Early in the first episode of the new “Gossip Girl,” as the latest batch of the coolest kids from Constance Billard and St. Jude’s watch newcomer Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak) approach the hallowed Met steps, resident mean girl Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith, in pitch-perfect bitch) snipes, “She’s wearing a headband,” with the kind of disgust typically reserved for, say, stepping in dog poop on the sidewalk.
Did that line hurt my feelings, as someone who never quite gave up the bejeweled Blair Waldorf ghost? Um, fine, a little. (Teenagers are scary!) But no matter: new Constance queen Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) sets Zoya right by turning her headband into an elegantly-tied scarf, and with one swift hair-piece removal, the new regime ruling the Upper East Side is officially cemented.
“It’s definitely a new world order that’s happening, and it’s inclusive and diverse, but also socially elite at the same time,” says Eric Daman, the costume designer who returns for the continuation of the series that made him as much a superstar as it did the original cast.
Headband Gate isn’t the only fashion moment paying tribute to the first generation of “Gossip Girl” — Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson) opens the series in an outfit remarkably similar to the one Serena van der Woodsen wore when first spotted in Grand Central (and Daman promises another epic throwback in a later episode) — but it is the one which firmly establishes for viewers that this isn’t just some copy-and-paste “Gossip Girl” redux. The world has changed, and that means change for New York’s elite, too. Gone are the headbands and big jewels. In their place? Sleeker, more minimalist looks that play with shape and proportion in monochromatic tones that could be snatched right off the runways.
So maybe there aren’t piles of accessories and mountains of eye-catching prints. Still, fashion plays a crucial role in “Gossip Girl” 2.0, debuting on HBO Max July 8. It can be just as much a tool for cutting someone down — like when Monet de Haan (Savannah Lee Smith) taunts Keller about a conspicuously-placed Louis Vuitton Capucines bag costing more than a month of her salary, or when Luna issues a diktat that Zara should stay east of Lex — as it can be for building someone up, seen when a pair of Beyoncé’s Adidas Superstars provide Zoya an opening to the A-list. And of course, there’s Julien, a socialite-turned-influencer for whom appearance matters above everything else — well, almost everything.
I caught up with Daman to get the inside scoop straight from the set on everything from how he made costume magic happen during Covid, to which character he was most excited to dress. (Hint: He’s the heir apparent to the Chuck Bass legacy.) And while you’ll have to pry my headbands from my cold, dead hands, I’ll also be stealing style tips from this new batch of “Gossip Girl” victims…err, subjects.
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How was your approach to the costume design different from the first time around, and how was it similar?
It was different in that a lot of my research and deep dives were on social media. The importance of social media and Instagram, particularly for the story line, but also the influence that it has on this generation that we’re emulating, was very important to really immerse myself in. Instagram did not exist during the original “Gossip Girl.” That was not part of my process at all in the way that it is these days, figuring out which influencers would be the right direction for Julien Calloway, who is Luna La, and how is Zion [Moreno]’s voice represented on Instagram?
Whereas, the original “Gossip Girl,” it was literally stalking the Upper East Side private schools with a camera, because my cell phone at the time — I think I had a Blackberry — didn’t even have a camera. It was taking shots of kids coming out of school in these groupings and seeing how the kids were styling themselves, their school uniforms. The school uniforms are such an important part of this identity — at that time, there was the Marc Jacobs girls or the Tory Burch girls. [Seeing] how their girl groups were identifying themselves through brands was really exciting and eyeopening to me back in the day. How can we explore this new iteration of these school uniforms in a new way that is on trend with what’s going on currently fashion-wise, but also speaks to the social media aspect of it?
I wanted to ask about Julien in particular — what research went into capturing that specific influencer culture with Julien’s style?
That was a really deep rabbit hole, full ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ of Hailey Bieber and the Jenner sisters and the Kaia Gerbers. Then, I ended up coming across Adut Akech who, to me, is such an incredible style icon and is a little off the beaten path compared to, say, the more well-known influencers, like the Hailey Biebers or Sofia Richies. Something about Adut’s personal style felt really on-brand for where I wanted to go with Julien. It’s this hybrid of that high-fashion world and behind-the-scenes model street wear.
Something that struck me watching the first three episodes is that the style almost feels sleeker this time around.
It’s definitely more minimalist; the opulence is in the minimalism, if you will. It’s more monochromatic and the fashion is played in proportion play in a new way, that the opulence is in a 3XL Valentino blazer, or Vetements. Everything’s very oversized in a way that gives a high-fashion luxury feel in a way that I did not play with in the original. In the original, it was color and pattern and 500 necklaces and giant stones, whereas, this one is definitely more curated minimalist vibe that feel very on-trend and this is a very modern, contemporary iteration of fashion.
Which is obviously where fashion has headed now in general. These are people who are clearly very tuned into what’s happening on the runway.
Yes, very. Because kids have global access to fashion in a very new way, it’s important to honor that and to be inspired by the access that I think Instagram, in particular, and TikTok has offered kids all over the world. In the Midwest, you can check out what’s going on at the Dolce & Gabbana runway this weekend. Before you’d have to wait, you wouldn’t be able to see that or have access to that at all.
Something that I really loved in the first episode was they’re sitting on the steps talking about Zoya’s character and they’re like, “She’s wearing a headband,” as though it’s this dirty thing.
Oh, yeah. Ew, headbands. [laughs] It’s a nod to the honorable Blair Waldorf headband. What I find really funny is that it feels very passé, the headband in that world, and then, a few weeks later, you have Amanda Gorman who’s at the inauguration wearing this amazing Prada headband and then all of a sudden, it’s this headband rage again.
Did you feel any pressure coming back?
Funny story about that: We had started prep pre-pandemic. It was about four or five weeks in and I was very… I don’t want to say stressed out, but really much more anxious and conscious about having to live up to my name and what ‘Gossip Girl’ is and the fashion fantasy that everyone wants it to be. Then, the pandemic hit and when I came back to it, I was just like, I just want to have fun with it and make it as amazing as possible.
Something had lifted off my shoulders about having to live up to that standard. There’s nothing like a pandemic to put things in perspective; I know what the relevance and the importance of it is, to have it look amazing and all the eyes are going to be on it, but to understand that I’m grateful for the platform that I have and I’ve been given this amazing chance to not recreate, but reinvent and have a new legacy with this continuation. That’s just very exciting.
I’m grateful to have had that awakening and to be able to play with it and let it flow through me in a way that feels really organic.
In the first series, characters all had their style signatures — Blair had her headbands, Serena had the big boots and Chuck had his scarf. Have you created those signatures again for characters here?
Julien Calloway’s biker shorts at school have become a meme of their own, in a way — tops without pants at school! [laughs] I think how we’re dressing, everyone’s style is so personalized. Is there one specific piece that represents all of them? Not necessarily.
For Zoya, because she is an activist, we will incorporate Black-owned bookstore totes, what that means to her and how that can have an impact on awareness. That is essential for her character, and also, for me as a platform to be able to hide Easter eggs of awareness in there is really exciting. For Julien’s style, she is an influencer with a lot of body, but the fashion, it’s a full buffet. She’s a chameleon. She can, because she has that Serena je ne sais quoi, say, “I can wear this style or that style. I don’t have to be boxed in.”
When we spoke about the show for the 10-year anniversary, you said that when you designed the first time around, you worked in little Easter eggs. Without asking you to give anything away, is there anything style-wise that we should be looking out for in this series?
My favorite Easter egg, which has already been called out, is having Tavi’s character Kate show up on her first day in the almost-identical outfit to what Serena showed up in on the train on her first day: the tan leather jacket and the French striped T-shirt and the little kerchief. There’s little moments like that snuck in there: Zoya’s headscarf being referenced as a headband and then later on, around episode five, there’s a really great, full-on moment that’s very exciting that happens that I can’t talk about. But I can say it’s exciting! [laughs] Stay tuned.
Which character did you have the most fun thinking about creating outfits for?
I love them all, it’s like picking my favorite child, but in the way that I feel very attached to Chuck Bass and what we pioneered with menswear through him, I have a similar appreciation and affinity to Max Wolfe, Thomas’s character. We’re working in this gender fluidity in a way — not that he’s gender fluid at all, but the way that he can wear a woman’s blouse [that] looks sexy AF on a man, and that doesn’t mean that he’s in drag or anything. He just can wear a really beautiful Paco Rabanne lace blouse and make it look stunning — very, very sexy in a very masculine way.
I’m really excited to play with Max in a way that I never would have had the thought to put Chuck in a woman’s blouse, because it would’ve been Chuck in a woman’s blouse. The conversation, we weren’t there yet and it’s wonderful just to know that we have progressed and that these are things that we can talk about and emulate and explore and give voice to; to play with clothing in a new way and de-genderfy them, if you will.
I have to imagine that this time around, you probably had an easier time getting things from brands.
It’s exciting. What I’ve noticed with the interest in the designers, the turnaround has been so quick that Jordan will step out of her trailer on the sidewalk and within five minutes, her outfits are on IG being completely identified. The designers are getting the shout outs in a rapid-fire way that, before, we’d have to wait for paparazzi to shoot them and maybe it would be on TMZ that night, but we’d have to wait for People magazine to come out two or three weeks later for the outfits to be ID’d. The turnaround has been so quick and it’s generated designer interest in a serious way that was not available to us on the original.
Were you expecting the same phenomenon as the first time, where things would get featured on the show and then there’d be a rush to buy those items?
I think there is. Everything that’s being ID’d on IG, it also has a sold-out icon next to it. I don’t know if that’s direct or indirect, but it is an odd phenomenon that most things that are being ID’d are suddenly sold out or no longer available. I also think because the internet shopping is so prevalent these days, people at home in the Midwest, or even in France have access to buying the things on Net-a-Porter or on Matches in a way that wasn’t readily available — except for, of course, the pieces that are runway pieces that haven’t hit the stores yet.
You were working during Covid; what unique challenges arose from trying to do costume design while also having all of these restrictions?
There’s so many restrictions. We came back in August; it’s still early on in pandemic raging. I think the first eyeopening hurdle that we had to get across was that the stores — everyone from Bergdorf to Saks, Zara, Anthropologie — the whole gamut of stores did not have the stock and supply because production of fabrics, production of clothing was all shut down for six to eight months. There was not a lot of product on the floors. When the size two was gone, the size two was gone. There weren’t 10 size twos, there weren’t multiples of the sizes, and a lot of times, we need to buy multiples because the cast wears them for four days in a row, 10 hours at a time.
It was very challenging to navigate this new shopping world. When we first got back to New York, a lot of the stores weren’t open. The hours were very different. Sometimes, they’d open at noon or sometimes, they would open at 10. It really put a dent in how we shop. We’re a shopping machine because of the nature of episodic [television], we have to keep purchasing and having new things. The turnover in our department is huge, so not having that availability to us as readily — less so Bergdorf, because Bergdorf doesn’t have as much turnover, but Saks gets deliveries every two weeks of new stuff. That just was not happening at the beginning, which also pushed us to shop more online and to rely on designers in a new way. Now, it’s back to normal a little bit.
What are you personally most excited about, having Gossip Girl back in the world?
That we get to continue the legacy and continue this fashion fantasy that puts smiles and entertains people and also infuse it with this new socio-eco awareness that comes with it, with these new voices from the Gen-Z generation. To have a more social-conscious conversation around the clothing, around the cast and diversity, inclusivity, and that that’s a part of the fashion is really exciting to me.
UPDATE, July 8, 2021, 9:15 a.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Monet de Haan, not Luna La, delivers the line about the headband.