Grittier and grimier (Brooklyn as opposed to Manhattan),the HBO hit series Girls is putting its stamp on the latest fashions.
By Angela Velasquez
For a generation that has grown up watching reality television, it should come as no surprise that a show based on four tewntysomething girls living in Brooklyn, NY, with a raw—and sometimes unflattering—reality of trying to make it on their own has struck a nerve with young women nationwide. Unlike Friends, which featured the Rachel hair cut and its stylish female cast members living in palatial apartments (who knew being a waitress, an entry-level chef and a masseuse paid so well), these girls are not really the best of “friends.” And while the girls have sex in the city quite regularly, it’s without the glamour of a dashing Mr. Big set amid a world where $600 designer shoes are everyday wear. To wit Gossip Girl, which helped land names like Carolina Herrera on the tip of teens’ tongues, Dhani Mau, associate editor for Fashionista.com says Girls keeps it real—warts and all. In particular, the series has excelled at depicting each of the four main characters through a believable more accessible style each their own—not just one all-encompassing fantasy look. “Each character is different and the show’s design team does a good job showing that all twentysomething girls don’t dress the same,” she explains.
Much of the Brooklyn-based show’s style is influenced by current street fashion. “I live in Brooklyn and we shoot in Brooklyn and we do a lot of people watching here,” explains Jenn Rogien, costume designer for Girls and the recipient of the Style Awards’ 2012 TV Costume Designer of the Year prize. “New York, as a whole, is always looking forward and finding better ways to express itself.”
That might mean having to look at photos from a specific event like an art opening or a trendy party if a scene calls for it, but Rogien says she prefers to find a more realistic way to complete a look for a character by mixing high and low, which mirrors the trend for an increasing number of real world women today. Any stigma of shopping Marshalls, Target or H&M has long since faded. A good deal is just that. As such, women have no problem pairing $800 English riding boots with a pair of black leggings they picked up at the corner drug store. “It varies depending on the girl’s financial situation and where she lives, but myself and the people I know mix pieces from Zara and H&M with thrift items,” confirms Mau, who is 24. “And then there’s the occasional splurge on a $300 Rachel Comely boot, but it pales in comparison to the amount of J.Crew in the closet.”
So, for a show that depicts friends sharing bathtubs, girls noshing on cupcakes in the shower and its lead character Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, donning a mesh tank top braless, is its fashion really that real? More imporantly, what sort of discernable impact is it having on fashion?
“For me it’s very real. More real than Sex and the City and Gossip Girl ever was,” says Nikki Surawski of the East Village Buffalo Exchange. The twentysomething associate manager at the bustling resale store near NYU and the L subway stop to Brooklyn sees outfits on the show that look just like something in her own closet. “The characters on Gossip Girl were the same age as the Girls characters, but they were Henri Bendel girls from the Upper East Side,” she says. “The average twentysomething just wants a great deal and something cute.”
“I live in the East Village, there’s lots of NYU kids around and there’s all those cool twentysomethings in Alphabet City, and I see them wearing our shoes,” confirms Anita Da Silva, designer for Bass Loves Rachel Antonoff, the go-to shoe for Hannah, adding that young women today like to mix old with new. “That’s what makes this twentysomething generation so unique,” she says. “They don’t mind mixing colors and prints. They are willing to explore and go further in their style.”
Launched in Spring 2011, after Antonoff enlisted Bass to design shoes for her Fall ’12 Murder Mystery collection, the collaboration has resulted in a partnership befitting a TV show based on female friendships. Da Silva says designing the line is like being a kid on a playground. “Rachel is the sweetest person to work with. She brings homemade cookies and an element of fun to the process. Time flies by,” she describes.
That wholesomeness shines through in the collection as it revisits the 1950s, a time Da Silva says the footwear brand reached its first peak in popularity. By refreshing classic models like penny loafers and saddle shoes with updated colors and whimsical accents, the styles fall in line with Antonoff’s throwback design aesthetic. For instance, instead of a traditional penny catcher, the two-tone Wendybird loafer (seen on Hannah) features a heart-shaped penny catcher.
“Whatever we’re choosing, we hope it connects to the characters’ emotional lives,” Rogien says. Of course, she notes that storytelling extends to footwear. “Shoes impact the way a character stands and walks,” she offers. “Even though we may never see it in the shot, because it’s the farthest thing away from their faces, shoes make an incredible impact. They affect the actors’ height and stance and how they carry themselves.”
It’s the reason why Rogien chooses wedge sandals and Nine West pumps for Allison Williams’ character, Marnie. “Marnie is more polished than the other characters,” she says of the former-gallery assistant. Platform pumps are a must and, in the second season, Rogien says she’s exploring more advanced, fashion-forward shoes like asymmetrical pumps for the character. Stefani Greenfield, creative officer at The Jones Group, agrees: “Shoes, especially high heels, ignite a woman’s transformation and give her confidence. I think Girls, and the character of Marnie in particular, is a great representation of how young women today are balancing their careers and personal lives while expressing themselves through fashion.”
Similarly, Rogien finesses trend-conscious Shoshanna’s sweet and feminine looks with Sam & Libby wedges and low heels, but the still-in-college character (played by Zosia Mamet) is better known for her collection of pajamas. “To play into her youthfulness and role as a NYU student, we use a lot of loungewear and Ugg slippers,” Rogien describes. To contrast Shoshanna’s innocence, there’s her British cousin Jessa (Jemima Kirke), the most stylish and eccentric of the gang. Rogien keeps the well-traveled character elegant in vintage shoes and clothes, noting, “She has a pretty high-end wardrobe that we find at sensible budget prices.” Jessa’s fashion moment came at the end of the first season when she wore a pair of saturated blue Alexander McQueen shoes for her wedding. And then there is Hannah. She’s a flats girl, often seen in old huarache sandals and weathered oxfords—and that may be one decision based on necessity rather than storytelling. When Dunham accepted her Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Comedy recently, she infamously struggled up the stage in her 150mm black patented Christian Louboutin peep-toe heels.
“I’ve come to describe Hannah as lovingly disheveled,” Rogien explains. “Her clothes are intentionally ill-fitting. Her dresses are a bit off and her shorts are unflattering. She’s our not-all-together girl, but there’s a sweetness and uniqueness to her character.” Traits that drew Rogien to the Bass Loves Rachel Antonoff line. She describes the collection of penny loafers and oxfords as “a little quirky and a bit hipster.”
Surawski of Buffalo Exchange, a Brooklyn resident, says her borough’s acceptance of eclectic and hip mix of fashion is part of what makes her neighborhood stylish. “You’ll see everything from bohemian fashion to edgy, rock-inspired stuff. It helps make it a very exciting place to live,” she says. And it’s unpredictable and fluid. “The minute I think I know Brooklyn style, it changes,” Rogien quips.
While researching for the line and looking at Bass’ archives, Da Silva kept running into blog posts and tweets about how girls found their mom’s old Bass shoes in the back of a closet. “They like a little nostalgia and heritage—shoes that look like treasures—but they also like the fact that many of these old styles were made with great leathers and visual interest,” she says. As a result, Da Silva tries to make shopping for the new versions like “discovering a vintage gem.” To that end, she notes that there are plenty of outlets in Brooklyn that offer vintage clothes at affordable prices that blend well with new merchandise. In addition to Buffalo Exchange, there’s Beacon’s Closet and Mini Mini Market on the über-trendy Bedford Avenue, where shoppers can pick up almond toe flats by B.C. International and TUK creepers for under $100. Or they can shop Bird for unique and higher-end styles by the likes of Dieppa Restrepo, Loeffler Randall and Isabel Marant.
While Rogien says Jessa’s mysterious, globetrotter background lends itself to “true vintage fashion,” she believes vintage-inspired styles at attainable prices are better suited for Hannah. “We go to thrift stores, but we’ll also hit up the sales rack at Anthropologie and Madewell,” she reports. “One of my other favorite places to find shoes is DSW because you have access to so many affordable brands and it is easy to shop for both the girls and boys featured on the show.”
With so much attention paid to accessible fashion, should retailers be waiting with baited breath for a Sex and the City-generated sales rush? Da Silva reports Bass gets a notable bump in sales and visits to its website when a particular shoe appears on Girls, similar to when it gets a shout-out from a magazine. “We tweet about it. We’re just so grateful and happy,” she says.
Other companies have taken a more direct approach with Girls tie-ins. To mark the start of the second season, Urban Outfitters launched an “Urban Outfitters x Girls” sweepstake offering one lucky winner a year’s worth of rent and $5,000 in home improvements. Deborah Lippmann created a limited-edition collection of nail polish, four colors to represent each character. Other Girls tie-ins included Drybar in New York, which linked up with HBO to offer free blowouts for three days (and resulted in a booking catastrophe), and SoulCycle offered free spin classes for a week.
But, some marketing experts believe, the buck stops there. The show might be too real. As Fashionista.com’s Mau believes, Girls’ influence on fashion hits that target audience but lacks the broader appeal that luxury fashion possesses. Perhaps not every gal aspires to go braless in a mesh top?And while Mau enjoys watching the show, the New Yorker sees that fashion every day. Surawski agrees: “Teenagers might find the fashion interesting, but it’s geared to the twentysomething crowd and, for that crowd, it is reality.”