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Gossip Girl A Major Influence On Fashion


By RUTH LA FERLA Published: July 8, 2008,

Since its debut last fall, “Gossip Girl” has always been more than a television series about its overt subject, the social machinations of Manhattan private-school students.

It has also presented a cavalcade of fashion, its primary viewership of teenagers and young women tuning in not only for the plots, but also to render judgment on the clothes. The extravagant wardrobes of the stars – a clash of piped blazers, tiny kilts, dueling plaids and festoons of jewelry – have inspired countless posts on fan Web sites, and magazine features about the female leads.

Now the show’s sense of style is having a broader impact, in the retail marketplace. Merchants, designers and trend consultants say that “Gossip Girl,” which is in summer reruns on the CW network before returning Sept. 1, just in time for back-to-school shopping, is one of the biggest influences on how young women spend.

Fans stride into boutiques bearing magazine tear sheets that feature members of the cast and ask for their exact outfits. Or they order scoop-neck tops and hobo bags by following e-commerce links from the show’s Web site.

“The show has had a profound influence on retail,” said Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director for Bloomingdale’s, adding that it appeals not just to teenagers but also to women in their 20s, the daughters and the younger sisters of the generation that made “Sex and the City” requisite viewing for aspiring glamoristas.

Although the series has had only middling success in the ratings, in stylistic terms it “may well be the biggest influence in the youth culture market,” said Stephanie Meyerson, a trend spotter for Stylesight, a trend forecasting company. The show has given an unexpected mass appeal to patrician staples like crested blazers, layered polo shirts and kilts. When cooler days approach this fall, some retailers are predicting a run on argyle sweaters, knee socks and high boots.

Thanks to the point-and-click shopping on its Web site and the fees it charges some brands to be featured in the series, “Gossip Girl” has been able to profit from its power to generate trends. It is not the first show to collect revenues from product tie-ins, but it probably is the first to have been conceived, in part, as a fashion marketing vehicle.

“We tried to launch trends from the get-go,” said Eric Daman, the show’s costume designer, whose résumé includes a stretch working with Patricia Field on costumes for “Sex and the City.”

Now some fall designer collections will also bear a “Gossip Girl” influence, a trend first seen in February on the New York runways, when the series ignited “a pretty huge resurgence of ritzy, preppy and collegiate looks,” said Amy Astley, the editor of Teen Vogue, citing punky school-girl styles from Marc by Marc Jacobs and Henry Holland, and crested blazers at Ruffian, among others.

Stefani Greenspan, a New York designer whose youth-oriented line, Priorities, is sold at Macy’s, Dillard’s and Bloomingdale’s, acknowledges that “Gossip Girl” was “definitely part of my inspiration” for a line of trim blazers lined in men’s tie fabric, oversized cardigans and ruffled plaid shirts with gold buttons.

“I like that whole upscale collegiate feeling, mixed with a pair of Louboutins,” Ms. Greenspan said. Sales at her eight-year-old company have doubled in the year since “Gossip Girl” made its debut, she said.

In its 18 original episodes through May 19, the series attracted an average of about 2.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. But its clout as a cultural and shopping influence is amplified by the Web, including the show’s own site, which lets viewers identify the brand of the clothes and accessories in each episode and click through to buy them.

“We probably have 50 percent more of our traffic – close to one million viewers each month – going into ‘Gossip Girl’ than into any other show,” said Travis Schneider, the founder of StarBrand Media, which handles the e-commerce connections for the series, along with other shows and films including “She’s the Man” and “America’s Next Top Model.”

Covet the top that the character Serena van der Woodsen wears in Episode 12? It’s made by Generra, available for $68, according to the links from the CW Web site – or it was, before it and many other items seen on the show sold out.

Mr. Daman, the costume designer, conducted his fashion research at private schools in Manhattan.

“I saw how edgy those girls were, how forward,” he said. “They wore their school uniforms a little shorter, a little tricked out, definitely tailored to fit them perfectly, and they took liberties through their tights and bags.”

The show is a soap opera about the indulgences of super-rich teenagers, whether drugs, sex or Balenciaga, as told by the unseen Gossip Girl of the title, who blogs about the other characters. Devotees generally fall into two camps: those taken with the worldly nonchalance of Serena (Blake Lively), the show’s queen bee, and others fixated on the fussier style of Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), who is given to layering on brooches, pearls, scarves, a shrilly colorful blazer and patent leather pumps, topped with a frilly headband.

Rachel Grinney, the manager of Intermix in Washington, part of a chain of hip boutiques, said many of her young customers scour the store for variations on Serena’s haute bohemian mix of lithe leather jackets with loose-fitting T-shirts and knee-high boots.

Purists dismiss Blair’s look as visual clutter (“You don’t see headbands worn with brooches and necklaces,” scoffed one 16-year-old in the December issue of Teen Vogue), but admirers praise the show’s relative sophistication. “It represents a stylistic departure,” said Sari Sloane, the vice president for fashion merchandising of the 24-store Intermix chain, “a move away from a Hollywood look that was very casual and improvised, to something more polished, more big-city chic.”

Some like the deft mingling of mass and class, through a smorgasbord of merchandise culled from stores like Barneys New York, progressive boutiques like Opening Ceremony in downtown Manhattan and cheap chic chains like Urban Outfitters. “The style is not alienating,” Ms. Meyerson said. “Girls can look at these characters and feel like they can emulate them.”

Grown-up women, too. Leigh Luttrell, 26, who works for an advertising agency in New York, would like to buy a party frock with a plunging back she recently saw on the show. “I loved that style; I’ve actually been looking for it,” Ms. Luttrell said.

The series has become a profitable showcase for certain designers. “Do you like my new Nanette Lepore?” a character inquired in one episode. Ms. Lepore, a New York designer, reports that “within days after one of our dresses appears, the store gets calls.”

“Younger girls come in,” she added, “they know which piece was featured and they look for it.”

Ms. Lepore said she did not pay to have her brand mentioned or be included in the wardrobe, although some brands do, said Paul McGuire, the vice president of network communication for the CW.

The designer Tory Burch, already a favorite with the private-school crowd, has found that having an item on the show “translates to sales,” she said.

“We have girls coming in with magazine tear sheets of Blake Lively or Leighton Meester, from location shootings or from everyday life,” Ms. Burch said.

But even those fans have some qualms. Julia Sledge, 26, an administrative assistant in New York, who wears a mix of Marc by Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor and Theory, and is a fan of “Gossip Girl,” said the fashions could strain credulity. “Sometime you see these girls from Brooklyn carrying Valentino bags that cost $3,000,” she said. “That makes the show a little irritating.”

“Still,” she said, “it’s good eye candy.”

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