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Tapping TV’s Next Trendsetters

Fashionistas, take heart: There is reason to watch TV since Carrie Bradshaw and her New York posse exited the airwaves (at least until next season). From contemporary comedies to futuristic fantasies, WWD takes a closer look at five brand new and...

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The cast of UPN's “Girlfriends.” From left to right, Jill Jones, Golden Brooks, Persia White and Tracee Ellis Ross.

WWD Staff

Fashionistas, take heart: There is reason to watch TV since Carrie Bradshaw and her New York posse exited the airwaves (at least until next season). From contemporary comedies to futuristic fantasies, WWD takes a closer look at five brand new and newish shows that should have women flocking to stores in search of must-haves inspired by the small screen.

This story first appeared in the September 24, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

GIRLFRIENDS, UPN, premiered September 23, Mondays 9 p.m. EST/PST.

Though in its third season, “Girlfriends” has yet to attract the kind of headlining attention awarded to a certain other show featuring four fashionable, professional women. But it won’t be long before that changes, thanks to its sartorially savvy actresses: Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Jill Jones and Persia White.

“I don’t know the last time since ‘The Cosby Show’ that I’ve seen smart, educated, young, black women dressing well on TV,” said Ross, who affectionately refers to her Christian Louboutins on the show and off as “Loubous.”

“There’s always a character that somebody identifies with. It’s a conscious decision to make sure we hit our target audience by mixing the urban with the earthy with the high-end,” said costume designer Stacy Beverly, who was the set costumer on “The Jamie Foxx Show.” As the show’s ratings have increased, so has its budget, enabling Beverly to further develop the characters through clothes. Ross’ character Joan, an attorney, wears suits by Max Mara, Costume National and Katayone Adeli by day and vintage dresses by night; Brooks, as trendsetting receptionist Maya, wears body-conscious clothes from Plein Sud and Magda Berliner; Jones, as real estate agent Toni, usually appears in tailored Prada and Gucci; and White, the bohemian free-spirit Lynn, goes for knits, jeans and ponchos.

Because “Girlfriends” doesn’t yet have the budget of a major network show, Beverly is resourceful, shopping with Ross at some of her favorite vintage haunts and altering sale-rack finds. Said Ross, “I love that we repeat stuff the way real people do. You don’t spend $2,000 on a suit and then just wear it once.”

ALIAS, ABC, premiering Sept. 29, Sundays at 9 p.m. EST/PST.

After just two years on the tube, this show has already spawned its share of imitators. But Jennifer Garner, playing CIA double agent Sydney Bristow, reigns as primetime’s most stylish, butt-kicking queen. Changing identities, countries and accents as fast as her clothes (sometimes up to 15 wardrobe changes per episode), Garner has perfected the art of disguise. Fans have seen her morph from everything from wholesome grad student to harem girl, bank executive to cabaret crooner.

But translating the mostly male writing team’s sexed-up ideal into small-screen costumes takes some doing. “I can’t do a miniskirt for what’s supposed to be a Russian military uniform,” said costume designer Laura Goldsmith. “What’s sexy to me is a pencil skirt with a slit up the thigh. You don’t want it to be like ‘VIP.’ You want some reality.”

As in jumping out of helicopters in 3-inch heels? “No, but people buy that helicopter thing,” she said. “[‘Sex and the City’s’] Carrie can run in high heels. Why can’t Sydney?” But Goldsmith admitted that “sometimes a low heel is used for the stunt scenes, so Jennifer doesn’t kill herself.” Safety first! Of course, high heels are in order when Garner dons Burberry’s lace and plaid miniskirt and Hervé Leger’s tiger-striped dress this season.

Goldsmith seemed unfazed by the thought of other shows that might have taken a cue or two from the sharp-dressed “Alias” agent. “It’s just cashing in on a good idea, whether it’s ‘The Avengers’ or ‘Get Smart.’ But instead of a girl who washes up on shore in a bathing suit, Sydney can kick your ass and steal your secrets.”

AMERICAN DREAMS, NBC, premiering Sept. 29, Sunday 8 p.m. EST/PST.

Vintage enthusiasts, take note. “American Dreams,” a family drama set in 1963 Philadelphia, is wardrobed in nearly all vintage: Think cardigans, pencil skirts, Jackie O. bouffants and pillbox hats. It doesn’t hurt that the entire Pryor family, from the thirtysomething parents to their teenaged offspring, are photogenic to a fault. Or that the music and the writing are designed to tug at the heartstrings.

“I wanted to anchor the clothing in authenticity rather than fashion statements,” said costume designer Jane Anderson, who worked on the period films “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”

Take Brittany Snow, for example, who plays oldest daughter Meg, whose passion is dancing on “American Bandstand.” Meg wears plaid kilts and matching cardigans found at thrift stores and costume houses, with the one winter coat — not 10 — Anderson imagined her middle-class parents can afford. Her mother Helen, played by Gail O’Grady, wears her best suit to church each Sunday and her special cocktail dress for ladies’ lunches. “What I love about period costumes is the fabric had a life,” Anderson said. “The most important thing is to not go, ‘Oh that’s a great sweater,’ but to say, ‘That’s ‘American Bandstand.’ Without a doubt, the viewers will consider that in how they’re dressing.”

BIRDS OF PREY, THE WB, premiering Oct. 9, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST/PST.

Speaking of kicking ass, Garner may have a rival on that front in the form of the sexy superhero trio in “Birds of Prey,” a new series based on the cult comic book. Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott and Rachel Skarsten play, respectively, Oracle, aka Ex-Batgirl, who gave up her Batgirl status after an unfortunate encounter with The Joker left her wheelchair-bound; Huntress, who’s alleged to be the daughter of Batman and Catwoman; and Dinah, a meta-human (that’s B.O.P. lingo for “superhero”) with psychic powers.

Front-and-center is Huntress, played by Scott, a willowy raven-haired beauty defined by a magical necklace and black leather pants as she scales buildings, knocks out Gotham’s baddest bad guys, and delivers one-liners so dry that they give “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a run for its money.

Even clad (by stylist Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko) in pointy boots and a denim blazer for a visit to her shrink (because superheroes have neuroses, too), Huntress exemplifies bad-girl chic with good-girl intentions. “It’s so trendy, I can go clubbing in it,” she reasons about her corset in the pilot episode.

She does, however, refuse to wear a mask. “You want me to dress like my parents?” Huntress huffed to Oracle in one episode. “Fighting crime doesn’t mean I have to be a fashion casualty.” Indeed.

GIRLS CLUB, FOX, premiering Oct. 21, Mondays at 9 p.m. EST/PST.

It’s series creator David E. Kelley’s latest take on the world of legal eagles, but don’t expect anything as over-the-top as “Ally McBeal.” In “Girls Club,” fashion takes a front seat with the show’s three leading ladies — Kathleen Robertson, Gretchen Mol and Chyler Lee — playing Stanford law grads working at a San Francisco firm.

For costume designer Mimi Melgaard, the fun lies in addressing each woman’s style with fashion that viewers can emulate. “I take key looks from magazines or runways and make them reasonable, not head-to-toe designer,” said the costume designer, who got used to viewer queries regarding the clothes when she worked on “Ally.”

“A 19-year-old could buy a fitted blazer and pair it with jeans or a 40-year-old could buy a Max Mara or Armani suit.”

She also noted that because of television’s quick turnaround (about four to six weeks from taping to air time) many of the fall looks will be available in stores as episodes air. “Jeannie [played by Robertson] wears Chanel, Michelle Mason, Koi, Marc Jacobs and Burberry. She’s the most trendy.” In fact, Robertson, whose character is the saucy risk-taker in the bunch, was initially less than enthused about her character’s sartorial prospects: “I went into production a little worried about having to wear suits because I don’t even own one.”

For Mol, the romantic, classics-prone Lynne, Melgaard enlists soft, pastel-colored cashmere turtlenecks and tweed pencil skirts by TSE, Céline, Armani and Costume National. Finally, Melgaard plays up Sarah’s (played by Lee) strong features and sharp personality with square-shouldered Dolce & Gabbana jackets, as well as structured looks from Vivienne Westwood and Gucci.

Khaki-wearers, beware: “Girls Club” may herald the end of casual Fridays. “You can still be elegant at work,” Melgaard said. “Besides, I hate casual dressing!” That said, the show won’t only depict its characters in buttoned-down mode. After a tough day at the office, their characters “dress like other 26-year-old girls in jeans, tank tops and flip-flops,” Robertson noted.

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