I write this without a whiff of hyperbole: never have we needed Gossip Girl more.
Based on the books by Cecily von Ziegesar, the TV series quickly became known for its characters’ almost criminally expensive taste just as much as the debauched, backstabbing-filled storylines. It was escapism in its purest form, a dangerously decadent and morally reprehensible Upper East Side-situated drama that aired on our screens amidst 2008’s financial crisis. As most of us tightened our belts and prepared for a slow recovery, the only crash Chuck, Blair, Serena and Nate were aware of usually involved a Bentley.
So, fast-forward 10 years and news of a reboot couldn’t come soon enough. Yet again, the characters promise to be everything we are not. At a time of perilous economic downturn, they are extravagantly, casually, filthily rich – eating, drinking, dancing and living in a way that we won’t be able to enjoy until next year, if ever. And, above all, they are dressed. Boy, are they dressed.
That’s largely down to Eric Daman, a former assistant to costume master Patricia Field on the last great NY fashion extravaganza, Sex and the City, who is back at the helm having masterminded Gossip Girl’s bulging wardrobe offering first time around. Back in 2007, when the show launched, female leads Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen had distinctive styles of their own: the former a flawlessly polished Manhattan princess; the latter an ultra-luxe bohemian, in tassels and sparkles as costly as they were effortless.
But their looks weren’t only a welcome assault on the senses. Gossip Girl was the first truly shoppable television show – and the mass appeal of that watch-and-buy impulse was almost instantaneous. “My favourite thing about the first series was how it inspired a new generation of young women to dress up again,” New York designer Anna Sui told British Vogue. “It was aspirational on all levels. I’m excited for the reboot, I hope it has a similar effect.”
“We tried to launch trends from the get-go,” Daman admitted in a New York Times interview following the show’s first season. And that he did. The deliberate drip feed of trends and of in-store products created a buying frenzy among Gossip Girl fans. Viewers flocked to department stores Barneys and Bergdorf’s, as well as the CW Network website’s click-to-buy pages, to snap up the predominantly US-based brands featured. Magazines featured the cast and their current accessory of choice in weekly round-ups. As Dorota, Blair’s put-upon maid tells her charge when they are discussing her best friend Serena: “I heard Marc Jacobs named a purse after her.” In all likelihood, he did.
Can the new series revitalise the New York fashion scene as the first so memorably did? First, it will have to get with the programme. “It is very much dealing with the way the world looks now, where wealth and privilege come from, and how you handle that,” screenwriter Joshua Safran told Vulture, as the new series was announced. “There was not a lot of representation the first time around on the show – and I was the only gay writer.” Much maligned for its lack of diversity, Gossip Girl’s new, more inclusive approach has thrilled many fans. “How gay is it going to be?” an excited viewer tweeted Safran, who responded: “It’s very, very queer.”
Savannah Smith accessorises a Veronica Beard tweed skirt suit with a Fendi Baguette, a Salvatore Ferragamo tote bag and Sam Edelman stacked loafers in a scene from the new series.
© Startraks Photo/Shutterstock
Naturally, characters’ wardrobes will need to reflect a diverse cast with a 2021 mindset. Early indications are that they do: pictures of the cast, including former fashion blogger turned actor Tavi Gevinson, Jordan Alexander, Savannah Smith, Emily Alyn Lind, Whitney Peak, Eli Brown, Evan Mock and Zión Moreno, have already leaked, showing them sitting on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a mix of hard-to-procure streetwear, classic luxury brands and off-the-beaten-track accessories. Gone are the preppy hairbands and curly-fries hairstyles of former queen bee Blair. Now, leading ladies come with shaved heads.
Jordan Alexander in a red Aleksandre Akhalkatsishvili dress with a Bulgari handbag and Michael Kors sandals.
© James Devaney
Nevertheless, the new cast will still wield extraordinary retail might. Case in point: Alexander’s look, comprising off-white, kitten-heeled Schutz boots teamed with bike shorts, an oversized school shirt, a Fendi bag and a Cartier pin, which exudes the kind of high-low attainability that made Patricia Field (and Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw) an icon. Indeed, the boots themselves are already a sell-out, in a “very pleasant surprise” for the brand. “The image at the Met immediately went viral, and with this came an unbelievable amount of brand awareness and sales,” said Victoria Toni, head of marketing, merchandising and retail for Schutz. “We are very optimistic that the Gossip Girl reboot will give New York fashion its own reboot.”
It couldn’t come at a better time. The city’s fashion week has undergone several reinventions in recent years, in an attempt to hold its own against the innovative reputation of London and the big-name lure of Milan and Paris. This season saw the smallest event in decades, with Covid-19 restrictions prompting the majority of labels to host digital-only presentations, and more still to forgo the week altogether. Major players including Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, Prabal Gurung, Proenza Schouler, Tory Burch and Marc Jacobs postponed their shows, with some opting instead to host presentations closer to the time that shoppers will actually be shopping. “When trying to simply pay as many employees as I can and not have to make further cuts or furloughs, to spend several million dollars on a show makes no sense,” designer and CFDA chairman Tom Ford told Women’s Wear Daily.
Whitney Peak in an Alex Perry dress, carrying a Jimmy Choo clutch bag.
© James Devaney
Who will profit from Gossip Girl’s new vision? The original cast favoured a mixture of preppy but classic old New York labels and the big names from Europe – Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, mixed with Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Elie Saab and Moschino. This time around, Daman has not only a new visual identity to build, but one that needs to assimilate with a moral and social landscape that tells us what these characters care about. “It speaks to the show’s cultural impact that so many of the signature costuming details are still a common reference. The recent popularity of headbands is – years later – still hard to untangle from Blair Waldorf,” Bergdorf Goodman’s fashion office and digital fashion lead, Chloe King, told Vogue. “High schoolers today are very different from [those in] 2007 – how they express themselves, what’s important to them, the world they are growing up in. I’m looking forward to seeing the evolution of how fashion tells that story.”
Streetwear will be a modern addition – as already evidenced by Whitney Peak’s white Adidas x Ivy Park sneakers and sports socks. From Rihanna’s Fenty and Chromat, whose gender and body inclusive collections speak to Gen-Z, to Eckhaus Latta’s spray painted separates, Daman has plenty of options for daywear. But eveningwear is likely to be as major a part of the new series as it was of the last one, thanks to the characters’ ridiculously enviable social lives. One designer duo with the potential to straddle both the old and new worlds of Gossip Girl are Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim, who helm both Monse and that mainstay of old New York elegance, Oscar de la Renta.
Whitney Peake has switched out tennis shoes for Adidas x Ivy Park trainers.
There will be fresh talents in evidence, too. Already spotted, to coin a GG phrase, is the much buzzed about, Brooklyn-based CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award winner Christopher John Rogers, whose contrast-stitched, dropped-waist gown was chosen by Daman for Jordan Alexander. “We wanted to lend as we were huge fans of the original [series] – especially the fashion,” Rogers told Vogue. “With Serena and the gang, Eric perfectly captured the sartorial essence of the time, and we are excited to see how he’ll interpret the kids of this era. I think from what we’ve seen, the mixing of brands and price points feels relevant to today’s zeitgeist and I’m hopeful that we’ll see more emerging NYC brands in the mix.”
In service of that modern mix, we’d suggest Daman look to Haitian-American designer Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss; make the addition of a Bushwick Birkin or two to any self-respecting Constance Billard student’s bag collection, courtesy of Telfar; and check out NY-based Batsheva Hay, whose eponymous dress label comprises little girl smocks reimagined in lamé, possessing shades of the “tricked out” school uniform from the original. Then there are the leg-baring creations of Queens-born designer LaQuan Smith, which would have Serena reaching for her Louboutins; while Kyemah Mcentyre’s beautiful hand-painted prom dresses promise Blair-esque polish for a new generation.
If anyone is in any doubt of Daman’s talents, see Patricia Field’s verdict: “Eric Daman was part of my costume design school many years before,” Field told Vogue, of her former protégé. “He is doing a wonderful job and, given his talent and that he will continue on the reboot, I feel very confident it will spark the NY fashion scene.” Could Gossip Girl save New York fashion? It wouldn’t be the first time…
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