powdered wig which I planned that we would change and evolve slightly for different scenes. Then through spending time with Chris Van Dusen, who’s the Showrunner, we were sitting just chatting one day and he was like, “This woman, she’s bored. She’s got nothing in her life. Her husband, he’s lost his marbles. He’s he doesn’t know what day it is, let alone what planet he’s on.”
She’s a lonely woman and I’m happy about the fact that all she does is dress up and go to balls. So, we came up with the idea that she would have a new hairstyle, and a new wig for every single ball. When we started off Bridgerton, we hadn’t planned that at all.
And then it became this thing where I would have four or five new looks for her that I would have to design.
And Adam, (James Phillips) he looked after the Queen. We would all build the wigs and he would create them for her. So yeah, it was a crazy process, a massive undertaking, but it was great fun and I kind of thrive on things like that. If you know everything in in advance, it can be really boring. I started my career off in theater where everything is fast moving. You have quick changes, and I’ve always been this person that if somebody throws something at me the last minute, we’ll just throw it together. The great thing about Bridgerton was you never knew what was coming next and there was always something new to create. So, it was brilliant.
AGW: Were there any specific behind-the-scenes things you can tell us or challenges you faced working with that big of a cast with so many wigs?
MP: I would say the biggest challenge was because of things like the Queen’s wigs, having to design them halfway through. After we’d started, it was just the time factor, really. We would get to each block. There were four different blocks, and you wouldn’t know till you’d seen the costume. So, because we wanted to give the Queen a different wig for each costume, and we would then choose a color to match the costume and then design from there. That was the challenge. Just having enough time to get everything done, but we’ll throw ourselves into it together.
I mean, it worked out. It’s not even just the Queen. Every single block, every episode I think had at least two balls in it, so again, it’s creating new looks for every single character, for each episode. That time factor is really important.
And also moving around. Originally, we were supposed to do location and studio stuff for each block, but then there was a problem with the studio at the beginning. We lost the studio and because the whole piece was set in the summer, we had to quickly get everything filmed. So, we ended up filming all the location stuff first. For the first few months, we were constantly moving, up and down the country to these different locations. And again, that’s time. That can be quite difficult, but we just throw ourselves into it. I quite like moving around. So yeah, it’s good.
AGW: The wigs, like how heavy were some of those wigs? I don’t see how the Queen keeps her head straight. They look so heavy.
MP: Most of them are pretty OK. The heaviest wig is the one that the Queen wears to the wedding banquet, which was the black braided one. The really high one, and it had all these red ribbons in the back. That was the heaviest. With anything like that, you just make sure…I had exactly the same experience with Audra McDonald on Beauty and the Beast, as Madame Garderobe. She had this huge wig which came in in three or four or five pieces, and what you do is just, as soon as there’s a gap in the day, if there’s a lunch break or a, half an hour is turn around. We would always take the wigs off and help relax them. It’s good because what it does is it then makes you realize to always build them for comfort’s sake.
With last wig that we made for the Queen for the Hastings Ball, we made sure that it was quite hollow, so we had a frame and all the locks and the bows that we used and the bird cages on the outside looks like it was, this thick, sumptuous wig. But actually, on the inside it was really hollow, and that again makes it so much more comfortable for her to wear. The Queen’s wigs were the only ones that would have been heavy, but all the rest were pretty normal.
AGW: You have a big diverse cast, especially since you have mixed and Black characters. How did you work with honoring their hair types, as well as keeping them in line with the story?
MP: To me, it actually makes it so much more interesting and exciting to do because there aren’t portraits. There are very few portraits and images from this period of people of African descent in these situations. So what it does as honoring their hair, it’s more exciting to make. It gives them an idea of what they could have looked like in that period. With the Queen, I could have instantly used images to start off with. We used a couple of images, paintings of that period. And then I thought, “No, I don’t want to do this. I want to to celebrate her, her look, her hair, and the fact that Queen Charlotte was of African descent.”
And also, I like to throw things in there just to make it more fun to make it look, different.
Golda (Rosheuvel) loved it. Every time, we would create a new look for Golda. Sometimes we would tell her what we were doing. Sometimes we wouldn’t. Sometimes we would just surprise her. We’ve got a few videos somewhere. We would make her put her hands over her eyes before we put the wig on, and she would always cry with joy. She would love them because it was just so much fun for her.
AGW: Another example is Marina Thompson. She wears her natural hair, so can you talk a little bit more about her?
MP: That’s all of her hair, yes. We had things in between just to give it volume, but that was all her own hair. And again, with Marina, she was a country girl. She comes from a family that has money, but they’re also very simple and she’s not interested in the trappings of being rich. She is just a girl from the country who’s fallen in love with her man, and she’s waiting for him to come and find her.
I wanted to just celebrate that really and keep her natural, not have her hair dressed or set, just beautiful. And I mean, really such a beautiful girl. One of her main hairstyles, there’s a film with Barbra Streisand from the 60s where she had this huge thing of curls coming out and the scarves going around.
And as soon as I saw that picture, I thought, “Oh my God, that’s Marina.” So, I incorporated her own textured hair into that style. It wasn’t technically right for the Regency period, but it worked, and people loved it. And then Ruby (Barker) loved it. That was my main goal to please everyone, and please our actors. Ruby absolutely loved using her own texture.
AGW: So, for Daphne, can you talk a little bit about the evolution of her hair throughout the series? And also using hair to tell a greater story?
MP: The Bridgertons are old English. They’re probably related to royalty, so we wanted to keep them very simple. Very beautiful, but simple and elegant, whereas the Featheringtons, they have these over-the-top costumes with the gaudy colors, so to reflect that, I wanted to build their characters around that so they were much more outrageous. As well as with the Cowpers. Cressida Cowper, I based her on, I don’t know if you remember Little House on the Prairie. There was a character in that show called Nellie Oleson who was this pretty blonde girl who had ringlets and she always looked sugary sweet on the outside. But actually, she was horrible on the inside. I wanted to reflect that with Cressida, so that’s why she always had these beautiful basket weaves and flowers made of hair, and bows made of hair, ribbons and pearls. I wanted to make her look so sickly sweet on the outside, but you know, show her horribleness.
Daphne, we always tried to keep very simple. Very pretty. She was the leading lady and you just wanted to keep that youthfulness. It was also nice evolving her looks in episode 3 where she descends the stairs into the ball and everyone in the room should gasp at her. So, we changed her look and introduced these soft tumbling curls just to make them look totally different.
I think we achieved that. It worked. It worked really well. It’s always great to do any evolution. My aim is always to tell a story through the hair and makeup and give each character their own personal look. It’s just more fun to look different rather than have everyone all look the same. In a period piece, it can be so easy because looks from those periods are quite often very similar, so it’s nice to put your own slant on them.
The entire first season of Bridgerton is available to stream on Netflix. Marc Pilcher is Emmy eligible for Outstanding Period And/Or Character Hairstyling.
Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix