How Costume Designer Jenn Rogien Kept “Girls” Realistic

Still riding that New York wave, I want to write about the New York fashion aesthetic of the HBO series Girls, which I watched just before it crossed the pond to the UK and reached the elitist channel of Sky Atlantic this October. Although I am not going to spoil any of the plot’s twists, I feel like there is something to be said about the realistic wardrobe of the four main characters – Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna. I recently read an interview with Girls’ costume designer Jenn Rogien by Fashion etc., in which she talked about why she decided to adopt a more realistic approach, rather than feed us with the umpteenth series of broke/average-salary people living it improbably large, only using taxis, and stacking Manolos in their cupboards as if they were cans of baked beans. Where the likes of Sex and the CityFriendsSeinfeld and How I Met Your Mother peddle a revisionist and, frankly, untrue image of the average New Yorker, Jenn Rogien rightly decided to focus mostly on more plausible Williamsburg vintage and thrift hotspots when putting together the wardrobe. Not only does Girls reflect the lives of a demographic that was virtually unexplored before – post-grad women in their mid-twenties still trying to figure out their lives, careers and relationships – it also echoes this realism within the mise-en-scène, for example showing Hannah on a subway train and on her bed with the same IKEA cushion I have at home, and I think the result is just right.

Marnie, Jessa, Hannah and Shoshanna. Source: HBO.

Rogien explained: “The show wasn’t about clothes. It’s about the girls, and they really wanted someone who could get on board with that and really get that they were trying to do these kind of crazy girls who aren’t necessarily all that put together. They wanted someone who would be able to translate that in a way that would aesthetically make sense and that would really support the comedy of the show… It’s a little offbeat, that’s probably the best word”.

Hannah. Source: HBO.

Jenn Rogien’s impressive resume includes TV series such as The Good Wife and Lipstick Jungle, where “everyone is incredibly dressed, and the accessories are perfect, and the shoes are expensive, and [they are] really high-end shows, but [Girls] is different from Lipstick Jungle: you don’t want everything perfectly curated. It’s actually just as hard to do messy as it is to do perfect”.

Jessa. Source: HBO.

Interestingly, despite Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna all sharing a very strong “Brooklyn-ness” about them, they all have very different tastes and styles. While Marnie is the only one with a well-paid job, and likes wearing more formal, grown-up outfits, Shoshanna opts for more colourful, modern pieces. Hannah’s style is definitely more ‘60s, including girly blouses, flippy skirts, cute dresses and flat brogues, and Jessa’s style (which is my favourite), is a combination of ‘70s, palazzo trousers and gorgeous kimonos paired with blood-red lipstick and soft chignons.

Marnie. Source: HBO.

Here’s how Rogien found most of the outfits used: “We actually talked a lot about that specifically with Marnie (Allison Williams) because she’s the one who sort of has this fancy job. We wanted her to look appropriate for the job, but we didn’t want to go to Bergdorf’s and buy her a Dior suit because it didn’t make sense for the character. That’s where we really relied on character and the actors to sort of feel it out as we were doing our fittings and see ‘You know this is a great piece but it’s way outside of what Marnie would be able to afford. Can we find it Loehmann’s? Can we find something similar from Lord & Taylor?’ We sort of skewed our shopping in that direction. ‘Is this realistic for the job that Marnie has? Is this realistic for Hannah, given that she doesn’t have a job?’ There were a lot of times when we would come to the conclusion that ‘Well, maybe her parents were helping her out when she was first trying to get a job.’ Marnie’s mum probably took her shopping when Marnie moved to the city and got this job because a lot of girls’ mums do. So we really tried to be as true to the spirit of characters as we could be in our shopping. If it seems right to go to Saks Fifth Avenue for some of the more special pieces, then that’s where we would go. If it seems more right to go to Atlantis Attic out in Williamsburg, we absolutely went out there. We were probably at Atlantic Attic and Beacon’s Closet for every episode because it’s the right stuff, that’s where those girls would go”.

Shoshanna. Source: HBO.

Girls is definitely a ground-breaking show and I cannot wait to watch the second series, which will launch in the US in January.

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My Trip to New York 2

Part 2 – The Fashion

In New York I had a great time finding shops I had previously heard about as well as stumbling into new places and walking in just to take a look and find unique pieces. Of course, I visited a huge amount of shops, but for the purposes of this blog I’ll try and keep my count down to the best four.

Catbird

This is a lovely, dinky, homely jewellery shop in Williamsburg. Here I finally found a pinky ring that wouldn’t make me look like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses. They have an incredible selection of once-in-a-lifetime pieces that will leave you marvelling at their cases and windows. With designers and brands such as Jacquie Aiche, Dream Collective and Marian Maurer, they sell an array of delicate objects, ranging from jewellery to beauty products, home ornaments, cards and cosmetics. Here’s what I bought:

My pinky ring.

Catbird.

Jewellery display.

Flying A

This SoHo store is the epitome of cool and Michael there was very kind, helpful and warm. What more could you want? Along with their own brand, they retail plenty of vintage piece and brands like American Vintage, Hope, Marimekko and Fjallraven, the result is an indie look with European names. Here I bought an amazing red vintage dress with a geometric little pattern that looks like polka dots from a distance. My dress was placed in a clever, red zip bag which I now use every single day to carry my packed lunch to the office.

Flying A.

A wonderful vintage dress with a floral upper half.

Assorted bracelets.

My dress.

The dress collar.

A gorgeous embroidered purse.

Scarves.

A big selection of men’s shirts.

Stella Dallas

Easily the best vintage shop I’ve ever visited. It is based on the edges of Greenwich Village retail ‘40s–‘60s clothing and, despite it being quite small, and with a dated décor of yellow walls and tatty shelves, I found four – 4! Different pieces here: a warm Norwegian jumper which I’ll have to defend against my boyfriend’s grubby mitts, a flattering dress, a beautiful burgundy beaded silk top and an amazing, gorgeous floor-length, ivory rayon bed dress that is bound to make history. It features rather wide, lacy shoulder straps which continue as a pattern in different inserts on the chest. Never seen such a charming, timeless piece of underwear like it, vintage or not. I had to have it!

Stella Dallas is a bit tucked away.

A delicate, beaded evening jacket.

A huge collection of fur coats.

Tokyo 7

I believe this is somewhat of an institution in the East Village. Tokyo 7 is a huge consignment store that sells all sorts of high-end designer names such as Emporio Armani, Prada and Marni, all at very sensible prices. I bought a near-to-new pair of black Vivienne Westwood ankle wellies, which I’ve already used three times since – I do live in London after all.

My Trip to New York 1

Part One – the Food

A few weeks ago, I returned from New York, where my friend Sara and I stayed in Brooklyn at Robin’s, the swellest girl in the whole city. It was my first time in the US, and, despite knowing that the Big Apple is not a true representation of the whole of the United States (just like London is not really synecdochic of the UK), being there highlighted how New York and London are so very different. Sure enough, Manhattan’s vibrant streets were heaving with people of all sorts of backgrounds and trades, buzzing with flickering lights beckoning passers-by, and steaming with an endless array of memorable scents, just like London’s Westend. But it made me realise that the British are a population of their own. With their self-pride, friendliness, exaggerated mannerisms, heartfelt involvement and loud enthusiasm when saying even the mildest of things, I would be more inclined to likening New Yorkers to the French or the Italians, rather than to their British counterparts. Of course it is not right to generalise to a smaller degree, such as saying whether I found one people more helpful in giving directions than the other, but I can definitely say that New York seemed to hum that little bit louder.

The food was outstanding, though that could have been that Sara and I were painstakingly selective when choosing where to have our next meal, but my favourite restaurants, which I would definitely recommend, were as follows:

Babbo

Not that it needs recommendation – this restaurant was the most up-market stop of the whole trip. Robin, Sara and I felt very much like grown-ups here, and despite only sharing a starter, a bottle of wine, a dessert, and only having a full primo (pasta main) each, we left feeling very full, which made this restaurant surprisingly affordable, particularly for its atmosphere and outstanding quality. The waiters were also impeccable – we were highly impressed by how they scooped up the crumbs from the tables making a spoon dance and glide on the tablecloth. The jewel-clad lady sitting next to us even commented on that little trick to the Jeeves-like waiter.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side

This has to be my second favourite meal of the trip, simply because now, if I were ever allowed one last meal in my life, my choice would have shifted from Osso Buco to a mighty, mayo-free but butter-soaked lobster roll. The huge chunks of lobster are velvety and melt in your mouth faster than you can say “fishing lobsters in Maine”. This roll is unfussy, simple and doesn’t need anything else added. It’s perfect. Go have it.

Luke’s on the Upper West Side. Picture taken by Sara.

Lobster Roll

Katz’s Delicatessen

This classic sammich deli did not disappoint. The sharpness of the pickles and sauerkraut cut through the richness of the pastrami, and the wholeness of the rye bread binds everything together beautifully. Needless to say, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and in hindsight we should have just ordered one to share. After we were done with (half of our) platefuls, we both silently pretended we still had a good reason to sit there for a little longer, just because neither of us could even waddle. And no, I didn’t do a Meg Ryan impression, the place was so rammed and loud that nobody would’ve noticed, anyway.

Sara with two strangers.

What she’s having.

Shake Shack

Ooh that Shack-cago hot dog was excellent, and the curly fries were a bit different – was it maybe the first time I ever had curly fries? I think it might well have been.*

A collage of our Shake Shack experience made by Sara.

230 Fifth

We didn’t eat here, but I had a delicious Dirty Vodka Martini and the view from the rooftop was breath-taking. It was a sunny yet windy late afternoon, so they provided warm, hooded red capes for everyone. Doesn’t get much better than sipping a vodka drink in a dressing gown in front of a beautiful view – and nobody seemed to care! I really loved the vintage-like lanterns all around the rooftop.

Another cool collage made by Sara.

A small part of the view from the rooftop.

Beautiful lanterns.

Watch this space, as I am soon to post about the little fashion gems I found in New York.

*I have since discovered that what we ate were actually crinkle fries — goes to show…!