'The O.C.' costume designer spills the show's fashion secrets - Kogonuso

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Aug 8, 2018

'The O.C.' costume designer spills the show's fashion secrets

This week marks the 15th anniversary of “The O.C.,” a show whose smart blend of self-aware humor and soapy drama made it a pop cultural phenomenon over the course of its four-season run.

But while the teen drama offered a fascinating glimpse into the scandalous (and stylish) lives of Newport Beach, California’s, elite, building convincingly fancy closets for the show’s cast wasn’t always a breeze.

“We started with a little tiny budget, which was a challenge because everything had to look super high-end,” Season One costume designer Alexandra Welker told Page Six. “There was absolutely no borrowing [from brands] involved either, because nobody had ever heard of us, so they were very leery of loaning anything.”

As a result, Welker had to get scrappy when outfitting the characters for the black-tie events featured in most episodes. “In the pilot, I remember we did a fashion fundraiser,” Welker recalled. “I called every designer out there to explain what we were doing and who I was, and they all turned me down. So for those runway looks, we used everything from sale-rack clothes to things from costume houses to things I’d designed myself.”

Gathering clothes for the show’s heroine, Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton), who toted designer bags to school and dressed in head-to-toe labels, proved particularly challenging.

“I’ll be honest: Those Chanel bags that she carried, those weren’t something I could have on my budget,” Welker said. “But I found this amazing store in Downtown LA that sold the best-looking fakes I’d ever seen! So we used some really, really good knockoffs.”
Modal TriggerChris Carmack and Mischa Barton on "The O.C."
Chris Carmack and Mischa Barton on “The O.C.”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Luckily, the wardrobe team was able to swap those fakes for the real deal once the show started to take off. “I’ll always be grateful to Mischa Barton: She started doing a lot of modeling because of the show, and the folks at Chanel loved her,” Welker said. “They actually loaned me a couple of samples, and once we started using real Chanel, of course, I had to let those fakes fall by the wayside.”

Still, Welker said, she had to do a lot of “high-low shopping” to ensure she stayed within her budget. “I literally shopped everywhere from Neiman Marcus and Saks in Beverly Hills to Forever 21,” she explained. “And if I was able to splurge on a Marc by Marc Jacobs piece, for instance, I’d pair it with a denim miniskirt and flip-flops.”
Modal TriggerMischa Barton, Benjamin McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Adam Brody on "The O.C."
Mischa Barton, Benjamin McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Adam Brody on “The O.C.”©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The costume designer also leaned heavily on smaller California brands she discovered in LA’s Fashion District.

“I’d visit the showrooms, introduce myself to the reps and try to meet the designers,” Welker said. “I made connections with all these great local brands like Joie, Corey Lynn Calter and Petro Zillia. Brands that were just starting to take off at the time, and that I ended up being able to shop wholesale.”

“The O.C.” went on to earn both popular and critical acclaim, and its cast turned into superstars almost overnight. “We had our heads down, hard at work — and all of a sudden, you’d pass a newsstand and every magazine would have an article about us,” Welker recalled.

“I remember Rachel [Bilson] and Adam [Brody] coming back from lunch one day, and they were like, ‘The weirdest thing just happened: We were just sitting there eating, and people came up to us asking for our autographs!’ It was really cool and terrifying and exciting to be part of it as it was blowing up, and the fact that the show launched fashion trends is pretty fantastic.”

As a bonus, Welker added: “By the Season One finale, brands were falling all over themselves to lend to us.”
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