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Lest anyone miss the provocative antics of those moneyed, anatomically perfect, preternaturally mature teens from “The O.C.,” which ended in April, there’s a whole new crew to fill that void come September. Meet Blair Waldorf, Serena van der Woodsen and Jenny Humphrey, the main characters of “Gossip Girl,” a high school soap opera in which Manhattan’s socialites-in-training swill drinks like seasoned pros, engage in promiscuous sex, backstab to a fare-thee-well and talk about the good old days when they danced on the tables at Bungalow — all while faithfully and meticulously chronicled by a mysterious blogger. All signs point toward the show being the guilty pleasure of the new television season. Premiering on the CW on Sept. 19, “Gossip Girl” is the latest brainchild of “The O.C.” creator Josh Schwartz, coproduced with Stephanie Savage. It’s loosely based on the popular books of the same title, penned by Cecily von Ziegesar.
Among these fictional high schoolers, Blair, Serena and Jenny — played respectively by Leighton Meester, Blake Lively and Taylor Momsen — are the teen queens who rule the rarefied roost, in this case a private school on the tony Upper East Side. And there’s certainly a focus on fashion, since the girls have access to the best of the industry — no matter the price. Even their school uniforms benefit from a little fashion-y customization.
“I wish I had the money for style like that,” says Meester, 21, of her character Blair’s getups. For Blair, the bitchy leader-of-the-in-crowd whose mom is a Carolina Herrera-like designer, that means sophisticated young labels like Alice Ritter worked in with such venerable European labels as Lanvin and Ferragamo. “She’s a little bit Audrey Hepburn old movie star and a little bit Charlotte from ‘Sex and the City,'” describes Meester, a pretty brunette. “Everything she wears is exactly appropriate to where she’s going, and it’s important for her to stand out but look dignified.”
While Blair is more put-together (befitting her tightly wound persona), Serena’s good-girl-with-a-past enjoys a hip, laid-back street style. “Serena has that type of urban-chic where she mixes really glitzy things with really cool, unexpected pieces,” says Lively, 19. To wit, she’s often seen in skinny jeans, boots and layered T-shirts and sweaters, culled from the likes of Vena Cava, Alexander Wang and Jovovich-Hawk.
Since the characters of Blair and Serena, who are pitted as frenemies, are 17, they can sometimes play off a sexy vibe and show a little skin. The younger Jenny, however, is a freshman, who only recently turned 14. Played by Momsen, Jenny doesn’t come from a privileged pedigree. Instead of residing on Park Avenue, she lives with her divorced, struggling, has-been rock star dad in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. “Jenny’s different from the others. She’s funky,” says the tall, willowy Momsen. “She takes a nice dress and wears really crazy socks. And she sews. She doesn’t have the money the other girls have, but she adds her own pizzazz to everything.”
All these looks — as well as clothes for the rest of the extensive cast — are pulled together under the watchful eye of costume designer Eric Daman, who previously worked with Patricia Field on “Sex and the City.” On “Gossip Girl,” he plans to promote young American designers like Peter Som, Phillip Lim and Thread Social’s Beth Blake and Melissa Akey. He says he studied all the usual fashion magazines, and also took note of the real junior socialites so often sprinkled throughout their pages. “I’m feeding off the Arden Wohl-Tinsley Mortimer girl,” he notes. “These girls have become like muses, and they know these young New York designers are right there with the ones on the verge. It’s almost like they discover them before the buyers discover them.”
Since it’s a show that calls for a lot of costume changes — there’s school, home, fancy parties and cocktail hours (yes, even for the underage) — so Daman rounds out the young designers with more recognizable ones. Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Miu Miu and Chanel all make “Gossip Girl” appearances. “These girls are very into fashion,” says Daman. “They know what’s going on and we’re just trying to keep it contemporary.”
For the actresses, the experience has been a crash-course in Fashion 101. Lively, best known for playing a saucy soccer player in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” estimates that between fittings for filming, publicity stills and editorial shoots, she has tried on more than 500 dresses in two months. “In the beginning, it was hard to find an outfit and I would try on lots of things, but now I can look at a dress and know what will look right on my body,” says the leggy blonde. “That’s how it is for all of us.” Because the three leads often end up in the fitting room at the same time, they have learned what the others like. Lively, for instance, knew immediately that a magenta skirt from 3.1 Phillip Lim, pulled for this shoot, would look perfect on Meester. “I still had to try it on,” Lively says. “Even though it wasn’t right for me or my character.”
Lively’s personal tastes run along the same lines as her character’s. For instance, she coos over a sequined Alexander Wang minidress that’s similar to a glam number she wears in the show’s first episode. “Whenever I look at people in magazines, I think, ‘Oh my gosh, they look great.’ Like, Kate Moss and Sienna Miller always look fantastic.”
Momsen and Meester, on the other hand, are slightly different from their characters. Momsen prefers more muted colors and patterns than the ones Jenny might don, and lists Som, Lim, D&G and shoes from Miu Miu — she has two sparkly pairs — among her personal favorites. She has only recently grown out of a vintage-loving phase. “People used to make fun of me at school,” she says. “I wore all vintage clothes but nobody got it because they were all Abercrombie-d out.”
And even though Meester loves a classic, upscale look, her style doesn’t revolve around fancy tags and hefty prices. “I like the clothes as opposed to the designer. I try not to focus on that whereas Blair has the money to be able to,” she explains. Nevertheless she does like to indulge in Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Chloé, Nanette Lepore, BCBG Max Azria and Valentino, who, she says, “is one who never misses.” Still, she’s a very practical shopper, and sees no sense in plunking down thousands of dollars for a dress she can wear only once. “I would never just walk into the Valentino boutique and go, ‘I’m gonna take this leopard-print gown,'” she notes. “You can never wear it again, it’s so memorable. You’d want to borrow it for the red carpet.”
But will the fancy togs she and her castmates wear resonate with viewers, spurring them to the nearest retailer or online boutique? Maybe, Meester says. “I don’t think they should make us complete slaves to fashion, but I think that as far as our fans, they will be influenced.” Either way, the three leading ladies are having a blast with their “Gossip Girl” alter egos. “It’s a fun and indulgent show,” says Lively. “And the clothes — they’re sickeningly beautiful.”