Stylist Eric Daman Speaks about the Reboot of “Gossip Girl”

Image courtesy of variety.com

“Gossip Girl,” the popular television series about New York City’s young Upper East Side socialites, has been rebooted for a new generation on HBOMax. This time around, and in the spirit of Gen Z, the show features a more diverse cast of characters in terms of race and sexuality. Fans of the original “Gossip Girl” loved many things about the show, particularly the fashion, with the original “Gossip Girl” characters donning designer threads ranging from Henri Bendel to Gucci.

Fashion played such a huge role in “Gossip Girl,” because it is a challenge to portray a young New York socialite without looking the part. Enter Eric Daman, costume designer of the original “Gossip Girl” series, who was tapped to return and outfit the 2021 reboot. In the decade plus since the show first premiered, the style and fashion trends of the Upper East Side have evolved. Daman knows the who, what, and where of young New York City socialites’ style, and he expertly brings it to the television screen.

Image courtesy of uccexpress.com

FR: You costumed the original series. Tell us about the conversation and process of getting you on board for this reboot of “Gossip Girl.”

Eric Daman: Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who developed the original show, contacted me about the diversity of the new cast, and that the new storylines would show people of different races and sexualities. That was a big factor in me wanting to come back.

I have a legacy factor attached to my name, having costumed the original “Gossip Girl,” so Josh and Stephanie really hoped I’d return for the reboot. I came on board hoping to pioneer some fashion for a new generation.

FR: How did you conceptualize the style of each character?

Eric Daman: My degree is in French literature. I went to school at Paris-Sorbonne University, so it was beat into me to look at all aspects of stories and plot. I carry that attitude into reading scripts and try to peel back each characters’ personality like an onion.

For the character of Julien, I looked at things like how her dad is a music producer and was probably a DJ in late ‘90s and early 2000s. I think about how that would have influenced what Julien grew up with in terms of fashion and what she would have nostalgia for. With her character, I looked at the early 2000s VMAs and red-carpet moments with TLC, Destiny’s Child, and early Rihanna. I thought about how Julien would emulate that for the current day, which brought me to designers like LaQuan Smith and Christopher John Rogers. LaQuan Smith felt so much like a modern-day version of Destiny’s Child at the VMAs.  Instagram was a huge part of my research in developing the character’s style, especially since it’s such an essential plot point in the “Gossip Girl” reboot.

With the character of Zoya, who comes from a different socioeconomic class and is very socio-politically conscious, I had those aspects reflected in her wardrobe. Her tote bags for school are from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) owned bookstores. She wears a lot of vintage graphic tee shirts from the ‘90s. Zoya also has a NAMES Project tee shirt, which is a nod back to the AIDS epidemic era and those who died from AIDS causes. It’s an era that has come up a lot recently as people compare it to the current COVID-19 pandemic. It was exciting to play with sociopolitical messaging through wardrobe.

Image courtesy of crfashionbook.com

FR: The show is set in NYC’s upper crust Upper East Side (UES) neighborhood. How do you think UES style has changed in the decade since the original show?

Eric Daman: There’s been a huge overhaul in style. Upper East Side style has become much more unbuttoned in a way. There’s a more relaxed approach. The advent of athleisure has changed everything we know about how we dress. The show has come a long way from when Blair Waldorf said leggings are not pants. Now, crocs and sweatpants are almost everywhere.

There’s like an alpha and omega of how different the times are right now. We’re reentering the early 2000s in terms of style, and next we’ll be emulating the late 2000s. Fashion is cyclical, so next thing you know we’ll be inspired by the last seasons of the original “Gossip Girl.”

FR: What designers and brand to do you think represent how Upper East Side fashionistas dress now?

Eric Daman: It’s more of an open playing field now. There’s a new interest in thrift and purchasing luxury brands from the past. The Christian Dior Saddle bag is cool right now. People want heritage luxury brands, but they want vintage pieces. They are more conscious about sustainability, and that’s a big part of the fashion conservation.

Thrifting and buying luxury labels second-hand are big right now because it’s sustainable, one-of-a-kind, and not everyone is walking down the street with these pieces. You see people carrying the tiny pink Prada nylon totes again, and those were popular in the early 2000s.

FR: The original “Gossip Girl” debuted in 2007. How have your costume choices reflected the evolution of style in the past 14 years?

Eric Daman: The opulence and ostentatious styling of the old days was heavier handed, candy-coated, layered, and bright. The character Serena on the original show would wear six MCL bracelets and three Steven Dweck necklaces at once. This new generation is more paired back and minimal. Gen Z has a desire to be comfortable and casual, but look incredible and idiosyncratic at the same time.

Those traits of this generation helped me decide how to dress these characters when it came to things like XXL, oversized clothes that harked back to the ‘90s, but done in a modern way. I paired oversized Celine sweatshirts with biker shorts. A lot of old school rules were thrown out of the window for the reboot. The school uniforms were the biggest adjustment we were doing this time around.

New York City is a constant source of inspiration for me. Early in preparation for the show, I was walking downtown, and Grace Church School let out, and there was a flood of four young girls who came out wearing oversized collegiate vibe clothes with biker shorts and Fila sneakers. Hailey Bieber then appeared everywhere in the oversized Princess Diana style sweatshirts with biker shorts. I thought that was the right tone to go with for the school uniforms. School uniforms are so iconic. We all have that nostalgia for the schoolboy and schoolgirl uniform look. It’s a fun vibe to play with.

Image courtesy of Gossip Girls

FR: How did you keep the characters wardrobe choices fresh and current when viewers are so familiar with the characters from the original series?

Eric Daman: These characters are such a different group of kids, and we are in such a different era. It was easy to switch off the idea that we weren’t emulating the original characters, like Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen. That wasn’t the fashion direction at all, which is what made coming back to costume this show exciting.

We threw out the old-world rules. While some of these kids were a bit newer money I’d say, you have someone like Monet, who is the richest girl in school, so she looks more old money. Monet has some Blair Waldorf type, Balmain-inspired moments. Julien has that free spiritedness that Serena van der Woodsen had when it came to fashion, but it’s catered toward more of an Instagram generation and her social media followers.

FR: What brands did you use in the original series that you also used for the reboot?

Eric Daman: A lot of the big fashion houses transitioned with us from the original show for the reboot including Chanel, Valentino, Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga. I had great relationships with these brands from working with them on the later seasons of original “Gossip Girl” and they were thrilled to come on board.

FR: What new brands and designers did you incorporate for the revamp?

Eric Daman: We used Monse quite a bit, and both Julien and the character Monet wear those designers in many episodes. The character Luna likes to wear her Telfar bag a lot. We used more Stella McCartney for the women this season, who isn’t a new designer, but with sustainability being such a big topic in fashion, she was very fitting for this era. Stella McCartney was an early adapter of vegan fashion and faux leather usage.

Christopher John Rogers fashion show in “Gossip Girls” image courtesy of wornontv.net

FR: The Christopher John Rogers fashion show was quite a feat to include in the show. Talk to us about the process of making that happen and costuming that scene.

Eric Daman: That was an incredible coup. Christopher is an amazing designer I’ve had my eye on for a while. Going into costuming “Gossip Girl, I felt he was one of the freshest faces in New York City as far as designers go. His collections felt so linked to the original show with the bright colors, taffeta, tulle, and the debutante vibes, so his clothes felt so cool and current.

When the script came out, an episode called for a fashion show. The producers hadn’t locked in a designer for that. Executives were hoping for a bigger, corporate house to do the fashion show, but after talking with the team we wanted something just cool and downtown chic.

I’m friends with Tyler McCall, editor-in-chief of Fashionista.com, who introduced Christopher and I through Christopher’s public relations team. Christopher was a huge fan of the original “Gossip Girl” and said the show was a huge influence on him becoming a designer. The collection featured in the show no one had really got to see because in-person New York Fashion Week was cancelled due to the pandemic, so the show became his way of debuting the collection.

I worked with Christopher and the director of the specific episode to select the clothes that would fit best within production design. Christopher was very involved and made sure the moment stayed true to his DNA.  We featured models he used in his lookbook and the hair and makeup were inspired by his past runway shows. It was a true communication highway between my team and Christopher to stay true to what would have been his vision.

— Kristopher Fraser

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