It is easy to pinpoint the moment when Nicola Coughlan first appeared on the style set’s radar. We were still bathing in the afterglow of the lascivious first season of Bridgerton, Netflix’s Regency-era romp, when Coughlan attended the 2021 Golden Globes. She went all out with a buttercup-yellow Molly Goddard gown that featured an empire waist and layers of golden tulle. The 35-year-old completed the look with a tie-up cardigan, sleek blonde bob, and lashings of hot-pink eyeshadow. The look was even more of a feat considering that a small thing called the pandemic had kept her from attending the ceremony in person. She might be the only human who’s ever looked chic on Zoom; for us mere spectators, it was lust at first sight.
Since then, the Derry Girls star’s style has only gone from strength to strength, and while others might stick to the same tried and tested formula, Coughlan does something new each time, experimenting with her beauty looks as well as her fashion sense. Her dreamy Golden Globes outfit was just the beginning. She wore a custom vivid orange Valentino gown to the Baftas last year, donned a ruffled periwinkle-blue Selezza London dress to a Tiffany launch at Harrods, and was lauded for the bejewelled and feathered Richard Quinn gown she appeared in at this year’s Met Gala. And if an invite to the Met Gala wasn’t enough to cement her fashion status, Coughlan also frequently appears in Vogue, and she was asked to be a judge for RuPaul’s Drag Race. Is there a higher sartorial accolade?
Yet Coughlan wasn’t always a Fashion Girl. As she told Vogue in May, she used to be “quite intimidated” by the industry, but her curiosity began to emerge when she was surrounded by lavish frocks in Bridgerton. She had just started to dip her toes into the world of high-end fashion when she met stylist Aimee Croysdill. Shortly after that, Coughlan became the red carpet’s Next Big Thing.
“Nicola approached me. She knew she had the Bridgerton press tour coming up, so we had our first blind date in Selfridges,” Croysdill tells me. She’d already worked with several high-profile actors, including Laura Haddock, Lolly Adefope and Natalie Dormer, at this point – but something just clicked when she met Coughlan.
“We always have a meeting of minds; it’s funny how often we’re thinking the same thing,” Croysdill says. “Nicola has the most amazing library of film references, and I come in with the fashion reference, which makes for a brilliant start to each red-carpet concept. We’re always wanting to try something new, but also keeping true to Nicola’s style.” These references have included everything from Shirley MacLaine in the 1964 film What a Way to Go! to Twiggy in 1971’s The Boy Friend and Gwyneth Paltrow in Wes Anderson’s early Noughties hipster classic The Royal Tenenbaums.
“I send references, colours and ideas to the fashion house, and eagerly await the sketches,” Croysdill explains. “From there, Nicola and I tweak, refine, and add components that we know work well. Seeing the ideas come to life when unboxing the huge boxes they come in is very exciting.”
There are two fashion houses that Croysdill repeatedly turns to when dressing Coughlan: Valentino and Emilia Wickstead. Both allow for the modern yet timeless look the stylist has in mind for the Bridgerton star. She explains: “They always do the most incredible cuts, using chic timeless designs with the perfect edge and modernism thrown in.”
It’s not just fashion editors who are fawning over Coughlan’s style – her looks have garnered endless praise from social media fans, too. “Whoever styles Nicola Coughlan, god they are doing SUCH A GOOD JOB, she is such a darling and always looks delightful everytime”, one person wrote. Another added: “Nicola Coughlan bringing the big dress energy.” Croysdill is delighted by the reaction. “Nicola is such a wonder; everything about her exudes kindness, and her beauty shines from the inside out. I think it’s exactly what the world needs.”
Perhaps the reason why Coughlan’s style is so exciting is that she is not a typical sample size. It’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t stick-thin wearing such high-end designers; even better, seeing designers fall over themselves to make custom gowns for her. In a way, she is taking back control of her body, and her narrative. Coughlan is used to people having opinions on her body, but it doesn’t mean she wants to hear them. In 2018, she called out a critic for describing her as an “overweight little girl”, and in January this year she took to Instagram to ask people not to share their opinions about her body with her. “It’s really hard to take the weight of thousands of opinions on how you look being sent directly to you every day,” she wrote.
Maybe leaning into fashion – and having fun with it – is Coughlan’s own subtle way of changing the discourse around her body (which, let’s face it, shouldn’t be up for discussion anyway). She often makes a deeper statement through the designers she partners with. Take, for example, the candy-hued gown from Pierpaolo Piccioli’s Valentino spring/summer 2022 collection that she wore to this year’s Baftas. Piccioli’s latest collections have focused on inclusivity; he has included models of every shape, size and ethnicity in his latest runway shows. Coughlan wearing one of his gowns shows that she’s on board with his vision, one that’s a step ahead of the rest of the industry.
“As a mother to two children, I feel ‘we’ as an industry need to be celebrating kindness and realism,” Croysdill says. “The standards have been so narrow that we have to rewrite them for the future of our children. It’s about celebrating who you are, and I think Nicola does just that.”
The panache with which Coughlan has navigated the red carpet suggests she’s ready to become an even bigger star. That’s already on the cards: her character Penelope Featherington will take the lead in the third season of Bridgerton when it’s released early next year. No one yet knows what’s next for Lady Whistledown – but we do know that, with Croysdill by her side, Coughlan will continue to serve the looks. Long may the lusting continue.