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.

Street Style — London Westend

Vintage YSL blazer; b Store t-shirt; Paul Smith shirt; Jil Sander trousers; Marc by Marc Jacobs socks, Clarks brogues.

Copenhagen Erfurt scarf; River Island skirt; clogs and jacket from Japan; Philippe Roucou bag.

Topshop scarf; Bruuns Bazaar green dress; Joop purple cardigan; vintage lilac dress; Topshop brogues; Jil Sander for Uniqlo coat.

The Time I Went to Paris

On 8 October I took a train to Paris. I arrived there just after the capital’s fashion week had ended, which gave me the chance to visit beauties such as the Oh So London exhibition in the high-end department store Le Bon Marché without the hustle and bustle of all the people brought into the city by the event.

The Le Bon Marché exhibition was very well thought-out. It showcased a collection of Bryan Ferry’s albums, a whole section dedicated to Kate Moss and a few collections by British celebrity-come-designers such as Lucy in Disguise (Lily Allen) and Pretty Green (Liam Gallagher). I wasn’t exactly allowed to take pictures (a mysterious plain-clothes security guard told me off as soon as I zoomed into a bunch of Lanvin ties), but I did my best.

 

Walking around Paris you cannot avoid stumbling upon all sorts of wonderful things almost constantly. The best of my visit included a whole pink-and-blue window dedicated to Matthew Williamson’s chocolate, a Russian tea chain shop called Kusmi, a gorgeous Isabel Marant window, the biggest Zadig et Voltaire store ever seen by human eyes and a very elegant tea and candle company called Mariage Frère – Comptoir deThé (the Darjeeling candle is on my Christmas wishlist).

One of the highlights of my trips, however, was a unique and beautiful jewellery shop, which I reached at the end of a long walk from La Frégate, a great upmarket-yet-affordable restaurant on the Rive Gauche, where I had a mouth-watering confit de canard with garlic roasted potatoes…

Going back to the jewellery shop (!), this little boutique is called BRAI exclusive and takes its name from the homonymous jewellery collection created by two of the most inventive jewellery designers I’ve met in a long time. Delphine Pariente started off her career designing bags in 1998 moving to jewellery pretty soon after and hasn’t stopped creating one-of-a-kind pieces of art since. Her co-designer Claire Naa is also extremely creative and is the creator of the origami jewellery. I bought two pink gold little pendants, but it was very hard to choose.

 

Unhappy with the huge (but seemingly not sufficient) amount of cash I had spent until that point, I went vintage shopping. I was lucky there. Shall we talk about how cheap quality vintage is in Paris? I headed to the hip area Le Marais and visited Fripes Star, Free ‘P’ Star (my favourite) and Le Verger du Prince among others. I bought a lovely blue polka dot 1940s dress, a skirt, two pairs of shoes, a jumper and a hat, all way under £20 each.

Oh Paris, I want to come and see you again!

The Best Shop in Lisbon

In the centre of Mouraria, a small up-and-coming area behind Alfama, sits A Loja, an incredibly inspiring vintage shop. The owner is a very sweet young French lady who loves all things original and vintage.

First of all, I have to apologise for the quality of pictures. When I first found this gem of a shop, it was night time and a brilliant little street party was in full swing. A few people were jamming in the tiny square adjacent to it and the restaurant right on the square was selling drinks (double shots, a large wine and everything in between) €1 per glass. I stopped by, drank, danced, made friends, bought a lovely little book from A Loja and took a few pictures of the shop with my mobile phone. A couple of days later, before my return to the UK, I decided to take more pictures, this time with a film camera, in the daylight. Unfortunately the daytime pictures didn’t work out as the camera went crazy and I had to resort to my first batch of mobile photos!

A Loja is full of vintage clothes, books (the one I bought was a very affordable 1969 copy of Sociologie de la Mode, by René König), small furniture such as chairs and shelves, cushions, vinyls, bowls and all sorts of charming knickknacks. A cage was hanging above the door with two colourful birds in it and more often than not you’ll hear crackling 1950s music playing which will definitely get you in the vintage mood.

If you happen to stop by in Lisbon, this is a wonderful little shop that has to be visited! You will not be disappointed.

A Loja, Largo dos Trigueiros, 16B, Lisbon.