Seemingly “Leaked” Set Photos Are Changing the Narrative Around Fashion in Film
Are they leaked? Are they staged? We investigate.
Few moments stand out in the sartorial history of Sex and the City more than Carrie Bradshaw's wedding gown. As our favorite heroine finally attempts to wed her Wall Street prince, she dons a raw silk Vivienne Westwood gown the size of a small house (thanks to some rather intense crinoline underpinnings) and teal plumage in her updo. Paparazzi grabbed a shot of this infamous ensemble—hard to miss enraged gown-clad SJP whacking Chris Noth over the head with a bouquet of roses in the middle of Bryant Park. In what seemed like an instant circa 2008, the photos covered the newspapers with a headline announcing that Carrie had returned.
"That outfit was kind of spoiled for us in a way," recounts Molly Rogers, who worked in tandem with Pat Fields on the show's wardrobe. Oh, the irony. Thirteen years later, as HBO films the And Just Like That... reboot, our Instagram feeds catalog nearly every look the cast wears as soon as they are selected. "Now, it's just next-level," says Rogers.
Danny Santiago, who works with Rogers on the wardrobe for the SATC sequel, notes that the ensembles are typically posted within 15 minutes of the girls stepping outside their trailers. Eric Daman, the costume designer on both the original Gossip Girl and its reboot notes a similar phenomenon, ironically akin to the function of Gossip Girl herself. "There was one day when Jordan [Alexander] left her trailer and by the time she got to set, the outfits were on social and the callouts were already happening," he recounts. "I was like, 'Is someone from our team leaking photos?'"
"It's very easy for them to find us because all they have to do is just go to City Hall and see who's pulled the film permit," says Rogers. "Or they're tipped off." In 2021, anyone can qualify as paparazzi if they have a smartphone. This frenzy seemingly began the moment they started to film with swarms of photographers hovering around the set, emails and social media accounts at the ready—a side effect of counting the streets of New York as your set. In spite of this prolific level of access, these images are just that: images. We have no context in terms of plot outside of what we can infer from the clothes or a few scene-setting clues. According to the transitive property, the fashion now receives most of the attention—both good and bad.
"It's kind of amazing to see the buzz that it is generating," says Daman, and "that people are so excited by what I am doing with my craft and so many other [stylists]." These snapshots, editorial in nature, serve almost as a portfolio for the designers, appearing on screens all over the world. "I think it definitely gives [our work] a different kind of validity and understanding," the sartorial maestro reflects.
The proliferation of this sort of content places the costume designers in the driver's seat to wield their influence on the market. "How do they know that that's a LaQuan Smith piece within five minutes?" exclaims Daman. In tandem with the paparazzi shots, you'll find Instagram accounts, like @gossipgirlstyleguide, whose sole job is to identify where the items came from for their followers.
These rapidly identifiable fashion credits often directly translate to sales. When SJP as Bradshaw stepped out in a ruched blue Norma Kamali dress—a look dubbed "the new Carrie dress" that was met with refreshing praise—it's surprising you couldn't actually hear the cash registers cha-ching. According to Kamali's team, while the dress was a popular style ahead of these images, it completely sold out once those images surfaced.
Daman, in particular, notes that this newfound access to real-time feedback actually influences his process. If the cast were to be filming on the steps of the Met, that might determine which bag, or rather which bag brand, made it into the shot. Daman has been able to develop advantageous relationships with brands, like Roger Vivier, that stemmed from the show.
This instant fashion gratification has lent a transactional air to the act of costuming (it's also worth noting here that Emily in Paris has announced that its looks would be shoppable in season two). "I think it's really changed how the studios and the networks are looking at it," says Daman. It's given designers more validity from a studio point of view, shifting the idea of what costumers bring to the table to greater resemble, at times, a "marketing tool" versus something purely creative.
Rogers and Santiago are notably less pleased with this newfound commercial nature. "It was shocking because it put such a price tag on everything," says Rogers. Their notable use of vintage and pre-owned fashion throws a wrench in the transactional component. Early on in the filming schedule, SJP carried a vintage straw bag that befuddled the fashion industry because no one was able to identify it. "Even somebody big in fashion texted me and was like, 'Who did that bag?' I was like, 'No one. I found it in a thrift store.'"
And Just Like That
The reboot aspect of it all imbibes spectators with a sense of authority. Audiences believe they know how these characters should act, or in this case, dress. This phenomenon has no greater power than in the case of And Just Like That..., which boasts a nearly identical cast to its predecessor. "The fans of the original show are possessive and protective," explains Rogers. "They take it all personally."
In stark contrast to those that serve as fashion librarians for these sets, there are many commentators not earning a gold star for their research. After Kristin Davis (aka Charlotte York) was spotted wearing sneakers, fans were enraged. Rogers recounts that they went so far as to say the stylists should "be killed" for such malpractice. The irony? Those were the comfort shoes Davis wore from trailer to set before changing into her stilettos for the actual scene.
Daman recounts a similar experience. "There's this great paparazzi picture of Emily [Alyn Lind] going to set in very clunky wedge sneakers that are obviously not part of her look," he says. "She wears them for comfort and then also sometimes for height if they're not on camera so they're not in crazy heels for 12 hours." Once action is called, Lind swaps her Skechers for Gucci boots, but that's only within the gates of the Constance Billard schoolyard—or the Museum of the City of New York. "It's like, 'Slow your roll, girl,'" laughs the costume designer. "'Take a step back and realize that Eric Daman would not have put that Skecher wedge sneaker with that look.'"
Writer, podcast host, and all-around cultural commentator Evan Ross Katz underscores a key component in the equation: It's currently "en vogue" to be "performatively incensed" behind the protection of a Twitter handle. "I think people have this impression that somehow we were seeing every outfit that was going to be on the show and, therefore, we were spoiling the show," comments Katz. "The implication that this is a show that entirely takes place outside is just...well, I like to believe it's not true based off the prequel series, right?"
So, are these supposedly leaked images actually spoiling the show? "I kind of think of it as an aperitif leading up to a meal," says Katz, likening the breach to the discovery that Kelly Clarkson made the top 10 of American Idol versus disclosing her win. "It's fascinating how much people infer things about what this future version of the show is going to be from the looks alone," Katz posits, followed by, "And I have participated in this discourse, to an extent."
"I believe, from everything that we've gathered so far, that Carrie is going to spiral at some point, which to note, is my favorite kind of Carrie," he posits. "I'm taking cues from the looks based off the fact that I don't think we are getting a new Carrie as some people are trying to frame it. The way I see it is more like we're getting a version of Carrie that we've seen shades of before."
Too busy to pay the discourse much attention, the AJLT duo has found some amusement watching fans, as Santiago describes it, "write their own script." He continues to muse, "They read so much into an expression of a shot that a paparazzi took that has nothing to do with what's going on. It may just be off-camera. 'She looks sad. Why does Carrie look depressed?' They start coming up with all these ideas."
House of Gucci
As previously noted, fans are obsessed. In as similar a fashion as Katz and I could think of, House of Gucci paparazzi shots have managed to infiltrate, and often dominate, our social media accounts, as well. Here is another instance where fans have the opportunity to compare these looks to an original, which in this case, is the original Gucci family. Though, there has been much less criticism involved.
Katz makes note of a few important factors at play. "One, it is literally a film about fashion; it's in the name. So, I do think there's a different sort of appetite than if this was just Lady Gaga's second film coming off A Star is Born." Secondly, Gaga herself has a rather mighty fanbase, with similar accounts ready to ID her every look—Katz specifically names @lamaisongaga and @gagadaily as a fabulous few—and attempting to provide context. Aside from the fashion, the film's slightly absurdist nature positions the leaked shots as ripe for meme culture. We're figuring few have yet to witness the clip of Lady Gaga swearing on "father, son, and House of Gucci."
"The other thing I find funny about House of Gucci is that we know the plot," so the act of spoiling has more to do with the clothes. In the case of both pieces of unreleased content, it seems naive to assume we've seen every single look. So "spoiling is on a gradient," Katz reminds us.
The quick-witted commentator specifically points to the editorial nature of these seemingly "leaked" images as the major difference from those of the past. In reference to the aforementioned photo in the Norma Kamali dress, "You could tell me that Annie Leibovitz shot that and I would be like, 'Okay, work.' There are quite a few with Sarah Jessica Parker looking directly at the camera. It's for us to infer whether or not she is posing. I'm going to go with yes on nothing but conjecture and a desire to want to believe it."
And Just Like That
Both Rogers and Santiago say they never release anything purposefully. Just the opposite, both were clinging to looks that would only be shot inside so as to retain some element of surprise for the final product. Rogers was running around yelling, "Okay, we only shoot this look interior, don't post anything. Nobody knows it exists but us. It might be a surprise—if we're lucky." The AJLT duo attempted to get ahead of the commentary by launching their own Instagram account (@andjustlikethatcostumes), but the rate of dissemination proved insurmountable. The Gossip Girl team had a bit more success but still struggled to compete with the fiendish circulation.
These images have managed to generate so much buzz they've arguably eclipsed the function a press tour would serve nearer to the release date. "I think it's genius," muses Katz. "Beneficial is an understatement." We're all talking about them, whether that's on Twitter, Instagram, or the in-person conversations that stem from the social media discourse.
"One thing that separates And Just Like That... is the speculation over some of these photos being staged for the paparazzi specifically to throw us off our scent," Katz hypothesizes. He doesn't believe they are messing with their audience per se, but instead having a bit of fun throwing them off the trail. "They know what they're doing," he says, alluding to the shrewdness of "the powers that be at HBO."
And Katz is sort of correct. These costume designers don't have the time nor energy to stage something as astronomical as a full-blown fake scene, but Rogers did let slip that not all of these looks will make it into the final cut, noting one particular false ensemble that seemed to work "really well." Katz posits the Batsheva, cigarette-smoking ensemble as the culprit, which became commonplace in the meme world almost instantaneously. Is he correct? We'll have to wait and see.
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