LOS ANGELES - Those of you who believe you're on a first-name basis with the leading ladies of the CW network's Gossip Girl are no doubt familiar with the hot-and-heavy plotlines - who's sleeping with whom, and betrayals that seem to pop up with astonishing regularity. But though it's true that the scripts, aimed at teens and twentysomethings, are filled with drama so thick they border on soap-operatic, it's the imaginative, sometimes outrageous sense of style that is most important to many devotees who need to fill their Tuesday mornings by reading (or writing) blogs devoted to what party dress Blair, Serena, or Jenny wore the night before.
As with Sex and the City, aspirational fashion set against the backdrop of bustling, upscale Manhattan makes for a winning combination, and the fashion community has taken notice of the Gossip Girls, celebrating the actresses' looks both on screen and off. Leighton Meester and Blake Lively, the actresses who portray Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen, respectively, have been feted and flung under the wing of Vogue's Anna Wintour faster than either of them could say "OMG." Taylor Momsen, who plays teenage rebel Jenny Humphrey, has become the poster girl for wannabe punk tweens everywhere, even appearing as the face of Material Girl, the clothing line brought to us by Madonna and her daughter Lourdes Ciccone.
Momsen's smudgy, raccoon-eyed makeup, platinum blond tresses, and penchant for ripped tights and miniskirts appeal to girls with a rock-star sensibility that's more Courtney Love than Katy Perry. Meester and Lively, on the other hand, are two of the current "it" girls in the pop-culture universe, garbed for the camera by costume designer Eric Daman and sought after by designers including Karl Lagerfeld and Versace and more accessible lines (such as Alice + Olivia and Nanette Lepore) that grab the attention of young girls watching at home. Meester and Lively have graced the covers of Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, In Style, Elle, Marie Claire, Allure, Bazaar, Glamour, Esquire, and GQ. And some designers reference them as muses, with Christian Louboutin designing the "Blake" shoe after Lively, and Vera Wang casting Meester as the face of her new fragrance due out in spring.
Meester's and Lively's small-screen alter egos are notable for their narcissism and bad behavior but seem to have had no effect on their real-life glamour, other than to possibly enhance it.
"The Gossip girls (and the boys, hello!) - are totally the new fashion icons for a whole generation," says Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys New York. "They are self-indulgent and vain and they shop their brains out. What more do you want from a role model?"
Lively, an L.A native who comes from a family of actors and directors, has been at the forefront of the Gossip Girl fashion parade, due in no small part to her 5-foot-10 frame, mile-long legs, and showstopping curves. "Blake Lively brings New York glamour, humor and style to our screens, which seems to have been missing since the last episode of Sex and the City," says fashion designer Jenny Packham, whose colorful, printed gowns have been worn by Lively, on screen and off. She also is one of the few young actresses today who do not use a stylist to get prepped and dressed for red-carpet events.
"She goes on Style.com, and designers send her stuff," says Daman.
Lively's on- and off-screen choices aren't dissimilar and seem to be dictated by what will flatter and accentuate her figure. On screen, her character favors combinations such as '70s-inspired trousers with a halter top or a thigh-high sequin minidress and chunky statement necklace, evoking a free-spirited fashion fan. On the red carpet, Lively has fulfilled the role of the bombshell, with choices including a fiery red, body-conscious Versace gown and a flowing Lanvin number with a thigh-high slit, straight from the runway.
"Blake does a lot of research and just devours it," says Daman. "It sounds cliche, but she really has a passion for fashion, like a hunger for it." He adds that Lively loves collecting shoes and gowns, embracing the experience in a Cinderella kind of way. "She is very smart about it, though," he says. "She really knows her body. . . . She understands how a look translates onto the red carpet and really just enjoys the whole process."
Lively's love of fashion has made for a blissful relationship with many of the fashion community's biggest players. The most visible sign of affection has come in the form of two Vogue covers. Wintour seems to be a fan of the actress and the show, and a September story line of Gossip Girl incorporated events from the Vogue-sponsored Fashion's Night Out. Several other editors and designers, including Joe Zee, Rachel Zoe, Cynthia Rowley, Charlotte Ronson, and Ivanka Trump, have made cameos on Gossip Girl, bringing more high-fashion credibility to the show and its stars.
Designers and brands are quick to publicize when a camisole, caftan or anything is worn by one of the characters, and there are countless blogs dedicated to informing the public what brands were worn, and where the items (or cheaper alternatives) can be purchased.
"Whenever one of the characters on the show wears a dress or a skirt, it creates an instant shopping boom," says Stacey Bendet, whose feminine frocks are featured regularly on the show.
Some fans of Gossip Girl say that the style quotient is the only reason they watch the show. "I feel like I'm watching a soap opera but with really awesome clothes," says Caitlin Monaghan, who says that at first she was embarrassed to watch. "Both Blake and Leighton have great style," she says, "though I was a little irritated with Blake last year, 'cause everything she wore was cut down to her navel. . . . But this year I've started to dig her style. She's less glamazon and easier to relate to."
Karissa Bowers, 18, started her blog www.gossipgirlfashion.net one year ago so fans could find out exactly what each character wore and where they could buy it. She gets about 18,000 hits a day from readers who want to see images of what was worn on Gossip Girl as well as what the show's main characters wore to recent red-carpet events.