Dressing the Gossip Girls

Stylist Eric Daman on his new gig.

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As a boy growing up in rural Michigan, Eric Daman really never thought he would be dressing a group of teenage socialites for a living. But he now does just that as the costume stylist for CW’s hit, “Gossip Girl.”

This story first appeared in the August 22, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Daman was working his magic on Monday night, directing a set crew while curling synthetic wigs. This wasn’t for an episode taping, though; it was in preparation for a window display at Henri Bendel. The window showcases mannequins resembling the female characters on the show, the second season of which premieres Sept. 1.

Daman’s interest in fashion began while he was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and working as a buyer at Magic Circle, a high-end Parisian boutique. One day in 1993, Steven Meisel, who was scouting for an upcoming Calvin Klein campaign, walked into the store when he spotted Daman through the window. “He just walked in, said he liked my look and asked if I would be interested in modeling in the ads,” Daman recalled.

Before he knew it, he was on a flight to New York and on set with Kate Moss. After moving to New York full-time to model, Daman began to explore fashion styling, eventually landing editorial shoots for The Face, Visionnaire, Spin and Rolling Stone. After bumping into stylist Patricia Field on the street (he knew her from his time in Paris), he was hired to assist her on the set of “Sex and the City.” Together, they won an Emmy Award for their work on the show and Daman has been in demand since.

WWD: When you are dressing the characters for the show, do you think it’s more important to make their looks approachable or aspirational?

Eric Daman: It should be a little bit of both, really. I always make sure I mix some of the higher-end looks with something from a less expensive brand. I use stuff from Forever 21 and H&M all the time. I always want to make kids feel like they can look at what the characters are wearing and they can afford to go out and buy something for themselves. I strive to inspire the watchers, but it’s also important to have fun with clothing. Clothing can be fun and glamorous without making you feel alienated — that’s what I want to get across. You will always see someone wearing a $5,000 dress with a pair of Nine West shoes. That is how people dress today anyway — they are always mixing high and low.

WWD: Do the actors have a say in how their characters dress?

E.D: Of course they do; I’m not a fashion Nazi or anything. Blake [Lively] and Leighton [Meester] love to give their input, but they understand that I am there to help them create and develop their characters. I think they all have a lot of trust in me, but they all do give their opinions.

WWD: How have you seen their individual styles develop over the past year?

E.D.: It’s funny because they came into this as these fashion-naïve kids from L.A. who moved to New York in order to portray these true New Yorkers. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but they caught on so quickly. They are like New Yorkers now — real, fashionable New Yorkers.

WWD: Have you ever thought of doing your own apparel line?

E.D.: Yes. I’ve thought about this a lot, actually. I would want to do a mass line, like something for Kohl’s, Target, Charlotte Russe — something along those lines. Then I would like to do a higher-end, capsule collection for a store like Bendel’s or Barneys. Again, it’s all about accessible fashion and mixing it up.

WWD: Is the Henri Bendel window the first one you’ve done?

E.D: No, I actually did the Neiman Marcus windows in Los Angeles when I was working on “Sex and the City.” It was a similar concept, but that was L.A., this is better because it’s New York.

WWD: How did you come up with the ideas for the “Gossip Girl” window at Henri Bendel?

E.D: It really wasn’t much different than when I shop the store for the show, which I do a lot. For the window, I met with Ann [Watson, Bendel’s fashion director], and we walked through to see what we can use in order to transform the mannequins into the four girls from the show. Then I came up with this idea to flank the mannequins with the New York skyline in the background, red brick walls and text phrases and symbols that teens use today. So stuck on the window, you will see something like “U KNO U WWD: Why text phrases?

E.D: It just makes the look more teen. It’s mind boggling to see how kids use technology these days. Kids actually have texting relationships and it’s become this whole new language between them. When I was a kid, I used to watch TV on the television set. Today, kids are actually downloading episodes of the show and watching them on their iPods on their way to school. They don’t have the time to watch them when they air, they are too busy on MySpace and Facebook.

WWD: Who is your favorite character to dress?

E.D: I love dressing Chuck Bass (played by Ed Westwick). I think we’ve worked to make his character dress really well. I want to try and pioneer a movement where straight men dress better. Girls do it, so now it’s time for the guys to step up and get rid of those ugly T-shirts and square-toe shoes.

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