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'Gossip Girl' 1.0 Created a New Class of Fashion-Fueled Costume Designers

Eric Daman’s former assistants discuss their favorite fashion memories and lessons learned from the show, including negotiating fashion designer NDAs and copping Blair’s heels.

The O.G. “Gossip Girl” created many a trend — headbands (RIP), colorful opaque tights and a ban on belts — thanks to costume designer Eric Daman and his distinct fashion-fueled vision. The first six seasons of the series, co-created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage (and their production company, Fake Empire), also offered a fast-paced training ground to kick off successful careers of junior costume team members. They went on to create fashion-forward, stylized visions of their own — kind of like how Patricia Field graduated her own class of visionaries, including Daman.

These include Meredith Markworth-Pollack, Daman’s first assistant costume designer on “Gossip Girl,” who then built an ardent following of her own for her anachronistic Elizabethan Era style in “Reign.” Staying in the Fake Empire family, she also updated the opulent “Dynasty” reboot and brought New York City style to Bluebell, Alabama in “Hart of Dixie.” While still on “Gossip Girl,” Markworth-Pollack hired Matthew Simonelli, first as a shopper, then later promoted to assistant. Simonelli later did costume design on Fake Empire’s “Looking for Alaska” (obsessed with all of Kristine Froseth’s vintage looks), the road trip film “Unpregnant” and all seasons of the fashionably fantastical “Search Party.” Jeriana San Juan, currently receiving lots of Emmys buzz for her decadent ’80s looks in “Halston,” also assisted on a few episodes in season two.

“It’s pretty remarkable and a real testament to Eric Daman’s style of mentoring,” says former intern-turned-assistant costume designer Brittany Griffin, who affectionally refers to the designer, who returns for “Gossip Girl” 2.0, as “my Costume Dad.” 

Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) in a Nanette Lepore coat.

Samantha Rattner, who took over Fake Empire’s “Runaways” after Markworth-Pollack designed the pilot, recalls a reunion of sorts in 2019: All of Daman’s former assistants were working on a Schwartz-Savage production and organized a group text chain. “I don’t remember [the name] — like ‘G.G.A.C.D.s’ or something?” she says. 

The tight-knit environment, longtime connections and fond memories actually drew Rattner back to “Gossip Girl” for the continuation, premiering today on HBO Max. “I worked six days on the new one. Just-for-fun days because they needed an extra set of hands,” she says, noting that she enjoyed dressing background for the premiere’s climactic Christopher John Rogers runway showdown. “I was like, ‘You know what? It will come full circle.'”

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Below, Markworth-Pollack, Rattner and Griffin take us through their favorite behind-the-scenes memories, including negotiating designer NDAs for the series finale wedding, interviewing with Daman and sneaking Blair’s heels from the Paris episode home.

Serena (Blake Lively) in Ralph Lauren in season one.

Meredith Markworth-Pollack

Path to “Gossip Girl” 

“I had already assisted Eric Daman on a indie film called ‘Tenderness,’ as well as another indie film, so we had established that I was his A.C.D. I remember, when he got the pilot, he was really excited about it. He called me and told me about it. I was like, ‘Oh, my god, this sounds so cool.’ But this definitely felt a bit bigger of a project than the ones that I had assisted him on. Obviously, it was contemporary and had these strong fashion elements. I really got to see him create this whole world of what we now know as ‘Gossip Girl.’ It was thrilling to be part of that from the beginning. I continued to be his assistant for the first season.”

Favorite “Gossip Girl” costume memory

“It has to be the yellow floral Ralph Lauren gown that Serena wore [as a bridesmaid dress to] Lily’s wedding at the end of season one (above). It was such an exciting moment because it was one of our first really big PR fashion house integrations on the show. [Ralph Lauren Vice President, Global Communications/Luxury Marketing and Talent Relations] Kimball Hastings came personally to the ‘Gossip Girl’ office with the gown to drop it off. I just remember it was an epic fashion costume moment. There were all these people and they were unboxing it — I want to say people were wearing gloves, I could be making that up, but it was a really big to-do. Blake [Lively] just stepped into the dress and it was so perfect. Also, with Eric’s styling and the gloves that she wore, it was just such an iconic moment of putting the high-end fashion scene on the map for ‘Gossip Girl.'”

Crucial lessons learned from “Gossip Girl”

“What I took away from Eric was two big things. First, his sense of letting things organically unfold — of course, he always has a master plan and has his really specific ideas of what he wants for each character, but he also is really open to finding his voice and the magic of costuming in a fitting. That was really great to see. He would get excited while he was putting together a look in the fitting and get ideas like, ‘Oh, let’s add a big bow here or a headband here.’ 

“Then number two: Of course, Eric Daman is the king of accessorizing, so what I really took away, as far as a technical skill, was how to layer accessories. You think, the headband and the necklace and the earrings and the gloves and the purse and the belt and the school tie is all going to be too much. But Eric has this gift of being able to throw all of these accessories on someone in this really cohesive, super styled way that makes it look natural and fun and not trying too hard.”

Item taken (secretly or not) from the costume closet

“By the middle of season one, the show started taking off and all of a sudden everyone came knocking at the door wanting to give us [product], which was kind of funny because we were like, ‘Well, where were you when we first reached out?’ People were just sending boxes of stuff and being like, ‘Keep it,’ or ‘One for the crew’ or ‘Here’s one for you.’ So, for sure I walked away with a lot of random accessories and pieces and handbags and things like that.”

Markworth-Pollack is currently filming Ryan Murphy’s “Impeachment: American Crime Story.” Follow her on Instagram: @meredith_costumes

Blair in Vera Wang for the 100th episode royal wedding.

Samantha Rattner

Path to “Gossip Girl”

“This was my first job out of college. I had a family member who worked in the T.V. biz and he set me up with the interview. I went to Eric’s apartment and met him and Meredith, who was his assistant designer at the time. He lived on St. Mark’s Place, right in the heart of it. I went up to his apartment and he answered the door wearing shorts with lobsters embroidered on them. I was so nervous. He said, ‘Can I get you an iced coffee?’ He was just so lovely and relaxed. Since I had gotten the interview through a family member, I think Meredith was trying to ask me some tough questions — just to make sure I was serious about the job. I was really eager and I ended up on the show as a production assistant in New York. It was grueling. But the crew was really small in the beginning of the first season, so I got to be in the nitty gritty of it. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation. I was on that show the first six years of my career. I, still to this day, feel sad that I didn’t work on the final season.”

Favorite “Gossip Girl” costume memory

“The 100th episode. I was the assistant designer at that point, and it was a huge episode, when Blair and Prince Louis got married. The episode itself involved so much as well, because there was a whole musical number in the beginning, with Blake as Marilyn Monroe and Leighton [Meester] as Audrey Hepburn and all the guys in tuxedos. I harnessed all of my organizational skills: I printed out huge charts for every character that were taped to a wall with checklists of all the things that we had to do. It was just so fun. Eric and I got to go to Vera Wang and pick out the gown (above). It was a really grueling episode, but it was so fun to do. I felt at the peak, like, ‘I’m living the dream!'”

Crucial lessons learned from “Gossip Girl”

“I was Eric’s assistant for seven years, so I feel like he’s truly my mentor, and it started on ‘Gossip Girl.’ He’s so talented at collaborating with cast. A big thing that I took away from fittings with him — and just watching him work with the cast — is he’s so good at creating these distinctive looks to pull apart each character. I feel like I’ve carried that through, particularly when I was doing ‘Runaways.’ Even on ‘Just Beyond,’ which was an interesting challenge, because it’s an anthology series; every episode is a whole different cast, but there are different iterations of the same [type of character]. It’s like, ‘How many different ways can I create the popular girls at school?’

“There are things that I took away from [the show] that maybe were just related to my experience on it, too. I hate men’s shirts with button-down collars, because Penn [Badgley] used to wear a lot of them and then unbuttoned the buttons and drove me crazy — I’d have to come in and fix it.”

Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen) and Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) in a custom Samantha Rattner headband in season two, episode five of ‘Gossip Girl’ 1.0.

Item taken (secretly or not) from the costume closet

“I did take a couple things home. I have a pair of Sonia Rykiel peep-toe heels — I was the same size shoe as Leighton, which was awesome. They’re from the Paris episode and they weren’t on any lists that they had to be in inventory, so I just stashed them away. When I was the coordinator and still lived in my parents’ place, I made one of Blair’s headbands myself in their basement (above). I wish I could have kept it, but you know, it was part of the costume inventory.”

Rattner went on to assist Daman on “The Carrie Diaries,” the Mae Whitman film “The Duff” and “The Astronaut Wives Club.” “I joke that my entire career has been six degrees of ‘Gossip Girl,'” she says. Her following lead costume designer jobs include “Quantico” and Netflix’s “Soundtrack,” both created by “Gossip Girl” showrunner Josh Safran. She’s currently working on the Disney Plus horror comedy, “Just Beyond,” based on the R.L. Stine graphic novel. Follow her on Instagram: @samijrattner

Blair’s shoes, just for a fitting.

Brittany Griffin

Path to “Gossip Girl”

“I went to F.I.T. and they require a senior year internship to graduate. They gave me a giant book to look through. I had never heard of ‘Gossip Girl,’  but I knew I was interested in costume design, so I took a shot. The number that I called turned out to be Sami Rattner, who remains one of my closest friends to this day. Sometimes on film sets they have these Friday theme days and I interviewed on one of these days — it was ‘Christmas in July.’ When I walked in there were several stylized elves looking up at my from their laptops. 

“When I was an intern, I loved lining all of Blair’s shoes up in color order for her fitting (above). She had so many of them, sometimes they were several rows deep. After my internship, I was hooked. A spot opened up on the team and I was invited to stay.”

Favorite “Gossip Girl” costume memory

“The last shot of the show (below). It was a beautiful crane shot of Serena’s and Dan’s wedding through the townhouse window that panned down to the future of St. Jude’s and Constance students coming home from school. The costumes were composed so artfully, that view inside the window looked like a painting.

“If you know ‘Gossip Girl’ costumes, you know we love a good color palette. Serena’s wedding dress would determine the color palette for the rest of the cast, so the hunt was on. I spent my life on Style.com, now Vogue Runway, making look requests with our costume coordinator Val Klarich. I just checked all of my emails from the fall of 2012, and it’s just me desperately begging for looks while trying to avoid writing ‘Wedding Dress for Blake Lively on Gossip Girl’ in the subject line, because it was such a secret. We had code names for the wedding scenes, and I had to get designers to sign NDAs so that we could talk about it. Once we locked Serena in her Georges Chakra gown and Dan in his McQueen tuxedo, we focused on the rest of the cast.”

The series finale wedding scene.

Crucial lessons learned from “Gossip Girl”

“‘Gossip Girl’ was my first job, so I learned almost everything there. A lot important basics, like how to read a call sheet and break down a script, how there’s a right and a wrong way to face hangers. That tailors get really upset when their lunch order is wrong. That you never leave costumes in the trunk of your car when you live in Brooklyn. That [Bergorf Goodman Director of Solutions] Betty Halbreich is to be regarded with the utmost respect. And that headbands are eternal.”

Item taken (secretly or not) from the costume closet

“Blake and I are the same shoe size, so I would have loved to run away with Serena’s shoe collection — but, alas, they’re all archived at the Warner Brothers Costume Department. [Then-wardrobe truck supervisor] Cassidy Mosher and I wrapped the series with a big team of costumers. It took an entire semi truck to take all of the costumes to their new home in L.A.”

Griffin is currently in Australia designing season two of “The Wilds,” executive produced by Amy Harris, who was also a producer on “Gossip Girl.” She also designed the Netflix series “The Crew” and the pilot of Fake Empire’s “Nancy Drew,” which was “truly the culmination of all my high school aspirations.” Follow her on Instagram: @briffin

The above interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Source: Fashionista.com

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