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How Netflix sells the dream of royalty to ‘Bridgerton’ followers

Five years in the past, when Heather Fontana attended her highschool promenade, her date was her finest good friend, a man she’d recognized for years — not precisely a Cinderella story.

This outing could be totally different, the 23-year-old advised herself as she gazed in a mirror. She glanced on the curlers in her hair that had been nearly able to unspool. She fastidiously curled her eyelashes, accentuating her brown eyes, as her boyfriend, Ramon Perez, regarded on. Her costume and gloves had been laid out on the mattress; a hoop skirt was close by.

This,” she stated, “is what I wish prom was like.”

Fontana was prepping for “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience” in San Francisco, a ticketed celebration the place visitors are inspired to don formal apparel — mimicking clothes kinds from Britain’s Regency period — and be on their finest conduct to impress Queen Charlotte, a personality primarily based on the spouse of George III.

Yoanna Arenas, left, and Heather Fontana get able to attend the “Bridgerton” ball in San Francisco.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

The summer time occasion was designed to re-create the ecosphere of the wildly common Netflix present that chronicles the social lifetime of a rich British household within the early nineteenth century and the romances that devour every of the numerous eligible siblings.

The units and the costumes within the scripted present are opulent (Season 1 required 7,500 bespoke costumes, and the actor who portrayed socialite Daphne Bridgerton went by way of 104 costume modifications over the course of the eight episodes). Amid the pageantry of a social season, the pursuit of an eligible accomplice — and, in some cases, love — is a mashup of genteel historic romance and steamy twenty first century fiction.

If you’ve by some means missed out on the “Bridgerton” phenomenon, it may be summed up in a single (hyphenated) phrase: swoon-worthy.

Season 1 ranks as Netflix’s sixth hottest present on its platform, with viewers watching greater than 625 million hours within the first 28 days. Netflix and its companions have sponsored greater than 800 “balls” since March in such cities as Atlanta, Montreal, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which — by the best way — have resulted in 38 marriage proposals and at the very least 4 teams arriving by horse and carriage. More than 150,000 individuals have attended, with extra balls deliberate in Minneapolis, Denver and Toronto.

A woman, left, ties her shoe,  and  and another woman applies makeup in preparation for a dance.

Yoanna Arenas, left, and Heather Fontana prepare for the ball.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

On the present, balls are the venue the place ingenues are wooed by well-off suitors and compete to be chosen because the “Diamond,” the girl Queen Charlotte believes is essentially the most charming and exquisite of all of them. But on the Queen’s Ball in San Francisco, anybody — no matter gender identification, marital standing or monetary class — may win the title.

When Fontana paused for a photograph, her face lighted up. She had a very good feeling about how the night time would possibly unfold.

A HOT ROMANCE

The first season of “Bridgerton” was launched in December 2020, when the world was within the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when streaming skyrocketed. The smoldering love story between Daphne Bridgerton and the Duke of Hastings was captured in memes, tweets and even impressed a musical.

A man and a woman in the TV series "Bridgerton."

The Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) and Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) on Season 1 of “Bridgerton.”

(Liam Daniel / Netflix)

The Bridgerton balls have garnered a big social media following as nicely, with an estimated 580 million social impressions throughout Instagram, Facebook, TikTook, YouTube and Google.

As a viewer, Fontana stated, “You feel like you’re immersed in there with them.”

The character she admires most is Penelope Featherington, who will take heart stage in Season 3. Penelope isn’t skinny and modern like so lots of her friends who appear to look by way of her, and he or she channels her disgust for British excessive society by writing a gossip sheet underneath the pseudonym Lady Whistledown — a pamphlet that’s consumed by the very individuals she is writing about. She additionally pines for certainly one of her closest associates, Colin Bridgerton, who appears oblivious to her affections.

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“I can understand how it is to feel like a wallflower when it comes to your crushes,” Fontana says.

Recalling her childhood, Fontana says she was a “little chunky kid.” When she received to Vacaville High School, she participated in outdoors sports activities like swimming and cheerleading, however the boys ignored her, preferring her skinnier feminine finest good friend.

She graduated in 2017, and he or she stated, “I realized I didn’t have that best friend anymore and I [wasn’t] a kid anymore. I [wasn’t] going to let what… boys think affect me.”

Leaving highschool suited her, and he or she did issues for herself, shedding weight and feeling extra assured in her physique. In 2019, she began to this point Perez.

Two women and two men prepare to attend a formal dance.

Yoanna Arenas, left, Heather Fontana, Jacob Martin and Ramon Perez get able to attend the Bridgerton Ball.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

“He really taught me to feel special about myself,” Fontana stated in her typical glass-half-full method. “It’s probably partly growing up. You realize everybody looks different and everybody has stuff going on and nobody’s just gonna hyper-focus on your flaws.”

But she struggled with sickness. In December 2020, Fontana stated she had an ulcerative colitis flare-up, with ache so acute that she couldn’t go away the home for greater than half-hour at a time. Her remedy included medical infusions and prednisone, which contributed to an 80-pound weight acquire, Fontana stated. Her worry of needles brought about her anxiousness to spike, typically resulting in panic assaults.

“It was hard,” she stated. “It was totally out of my control.”

She ultimately switched docs and drugs, which takes much less of a toll on her physique, and began a brand new job as a property supervisor in August.

 A woman with an elaborate hairdo and sits at a dress ball.

“Queen Charlotte” surveys her visitors, assessing who may be the “Diamond” of the night.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

Going to the ball in San Francisco, Fontana stated, was an opportunity to have fun how far she’d come over the past two years.

“I’ve gone through a lot of health and personal issues the past few years and it will just be like, ‘Wow, I certainly feel like things are going my way.’”

‘WE HAVE TO GO’

Fontana had began fascinated with the occasion months earlier. She’d seen TikTook movies from one other ball, and sooner or later noticed a Facebook advert for the San Francisco Queen’s Ball. She instantly referred to as Yoanna Arenas, her finest good friend and fellow “Bridgerton” fan.

“We’re like, ‘Oh, we have to go,’ … and then we’re like, ‘We’ve also got to get our boyfriends to go,’ ” Fontana stated. “We got the tickets as soon as they dropped. I set an alarm and put notifications on my email and everything.”

(Netflix says that greater than 80% of ticket patrons are feminine and that greater than 90% of the 250 to 350 visitors attending every ball costume up.)

Two women in long gloves hold hands at a dress ball.

Heather Fontana and her finest good friend, Yoanna Arenas, on the ball. Fontana spent greater than $50 on equipment: a white feather fan, a tiara, earrings and lengthy white gloves.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

She scoured the Internet for attire that prompt the Regency period, spending about $200 on a vivid blue ballgown paying homage to Cinderella’s within the Disney animated film and a hoop skirt. It didn’t actually match her funds, however she needed to decorate to impress.

She spent greater than $50 on equipment: a white feather fan, a tiara, earrings and lengthy white gloves that she adjusted by poking holes within the fingertips so she may use her telephone to take images in the course of the ball. The tickets had been $45 apiece — earlier than taxes.

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Getting prepared and getting there — a 57-mile journey a method — wasn’t straightforward. But Arenas, who works at a Vacaville resort, was capable of safe an empty room their group may use to dress.

Column One

A showcase for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.

The two {couples} noshed on Hawaiian meals earlier than donning their costume garments after which piled into Perez’s Honda Accord. Leaving Vacaville, they drove for 2 hours, previous hills and massive field shops in suburbia and crossing two bridges on their option to San Francisco. At one level, they stopped at a Trader Joe’s to make use of the lavatory, and Fontana gathered her blue skirts so she wouldn’t journey as she strolled to the again of the shop.

To lower your expenses on parking, they pulled right into a storage a couple of blocks away from the venue and paid $17. As they walked previous a pair tents the place individuals had been dwelling, a curious onlooker requested them, “Why are you so dressed up?”

Two smiling women are all dressed up for a dress ball.

Ready for the ball.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

They had been headed towards SVN West, a former live performance corridor the place artists like Aretha Franklin and the Grateful Dead as soon as carried out. Fontana smiled as she approached and introduced, “I will definitely be Princess Heather today.”

BELLES OF THE BALL

The princess-in-waiting and her entourage walked into the venue — the indoor areas had been reworked with Regency England in thoughts — about 6:30 p.m. Music from a string quartet crammed the large room, because the group explored a reproduction of the storefront the place the Bridgertons and different rich ladies went for his or her attire. A close-by stall was promoting tiaras for $25 and a “Bridgerton” tote bag for $20. In a backyard that includes themed drinks, Arenas chosen a $16 Whistledown & Dirty — a cocktail of vodka, lemon and mint — whereas Fontana opted for a $5 can of water.

They had been a part of a various crowd — individuals parading in tiaras, prime hats and costumes with sequins and tulle. Many ballgoers complimented Fontana on her costume.

“You have a good chance of being the Diamond,” Arenas stated.

 The two couples in their ball finery.

Jacob Martin, Yoanna Arenas, Heather Fontana and Ramon Perez pause of their finery for the Bridgerton Ball.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

“No, no, no, no,” Fontana stated, shaking her head. “The guy with the cape is going to get it,” she stated, referring to a person wrapped in a dramatic floor-length mantle.

A girl launched as Lady Heartell, a “protegée of Lady Whistledown,” provided stay commentary on the San Francisco proceedings.

“As anyone hoping to rise above their station will tell you, courage is the most important of any of the virtues,” Lady Heartell advised the gang. “So gather your wits and courage as you scurry forward to present your best bow or curtsy to her majesty.”

After a grand entrance, the queen plopped down on a crimson velvet sofa with gold trim to await a parade of 300 visitors who appeared to take that recommendation significantly.

First up? A person in a prime hat who bowed to the queen.

“Bravo. Very brave going first,” Lady Heartell stated on the loudspeaker.

Then it was Fontana’s flip. She fanned herself as she walked down the crimson carpet towards the queen, and when she stopped, she twirled in a circle, the skirt of her sparkly costume swirling, earlier than bowing in entrance of the royal.

A woman in a ball gown, and a closeup of lace gloves and a fan.

Guests wore an array of Regency-themed ball robes and equipment.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

“A most dizzying display from the guest in blue,” Lady Heartell stated.

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As Fontana exited, one of many queen’s attendants held out a card on a silver platter. “You have pleased your Queen,” it stated. “You may shine bright enough to be chosen as Diamond of the evening.”

‘BRIDGERTON’ FEVER

The fervor over “Bridgerton” impressed Netflix and manufacturing firm Shondaland to consider how it would lengthen fan interplay by way of stay occasions.

“It’s an opportunity for fans to particularly engage with this show, in the bridge between seasons, at a time where fans want more,” stated Greg Lombardo, Netflix’s head of stay experiences. “It’s a way to have a dialogue with our fans and allow them that moment to not only remember what they love about the show but hopefully remember what they love about Netflix.”

“The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience, is one of several interactive live events Netflix has hosted, including “Stranger Things: The Experience,” which rolls out in Montebello this month. This fall, followers may attempt their hand at challenges featured in the streamer’s most watched sequence, “Squid Game,” in an immersive gaming expertise utilizing 3-D movement monitoring visors.

“You don’t stop thinking about the show after an episode airs, so we’re always thinking of ways we can expand the story into people’s lives,” stated Sandie Bailey, Shondaland’s chief design and digital media officer.

The balls, finished in collaboration with stay occasions firm Fever,
additionally function advertising instruments to draw new followers. Erika Coyne, a musical theater actor within the Bay Area who attended a ball in September, was conscious of the thrill surrounding “Bridgerton” however didn’t really watch it till she noticed TikTook movies from attendees.

“Once I saw the ‘Bridgerton’ ball clips, that’s when I said, ‘OK, there’s clearly something very interesting going on here,’ Coyne said. “ ‘Everybody wants to go to these balls. It has something to do with “Bridgerton.” Let’s try to watch it, see if I get hooked by the identical factor.’ And, in fact, I did.”

 A woman in an elaborate hairstyle and dress at a ball.

A performer on the Bridgerton Ball.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

The balls are a part of Netflix’s multiprong effort to take care of competitors from such rivals as HBO Max and Disney+. Netflix, which is the dominant subscription video streaming platform, misplaced clients within the first half of the yr. The firm laid off 450 workers within the second quarter and eradicated contractors because it in the reduction of on bills.

Things rotated within the third quarter, nevertheless, with Netflix including 2.4 million subscribers. The streamer’s efforts to spice up its subscriber base embody a less expensive, ad-supported plan and different forms of content material, together with cell video games.

Live occasions just like the queen’s ball may assist Netflix stay prime of thoughts amongst customers.

“Revenue is not our immediate goal, but we do think it can grow to be substantial over time if we continue to focus on fans first,” Lombardo stated. “I think that’s really what drives it, creating that excitement, pulling people into the world, creating more affinity and another great memory about that title.”

A SPARKLING ‘DIAMOND’

After about 90 minutes of buying “Bridgerton” merchandise, bowing, curtsying and dancing, visitors on the San Francisco occasion had been ushered into the principle ballroom. The queen was able to announce her choice on the Diamond of the night. A person she known as Wilfred (one other paid performer) scoured the gang looking for the visitor who could be celebrated by all.

 A woman in evening dress is in the spotlight.

The Diamond of the night is widely known onstage with a bathe of glitter.

(Lauren Segal / For The Times)

“Esteemed guests, tonight love has triumphed above all else,” a voice over the loudspeaker stated. “… It appears the time has finally arrived for the queen to find her diamond of the evening.”

Fontana watched in suspense, fanning herself as Wilfred walked towards her — after which walked previous her, pointing to a girl wearing white, her hair topped with a tiara.

The crowd cheered as the brand new Diamond walked to the middle of the room and twirled. Glitter dropped from the ceiling. Fontana and Perez regrouped behind the room. He held her, kissing her on the brow and, as Fontana remembers it, referred to as her his “Diamond.”

She appeared to retain a way of buoyancy regardless of the frustration. She was nonetheless surrounded by her shut associates and the person she loves. The music shifted to nonclassical tunes because the group danced to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” as colourful lights swept the room.

After the ball, Fontana and her associates had been drained and hungry. They returned to Vacaville — Fontana and Arenas nonetheless dressed of their finery — and stopped at a Denny’s, the place Fontana ordered pancakes. It wasn’t the venison, sugar pastries and tea consumed within the fantasy world of “Bridgerton,” however it was consolation meals.

At one level, Fontana seen that different restaurant clients had been watching her. At first, she questioned if one thing was flawed, however then she remembered that she was nonetheless dressed as a princess, a tiara glowing atop her head.

She smiled.

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