Posted by Carten Cordell / Monday, October 8th, 2012
On Friday, Sept. 28, just before he hosted the evening’s All Access: Fashion/Intermix runway show at Tysons Galleria, benefiting Make-A-Wish of the Mid-Atlantic, we had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Emmy-winning costume designer for “Gossip Girl” and “The Carrie Diaries,” Eric Daman. Fans of “Gossip Girl” eagerly awaiting the show’s sixth season premiere tonight (9 EST) on the CW, find out what the main man behind its iconic outfits has to say.
We got the amiable fashion master’s thoughts on everything from working with the show’s stylish stars to his favorite GG look of all time, his closet crushes, his special advice for NoVA fashionistas, why and how he mixes couture with cost-friendly, where he disagrees with Coco Chanel and more.
Kayla Franson & Natalie Kaar
Q: First of all, how did you become involved with All Access: Fashion?
A: I’m not sure how it all worked out. I have been involved with Intermix … on “Gossip Girl,” and I have a relationship with them, and actually Make-a-Wish has come through “Gossip Girl” three or four times. I think it has been three young ladies that have come through, wanted to meet me and come to the wardrobe room, come to the set. We facilitated that. It was just kind of a coming together of minds, very proactive in that sense.
They asked me to come down; I thought it was a great event. I just took a minute off to come down and be a part of it. … Intermix is one of my favorite stores in New York, and I’ve never been to D.C. so it was all just kind of like, ‘Alright, let’s go to D.C. It’s a great event, I’d love to be a part of it.’
Q: You’ve been with “Gossip Girl” since the pilot. That’s a lot of incredible outfits. What are some of your favorite outfits or can you think of one absolute favorite?
A: Yes, I’ve been there since day one, since the inception. Everybody asks me that; it’s kind of like picking your favorite child [laughing]. I love all of them because I made all of them. But I would say Blair running through Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris in that orange Oscar de la Renta dress is one of those moments. … I was in Paris in college; Paris is kind of the background for me in my aesthetic and … to be able to go back there and create this moment between her and Chuck where she’s running through the train station in this beautiful Oscar dress … it’s just like this bright beautiful orange and it’s kind of like not dingy but it’s like Old World beautiful, beautiful, kind of stately, but dark train station. It was just kind of one of those moments when he’s not Chuck Bass anymore. I just think it’s one of those beautiful moments in “Gossip Girl” that’s just really, really powerful.
Chuck Bass (portrayed by Ed Westwick) pretty much in any moment is also, I think, pioneering men’s fashion. Men understand it’s better to wear a suit than bad embellished jeans, or boot cut jeans; it’s a very nice way to dress. Anyway, I think that moment in “Gossip Girl” is one of the best for me. In the big, big picture.
Q: The stars of “Gossip Girl,” especially Blake Lively, are known for their enviable style off-screen as well as on screen. How much say do they have when it comes to their costumes?
A: We have a really great relationship. You know, I’ve been with them since day one, and I think I’ve proven myself beyond comparison. But as a costume designer, you work with your actors and your actresses to help them create the characters. And that’s my job, is to provide the tools for them to create their craft and to create emotions in their scene, and I think they have a really great comfort level with me, just being like, please help me create this character in this scene.
There’s a very big difference between Blair (portrayed by Leighton Meester) and Serena (portrayed by Blake Lively), like Blake is very involved in it. Blake is more symbiotic with Serena, where Leighton is very different than who Blair Waldorf is, and her fashions do not cross over. And she wants to come in and become Blair Waldorf, and Blake has a very different kind of symbiotic relationship with it.
A lot of costume designers are like, “This is my vision; this is what you have to wear,” and I’ve never gone into things like that. I think it’s very important to have a great rapport with your actors and, like I said, when it really comes down to it, I’m really there just to give them their tools. I pick everything out, and I help them. I’m just there to help them become the characters that I want them to be and that they need to be for the scenes.
Q: A local designer of the Etsy shop Ciao Nina had one of her $74 fascinators featured on the 100th episode of “Gossip Girl.” How much of the show’s wardrobe is couture vs. cost-friendly for the average consumer?
A: It’s a big mix; I really try to keep it cost-friendly meets high-end. I think it’s very important to have that high-end edge because that’s what everyone wants to see and everyone wants to aspire [to]. I think especially in this economy, “Gossip Girl” really has become this dream because people like to look at it almost as … “I want to be a part of that”; it’s like escapism. But it’s been very important for me and the producers and everyone involved that there’s a different edge to it, so we would use things from H&M or Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe. They actually brought me on as creative director for Charlotte Russe for a year and a half, and because of this it was very important to have this kind of balance … I can’t really put a number on it, whether it’s 60-40 or 70-30 or 80-20; it depends on the episode, and it depends on the needs, but it is a very conscious effort to keep things at a balance.
I think a really great way to describe this is in the 100th episode for Blair’s wedding, which is the biggest, I think for me, it’s one of the most beautiful weddings on television, that we got to dress Blair through Vera Wang. We worked with Vera Wang very closely; she’s a good friend of mine. I actually went to the showroom, and during that day they were having a showroom show-and-tell with a David’s Bridal line that I didn’t even know existed. I saw this great dress that kind of looked like a peony, and I was like, ‘What is that dress over there?’ And she was like, “Oh, that’s the David’s Bridal line.” I was like, ‘I want all the bridesmaids in that dress.’
For me it made sense that you could have this extraordinary wedding that people could look at and be like, “I could never afford that,” and turn around and be like, “Well actually all the bridesmaids are in David’s Bridal.” That, I think for me, that’s the best balance that I could give as an example of that. Granted, I had to have them all specially dyed and a special ribbon put on them, but it was the same dress that they were selling at David’s Bridal, overall. I just had to have them in a different color to match the palette.
Q: For Northern Virginians who love the “Gossip Girl” characters’ fashion-forward looks but maybe are little hesitant to make such a big splash in the suburbs, what baby steps would you suggest they take?
A: I would say read my book, which isn’t a plug at all because I actually did the book because I wanted people to understand how I did it. … I feel like it’s something that can teach people how to become that person they want to be, and that’s why I wanted to do it. I wanted to be influential in a very positive way. …
Coco Chanel said, “If you’re leaving the house and you feel like you’re overdressed, take one thing off,” and I’m like, ‘If you’re leaving the house and you feel [underdressed], put two more things on,’ which I stole from Michelle Trachtenberg (Georgina Sparks on the show) recently. She was like, “I said this in an interview, you should take it.” I’m like, ‘I’m totally taking that,’ and I just did. But I feel like women need to have an understanding of themselves and who they are and who they want to [be].
Costumes are kind of a coat of arms, and I think clothing, as a costume designer and a stylist, I really think clothing is a coat of arms. You go into a situation dressed as how you want to be perceived, and it’s the first thing, as much as I don’t want to say we’re that kind of society. The first thing you look at is, “They’re dressed like that” or “He’s wearing that,” or “He’s in that suit,” or “She’s in that top,” or “She’s wearing that low-cut blouse.” We make very assumed statements about people, about how they’re dressed.
So think about you want to be perceived, think about who you are and how you want to look and how you want other people to perceive you as, and then kind of go after that. Kind of comb through images and ideas, and be it vintage films or be it modern magazines or a piece of art or a great piece of architecture, whatever inspires you, you can integrate into who you are, I think, fashion-wise.
Q: What is one fall trend that has you really excited?
A: I saw a lot of metallics, and I think when we’re seeing metallics now, like when you say metallic now, everyone thinks silver and gold, but I think what we’re seeing in metallics right now is deep autumnal colors. … There’s all these new fabrics that can give you a deep olive metallic or deep aubergine metallic or a deep pumpkin metallic that maybe we’re not used to really seeing, and I think that’s kind of the new way of metallics, is this deeper, kind of more saturated autumnal palette of metallics.
Q: A lot of people look back at old photos of themselves and think, “What was I thinking wearing that?” Do you ever have a similar experience watching “Gossip Girl”?
A: … I don’t, I don’t feel that because it’s a moment in time, and I feel like what you’re doing in that moment of time was that moment of time. … Like I look back at pictures of myself in the ‘80s, but it was the ‘80s, and I was that, and it was that moment in time. … Don’t ever be discontent with who you were at that moment and always live in the moment, and when you look back at that moment, remember that moment for how great it was and how great you looked.
Q: If you could raid the closet of anyone, dead or alive, whose would be tops on your list?
A: Catherine Deneuve, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis. Not necessarily in that order, but those would be the top.
Q: What’s more intimidating: giving viewers the first taste of Carrie Bradshaw pre- “Sex and the City” in “The Carrie Diaries” or coming up with buzz-worthy outfits for “Gossip Girl” again and again?
A: It’s all very intimidating because I think with all of it, which I’ve learned during all of this, a lot of it comes with a lot of, not pressure, but you don’t want to alienate people. … I want to be a very positive influence in people’s lives, and what we do and make sure that everyone understands that costuming is fun, fashion is fun. I think that’s the biggest, most important message that we get across. Be it the best, most affluent piece in “Gossip Girl,” or be it the pre-Carrie Bradshaw that we haven’t ever seen before, it’s all the same.
For me, it means something to be able to give the world something they can look at and be like, “Oh, I’m aspiring to that, but I’m also inspired, and I want to feel positive about it, and I can enjoy it.” I think that’s what’s really important, that I think a lot of people, with what we see behind the scenes, red carpets and everyone’s dogging on each other. … These days women get so much criticism. … I’d much rather try to have a positive vision, just create the fun and what it’s supposed to be about. Dressing up and shopping and having a costume persona is supposed to be fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be about.
We couldn’t agree more!
Tags: All Access: Fashion, Blake Lively, Ed Westwick, Eric Daman, Gossip Girl, INTERMIX, Kayla Franson, Leighton Meester, Michelle Trachtenberg, Natalie Kaar, Northern Virginia Magazine, nova mag, Q&A, Style Sense, TBD shopping, The Carrie Diaries, The CW, Tysons Galleria