How the "Gossip Girl" Glam Team Evolved Upper East Side Beauty for a New Generation

Plus, their favorite looks from the original GG.

Gossip Girl

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From the moment the unforgettable Kristen Bell monologue debuted on millions of screens in the fall of 2007, it was clear Gossip Girl's place would be cemented in the pantheon of iconic teen television shows forever. Alongside other generation-defining juggernauts like 90210 or The Wonder Years, everything from the show's featured songs to its one-liners became pop culture touchstones—though nothing stood out like the characters on Gossip Girl and their corresponding, signature looks. The hair and makeup alone conveyed enough about their individual personalities that the characters' first names became a symbol for the real-life teens who identified with them. "I'm a Blair" or "I'm a Jenny" speaks volumes to large swaths of millennials. And now, with HBO's ultra-modern reboot, an entirely new generation is falling in with a fresh set of Upper East Side's most elite (and dramatic) high schoolers.

Years ago, head hairstylist Jennifer Johnson and lead makeup artist Amy Tagliamonti teamed up to bring the OG Gossip Girl to life, responsible for some of the most memorable beauty trends of the 2000s (headbands, anyone?). Now, they've reunited on the 2021 Gossip Girl reboot to make real an entirely new set of characters—and it's apparent to everyone who's seen the reboot that the pair haven't lost their magic touch. To go behind the scenes with both the new show and the original, Byrdie sat down with Johnson and Tagliamonti firsthand to talk about everything Gossip Girl beauty. You already know you love them.

Gossip Girl Reboot Cast

Karolina Wojtasik / HBO Max

On Finding Inspiration for the New Series

JJ: I did some mood boards for it, but with the original one, we just kind of went off what the wardrobe designs were and the clothes they were wearing and tried to create from that. A mood board in terms of inspirational photos, yes. But I think we like to meet the actors and kind of work off of what's theirs and what they bring to the table so that it has an organic, personal look for the individual as opposed to, "Oh, you have curly hair? So you can wear your hair this way and this way." We like to create on the spot. Amy and I work well off of each other creatively, and of course, with Eric [Daman's] wardrobe. We both live in New York. You walk out your door, and you're bombarded with how people look. And you're like, "Oh, that's cool! And oh, that!" In the East Village, kids are turned out every day now. It's back to the '80s and '90s when they used to look so fun.

Each actor has their own vibe. It is a story because they all come together, but they all have their own style vibe.

AT: I agree with Jen on all fronts. We're just people that create in the moment. We obviously have conversations with the showrunner to get a general idea of the characters; we read the scripts and understand each person. But until we meet the actors and really get a feel for them and, like Jen said, see the clothing. Jen and I often talk to each other, "Oh, what are you doing? What are you thinking?" We're lucky; we're fortunate that we have people who trust us to create looks instead of being dictated.

This cast is bigger than the original. Everybody's different. It's hard to pinpoint—certain characters are more classic, and there's more freedom and experimenting with some people. Like Jordan Alexander, who plays Julien, she has a shaved head. That's not the traditional thing, seeing the lead on a show having a shaved head as a young female. We get to experiment with her. But then other characters are more traditional and some that are more playful. And so I kind of think it runs the gamut.

Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl

On Their Favorite Characters to Create Looks for

JJ: It's funny; I would have to say it's all somewhat equal. Even Jordan—although she has a shaved head—we've started adding things to her head, so we get to be creative that way. I can't pick one over the others!

AT: I think they all get to be glamorous in their own way, but some stay in their lane more. A character like Jordan's—she's an influencer. She's always doing something different. And that's reflective in her clothing, even her personality. So for me, I get to play with her a lot. But that's because also her wardrobe changes more. But everybody still gets to be glamorous in their own way. I don't think on the original you would have seen people as casual. Some of the clothing or some of the less-done looks that are happening now reflect the times. You wouldn't have seen that as much in the original. I think there's just like more room in general, instead of everybody getting to be one thing or another.

Jordan Alexander in Gossip Girl

Karolina Wojtasik / HBO Max

JJ: In the original, everyone was glamorous—it didn't matter if they just rolled out of bed; they were glamorous. And now, these girls come home from school, and sometimes they have a grungy t-shirt and baggy jeans. I do think you see a lot more "down looks."

AT: I know this is a hair thing, but even Whitney [Peak's character] going to bed or waking up? Her hair's wrapped, right? I don't know if on the original anybody would have really had that.

JJ: Yeah, like you do a sleeping bonnet or wrapped in a scarf. I think on most TV shows; they don't do that. We're like, "No, let's keep this real." What I was nervous about is the original was so glamorous, and on this one, I feel like there are moments of glamour for sure. But I think that it's a lot more realistic.

On Their Favorite Beauty Moments from the Reboot

JJ: There are things that I've done with Whitney that I love... but a favorite? I don't know! There's a pretty simple one: it's just up, and then she has some bangs. It looked so cute on her to me. And then there was another one we wrapped her head in a scarf, but then had it curly up here. It was just a scarf, but I loved it. Those are probably my two favorites, but they're not like the most glamorous or like "Gossip Girl." But I like those two on her; I find them to be the most flattering. I loved those. You'll see it on Episode 10!

AT: I feel like Whitney, for me. If she's in pajamas or she's in the fanciest outfit that her character's been in or if she's in jeans, there's something very exquisite about her face—up or down. So I think like any look on her is great.

Gossip Girl Reboot Still

Karolina Wojtasik / HBO Max

On the Most Iconic Scenes from the Original

JJ: There are a couple with Blake [Lively], actually. And one because I feel like I see it everywhere, all the time. We did this Hamptons white party [in early season two], and it was a very Greecian-inspired look. We had this necklace in her hair. I see it often places, and people will be like, "Oh, that's my favorite hairstyle!" It was fun, though not necessarily my favorite.

We did one where it was like a '70s party, and I gave her super long, thick, curly hair. I loved it. And then there was one when we were in Paris. It was like a "scrunch-scrunch" [look], and then a ponytail. And it was pretty simple, but it was the whole outfit; it was a whole look. And it was also maybe being in Paris.

There were also two weddings that I loved: Serena's look, which was that yellow one. The second time that I loved Serena's hair was when Blair got married. It was a huge French twist but down low with fresh flowers in it—that I loved. I think I'm alone in loving it, but it was one of my favorites.

Original Gossip Girl

HBO Max

AH: We have fun. Even doing like looks on like Michelle Trachtenberg, who played Georgina, you're just like, "Oh, this is great!" We got to do fun things with Blair's minions, like the mean girls and stuff.

JJ: When Hilary Duff had a guest role, I don't think I've ever put more extensions in someone's hair than hers. We had some with braids; it was just big.

How to Embrace the 2021 GG Look

JJ: For hair, it's working with your natural texture, whatever that may be. I think it's just working with your own natural texture, be it curly, be it straight, be it whatever. Just an effortless look, which was what Serena was supposed to be but really, was she ever effortless? No. [2021] is more effortless; it's more working with your own texture and embracing it.

Savannah Lee Smith Gossip Girl

Karolina Wojtasik / HBO Max

AH: For makeup, it's a clean face, and that's done up or done down. We use a lot of tinted lip balms which might sound silly, but there are amazing ones out there, and we can use them all the time, so the girls have these pretty stained lips. It runs the gamut with what we use, but Tarte has some amazing ones; they're almost like a glossy balm. And then we use things like Burt's Bees—like we use high and low and middle of the road, all sorts. It's just whatever works. I think everyone's different, so it's really just being yourself.

JJ: Seeing what you bring to the table and just enhancing it.

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