Gossip Girl's Costume Designer Takes Us Inside the Closets of the Upper East Siders

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When Gossip Girl viewers think of Blair Waldorf and Serena Van Der Woodsen, a certain aesthetic comes to mind. For Blair, her signature item was the ever-present headband and preppy skirt, while Serena was the first true boho chic babe.

Those looks inspired an entire generation and Gossip Girl is ultimately to thank for many trends—remember the moment when Chuck Bass wore a pink polo?

So, when costume designer Eric Daman returned to the Upper East Side to style the new generation of Constance Billard students, he knew that he had his work cut out for him.

“I had a lot of anxiety actually. I had a lot of pressure that I put on myself,” he told E! News in an exclusive interview. “Going into it I felt like I had to live up to this standard because it has this incredible legacy and I have so many people relying on me to turn on the show and make it new and fresh and all this stuff.”

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But then, the coronavirus pandemic began and, while it was a scary time, Daman said it was just what he needed. As he put it, “There’s nothing like a pandemic to put stuff into perspective.”

From that point on, Daman approached each character’s wardrobe with the goal of having fun and creating ensembles that are true to the characters and the current landscape—like a post-pandemic world.

As episode one reveals, the students are returning to school after a full year of zoom and a time when masks are nothing more than a remnant of a bygone era. The only thing that manages to survive the months of quarantine, according to Daman, is athleisure. 

This is most recognizable in Julien’s (Jordan Alexander) school uniform, a look the costume designer refers to as a “Princess Diana retrospective.”

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“The Oxford sweatshirts, biker shorts and that whole vibe just seemed really right for Julien’s character specifically,” he shared, adding that the trendy look felt authentic for her as an influencer.

When it comes to accessories, Julien’s earrings are the equivalent of Blair’s headbands. As Daman explained, her shaved head gave the team the opportunity to mix her “harsh punk edge with a little bit of glamour” by combining diamond hoops with a Tiffany snake earring. 

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Those luxurious touches went to the wayside when it came to dressing Zoya (Whitney Peak), who had a much different upbringing compared to her half-sister. Describing Zoya as an activist, Daman shared that it was “very important” for the character to wear Black-owned merchandise, like a tote from Revolution Books in New York City. 

“When she comes into all this, as far as socio-politically, she’s an activist, and it was very important to integrate Black owned merchandise, because she has this kind of hero tote from Revolution Books, this Black bookstore here in the city,” he shared. “It was important to kind of add those elements as her signature pieces that have a socio political statement. But it’s not just the band tee or like a grunge t-shirt that has something a little more significant and a bit of a voice to it.”

Other blink-and-you-miss-it details are a thrifted t-shirt from the AIDS era, an item that gives the show a “platform to discuss things in a different way.”

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And Zoya wasn’t the only character to go beyond the norm. According to Daman, Thomas Doherty‘s character Max was another passion project for him. “It’s been a lot of fun to play with Max’s wardrobe and, again, break down these boundaries of gender norms and what that means for male dressing,” he explained, adding that Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) similarly played with gender, but it wasn’t the same. “Max is pansexual and he’s advertised as male and can wear women’s clothing and not have it look drag. It’s still very sexual and masculine.”

For Daman, these socially-conscious accessories and items have allowed him to explore a new side of fashion, which wouldn’t have been possible with the OG series. 

In the conversation, he noted his excitement that there were new characters and stories to follow, joking that it wouldn’t be quite as fun to dress “Serena as a soccer mom in the Hamptons.”

HBO Max

Now, with the series streaming on HBO Max, Daman is challenged to invent a style and aesthetic that plays just as much of a role in crafting these characters as the writing does. Gone are the days when Gossip Girl leaned into the “campier” prep school outfits. In its place is a wardrobe, which he described as “fashion forward and very modern,” a style that is more “apropos to this generation.”

And moving forward, Daman teased bigger and better looks than what’s already been revealed. 

He said fans can expect Kate Miller (Tavi Gevinson) and the rest of the teachers to up their game in the fashion department as the season progresses. “As they take back their power, there’s definitely an evolution in the clothing and the clothing gets a little more high end,” Daman hinted.

Last but not least, Daman said the show will leave the confines of the Big Apple for a moment that is not to be missed. “New York is wonderful and it’s so full of eye candy, but it’s also a little bit insular,” he said, adding that a trip outside the city gives him the opportunity to change up the usual looks. “It’s wonderful when we get to do that and there will be a moment like that coming up.”

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