The moment Serena van der Woodsen stepped off the train at Grand Central Station with her tousled blonde hair, tan leather jacket and a brown Coach bag, her look from head to toe showed the “Gossip Girl” audience exactly who she was.
Every character on the show owned a signature item — from Blair Waldorf’s headbands, Jenny Humphrey’s home-sewn dresses to Chuck Bass’ scarves — and their costumes remain timeless. And so does the 2007 drama series that followed the misadventures of New York City’s high schoolers.
Costume designer Eric Daman had just wrapped assisting on HBO’s “Sex and the City” when he received the offer to design “Gossip Girl.” Having planned to swear off scripted series, the designer nearly turned down the “career-changing move” before his boyfriend intervened.
“My boyfriend ended up doing a dramatic interpretation for me of the whole script, and it was all so lovely — just charmed by it all,” Daman tells Variety. “And I still have a 16-year-old mean girl that lives inside of me that was just like, ‘Whoa, this is it; this is everything.'”
The creative genius also behind the looks in “The Carrie Diaries” and “Billions,” Daman is returning to the “Gossip Girl” team for HBO Max’s reboot, once again bringing the runway to episodic television. He moved back to New York this week to gear up for production starting in October.
On the eve of the original series’ 13th anniversary, Daman speaks with Variety about the resurgence of interest in the show and teased the “gender-neutral looks” in 2021’s reboot.
It’s been 13 years since the show first aired, but the show found a new audience on Netflix this year.
It’s crazy just how popular the original [series] still is! It’s funny to have all these young kids discovering “Gossip Girl” with their moms who used to be fans. It’s really awesome to see this resurgence but also the generational difference. I’m like, “How is this a retro show?” [Laughs]
Have you seen TikTok videos of a fan discovering that their Coach handbag is identical to Serena’s from the pilot episode?
Yes, I saw that. It’s really funny. That Coach bag was just one of those things from 13 years ago. Little did I know that was going to become a crazy iconic bag in the future. The brown doesn’t match the brown of her jacket, and there are her black boots. We wanted it to feel not too matchy-matchy and give it that Serena van der Woodsen je ne sais quoi. But I love that people can find joy and excitement and inspiration and all that.
How did you design school uniforms that looked different for every character?
School uniforms were actually a lot of fun to play with. We first started staking out the private schools. These young New Yorkers and Upper East siders were coming out of school in Tory Burch flats, Marc Jacobs backpacks, the cool Barneys girls — and you could tell that they were grouping almost by designers [they were wearing].
It was very exciting to then kind of work with this baseline of a Navy skirt, a plaid tie or whatever the exact elements were, and how we can personalize that for Serena and Blair? The signature elements — it’s all visual clues. They really helped paint the picture.
For Blair, when she’s getting ready in the morning, this headband’s like the final cherry on the frosting. It’s like the final little moment or just stealing the deal, and she becomes Blair Waldorf and goes out to the world. At one point, we counted how many headbands we went through. It was thousands.
It was announced earlier this year that the reboot will include more gender minorities and queer characters. How are you incorporating this to designing school uniforms?
I can’t say too much, but we’re navigating it. It’s exciting to be able to reinvent and play with gender, gender norms and what that means inside of the costumes. The costumes are still the girls’ uniform and the boys’ uniform, but inside of that, there’s some room that we’re going to be playing with, adding more gender-neutral pieces and making it contemporary and inclusive.
And I’m still very proud of Chuck Bass, and how much we got to push boundaries with his clothing — this straight billionaire, womanizer walking around in an ascot, pink jackets and dressing flamboyantly in that role.
Was Chuck your favorite character to dress?
As a parent, you never want to pick your favorite child, because they’re all so different. But with Chuck Bass, it was men’s wear, and I think we were trying to push — to change the perception of menswear and straight menswear.
Sebastian Stan told Variety earlier this year that no men on the show wore a belt. Why no belts?
I was having an allergic reaction to belts. [Laughs] This was also the era of metrosexuals, “Jersey Shore” and hideous jeans with really ugly belts. No, this is not happening on my watch. We [were] going to change fashion, stop wearing bootcut jeans with rivets and tears. It was just one of those pet peeves.
It’s also important to understand how clothing and size and shape and tailoring react to a television screen. We take things up a quarter of an inch — that really makes a difference for the overall look. Belts add an extra girth around the waist, and no one wants that for a classy look.
You’ve worked nonstop, going straight from “Gossip Girl” to “The Carrie Diaries” and then to “Billions” and now back again. How did you navigate your headspace moving on from “Gossip Girl” to your next projects?
The last season of “Gossip Girl,” I really felt closure. All of the cast were so ready. You could tell — it was like they had senioritis in college. [Laughs] So the transition felt great, and it actually felt like I was carrying the torch to “The Carrie Diaries.”
The first teaser image for the reboot has Golden Goose sneakers in it. Was that your choice?
It was a collective choice, and I love that it raises a lot of eyebrows. Of course, she’s wearing $100 sneakers, and I like that it’s Golden Goose because it’s “GG.” And it’s not Louis Vuitton high-heeled shoes. There’s a whole athleisure trend, and it’s not one to be denied.
Could you give an elevator pitch on why fans of the original “Gossip Girl” should give the reboot a try?
If you’re a fan, hopefully you’ll go into it with an open mind, and you should see it to see the evolution of it. I think a lot of people think “reboot” [means] we’re going to see a new Serena, a new Blair, but that’s not what it is. When I read the first script — it’s fresh but it’s so smart. I was right back in it; it reels you right back in.
But really, if I want to be cheeky about it, everyone should watch it to watch the clothes.