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There’s a flashback scene in tonight’s “Gossip Girl”: Brittany Snow, who plays a teenage version of the show’s matriarch Lily van der Woodsen, has to change from her preppy, Ralph Lauren look — tweed blazer and lavender riding pants — into something more suitable for a night out at a punk club. Scouring through her older sister’s locker, Lily tries on every type of Eighties outfit imaginable — an Olivia Newton-John “Physical” getup, a hard-edged Pat Benatar ensemble and Madonna’s classic combo of a belly shirt and suspenders — before finally settling into a strong-shouldered jacket, tiered dress and electric pink Givenchy heels. And over the course of an hour, viewers are transported back in time to the decade of excess.
The walk down memory lane may not be the only blast from the past. “Gossip Girl” executive producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage hope this episode will serve as a sneak peek at their as-yet-untitled “Gossip Girl” spin-off, which chronicles the wild adventures of a 17-year-old Lily in Los Angeles, circa 1983, with Eighties garb courtesy of Los Angeles-based costume designer Meredith Markworth-Pollack (the CW reveals its fall schedule on May 21).
Viewers will get a preview of her stylings tonight. After Serena’s recent arrest during last week’s episode of “Gossip Girl,” older Lily reflects on her own teenage years, which included getting kicked out of the Montecito Boarding School and moving to Los Angeles in hopes of living with her music-executive father — played by former Eighties heartthrob Andrew McCarthy. When Lily’s plans don’t work out as expected, she goes in search of her rule-breaking, estranged sister Carol (Krysten Ritter). Naturally, chaos ensues.
Not surprisingly, the fashion is as much a character on the show as the stars. “It was a way to declare your tribe. People could tell where you belonged based on what you were wearing,” says Savage. “It corresponded with what kind of music you liked, if you went out at night, if you did or didn’t drink. All of that got coded into your clothes.”
Lily’s wardrobe starts off modeled after prim and proper Blair Warner from “The Facts of Life,” but undergoes a drastic transformation. “In the opening scenes, she dresses very preppy, which shows how she was brought up,” says Snow. “Later, she has to fit into the [rock ’n’ roll] scene her sister is living in,” she says. “[Lily] is very out of her element in these clothes; you can see how uncomfortable she is.”
While Lily is all polish, Carol flaunts a more “Desperately Seeking Susan” punk style. She initially rocks a sexy, Yves Saint Laurent leather jacket and skintight, strapless dress, which she later swaps for a cute sailor look complete with a Jordache cropped denim jacket and calf-length boots. “It is this pieced-together, perfectly imperfect look of leggings, oversize sweatshirts and bandanas,” says Markworth-Pollack, who was assistant to “Gossip Girl” costume designer Eric Daman on the show’s first season.
To prep, Markworth-Pollack watched dozens of classic Eighties movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “Less Than Zero.” It helped having McCarthy there as well, who served as unofficial style expert.
“He’s king of the Eighties movie. He had the final word,” she says.
In addition, she studied the many iconic labels of the decade — from Chanel to Betsey Johnson and Norma Kamali. And she even noted some of today’s current designers, like Alexander Wang and Balmain, as inspiration. The most fruitful exercise, however, was scouring Los Angeles’ vintage stores like The Way We Wore, Wasteland and American Rag, where most of the pieces for the episode were found.
If the show progresses, Markworth-Pollack promises an array of exciting period choices: power suits, crinolines and lace gloves. But the look she is most excited to re-create is Duckie from “Pretty in Pink.”
“It was fresh and artsy. It just stood out.”