fashion show

From Ugg boots to Chanel bags, 'The O.C.' has become a style trendsetter 'The O.C.' has become a style trendsetter


MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- The doe-eyed Marissa and her spunky friend Summer are lying by the pool in tiny bikinis, sunning and drinking Newport Beach iced tea (i.e., spiked) at 10 in the morning. It must be Fox TV's soapy hit series The O.C., which is back for a second season starting Thursday at 8 p.m.

But those aren't just any bikinis. Marissa (Mischa Barton) is wearing a white Calvin Klein with tortoise shell detailing, and Summer (Rachel Bilson) is in a fuchsia pink Dolce & Gabbana. Many people don't realize just how stylish The O.C. really is, but in the industry it's considered one of the possible successors to HBO's fashion showcase, Sex and the City, which ended in February.

Clothing is a recurring character on the show -- depending on plot lines -- if not exactly a star. The costume staff shops for the 40 to 60 outfits needed every episode at the trendiest boutiques and funkiest shops in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. Designers lend The O.C. their newest styles, the ones not in the stores yet, as a sort of product placement. They keep the show ahead of the curve. Fans can find out where they can buy the clothes, or a lower-priced equivalent, on the Fox Web site. All of this is coordinated by costume designer Karla Stevens, who has a Maryland connection. She spent her early childhood in Chestertown, where her father was a professor at Washington College.

"The show is quite fashion-forward and always on trend," says In Style magazine's fashion editor, Toby Tucker Peters. She remembers watching in horror last season when troubled teen Marissa jumped into the ocean wearing a Matthew Williamson dress. "It was ruined," Peters moans. "I nearly had a heart attack. I had just borrowed the same dress the week before."

Teenagers on other TV shows dress like, well, teenagers. On The O.C., they sometimes wear jeans and vintage tops; but the girls also carry Chanel book bags to school and party in designer duds.

Erin Hudson, a college student shopping at Bebe in Towson Town Center, is a former Sex and the City fan and current O.C. addict.

"A lot of us watch The O.C.," she says, "I don't think we would if they dressed like they bought their clothes at Abercrombie. They're well put together, and they dress like they're older than they are."

Older women on the show do exactly the opposite. If possible, they look even slimmer and sexier than the teen-agers. The clothes they wear are about as far from matronly as you can get, from bombshell mom Julie Cooper's marabou slippers and Juicy Couture warm-ups to working woman Kirsten Cohen's cocktail-party daywear.

Fashion showcases

Only a few shows lend themselves to being fashion showcases. Miami Vice comes to mind. Like that groundbreaking 1980s series, The O.C. portrays a fantasy world, filled with beautiful people living in a wealthy oceanside community. If the characters aren't fighting with each other or sleeping with their daughter's boyfriend, they're holding charity fashion shows or throwing a party.

"Oh, good. You wore the Chanel," said Julie Cooper (Melinda Clarke) to her daughter Marissa at last season's Newport Beach gala.

One reason Marissa wore the Cha-nel is that Mischa Barton, who looks like a runway model and has appeared on the covers of Elle, Jane, Seventeen, Italian Vogue and Lucky, has a personal relationship with the fashion house. Chanel dresses her for personal appearances and lends her, and her alone, new designs to wear on The O.C.

People who don't watch the show assume that the clothes are only of interest to tweens and teens. Not so, says the 18-year-old Barton, who loves fashion and sometimes brings magazines to costume designer Stevens to give her ideas. "It's a wide range. People in their 20s and 30s tell me they love the clothes on the show. It's nice that [the fashion] kind of took off on its own, but I don't know. It's a lot to live up to, to be the next Sex and the City."

Industry analyst David Wolfe of the New York-based Doneger Group, a retail consulting firm, says he watches The O.C. because "in my job I have to." The clothes will never be as edgy and trend-setting as the fashion on Sex and the City, he believes, because the audience is more mainstream. "With Sex and the City, you had to be in SoHo to find the clothes."

The O.C. works as a fashion showcase, says Wolfe, because young people are looking to it for role models, good or bad, "and that makes it ideal for product placement. It's perfect subliminal advertising." And if they can't afford a Chanel? "All they have to do is wait a heartbeat, and they'll find [a knockoff] in the mall."

But it's never just fashion for fashion's sake, insists the show's executive producer, Stephanie Savage. "We ask ourselves, 'How can we use fashion to develop the characters?'" One look at Kirsten (Kelly Rowan) and you know she's a fashion-forward working wo-man, while Julie Cooper is over the top -- and a little slutty besides.

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