Spotted: Blair Waldorf (and an adorable little dog) in the penthouse suite of Midtown’s Night Hotel, pawing through racks of gorgeous garments—Temperley, Etro, Dior—while being fussed over by her glam squad. Is the Queen B prepping for another romp with Chuck Bass? A reconciliation with Nate Archibald? Or is she gussying up to greet a mystery guest? I’ll never tell….

Pretty juicy little item, isn’t it? Except, like most gossip, it’s not quite accurate.

The location? Correct. The little dog and the fabulous dresses? Yes (his name is Jack) and yes. The glam squad? Hair, makeup, and stylist, all there. Only it wasn’t Blair Waldorf, the infamous alpha girl of the CW megahit Gossip Girl; it was Leighton Meester, the actress who plays her, there for her Gothamcover interview.

Gossip Girl, with its unapologetic portrayal of wealthy New York teens drinking, drugging, and bed-hopping, is a cultural juggernaut. One of the reasons the show is so popular is that it’s a marketer’s dream: The invitation to the cast’s wrap party came printed on a bottle of hot-pink Vitaminwater. An event for a new Yves Saint Laurent lipstick was held in honor of the show and its costume designer. And those “costumes,” which are essentially the hottest clothes the industry has to offer, have spawned dozens of Gossip Girl-inspired layouts in just about every teen magazine on the newsstand.

Another reason: the cast, most of whom were gorgeous unknowns going into the first season. Now entering the second, they’ve become actual stars and are the frequent focus of the gossip pages themselves. Repeated mentions in the tabloids have Meester and Blake Lively (who plays Blair’s BFF, bad-girl-gone-good Serena van der Woodsen) catfighting at every turn. Ed Westwick (who plays louche playboy Chuck Bass) is a frequent sight at the city’s trendiest bars, sometimes with costar (and roommate) Chace Crawford, who plays Nate Archibald, Blair’s ex and Serena’s biggest regret. Then there’s Penn Badgley, Lively’s real-life boyfriend, who also plays her love interest, Dan “Lonely Boy” Humphrey, onscreen. Dan’s sister, Jenny “Little J” Humphrey, is played by Taylor Momsen, who at 15 is the only actual teenager on the show.

A third reason: the location, which is right in our own backyard. In an episode last season, the following New York-centric items were referenced rapid-fire: Preston Bailey, the Waverly Inn, Tinsley Mortimer, 151, and Eliot Spitzer. New York is as central to the show as any of its cast, and 22-year-old Meester, a Florida native, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. “I love my life because I live in the best city in the world, and I have wonderful family and friends, and I’m doing what I want to do,” she said as she sat with us (no kidding) on a recent Tuesday. “Right now I’m really happy. Having this as a home base makes me who I am.”

Do tell.

GOTHAM: This is our fall fashion issue, and I noticed that the clothes you picked for this shoot are unlike the things your character wears. But has being on the show influenced how you dress in your personal life?
 Yeah, of course, of course. It makes you much more aware of what you put on, aware of trends and styles. And in a photo shoot, especially one like this, it’s kind of cool to try something new. I’m not trying to go overtly sexy or too fashion-y. I have a lot more knowledge of designers and things like that. But I think it has a lot less to do with what designers you wear and what the trends are than who you are and what you feel good in. I still feel good in jeans and T-shirts for every day, so that hasn’t changed. But I like dressing up more.

G: And now you’re much more in the public eye. Do you find yourself being more conscious about what you’re wearing when you’re out in public?
 Not really. You can’t pay attention to what tabloids say. That’s not what my job is about—it’s not about getting judged by other people. And while fashion is an awesome, exciting part of my job, because that’s what the show is partly about, it really doesn’t define who you are. You look ridiculous if you dress for people other than yourself. It’s just sad.

G: Do you have any favorite designers?
 Absolutely. That’s not to say I don’t like basics—the jeans-and-T-shirt thing, like I was saying. But Zac Posen fits me right off the hanger, no alterations needed at all. I love Valentino, all the bags and formal dresses. It’s a little bit sexier, but still feminine. I recently wore Nina Ricci, which I really loved. So simple and so sophisticated, and still young. Stella McCartney—very fashionforward clothes. I like little Chloé dresses. I like Julie Haus a lot—cute stuff for the day or night. But I would never wear something just because of the name or the trend.

G: Will you be seeing any of the Fashion Week shows?
 I’ll definitely go. I mean, obviously I have to be selective—there are a million shows. There’s a lot I’m interested in going to see. It’s actually really fun, but it’s kind of weird, too, because there’s a lot of prepping and getting ready, which is, like, half the fashion show.

G: One of your upcoming episodes takes place at a fashion show, right?
 Michael Kors is sitting in the audience of my character’s mother’s fashion show.

G: What else can you tell us about this season?
There’s a lot of Chuck and Blair stuff. At the end of last season, he totally blew it. I think when he comes back, he kind of regrets what he did. He wants to make up for it, but he’s not going to be able to. Blair will not let him get off that easy, she’s going to make it a little difficult for him. She’s seeing a guy named Lord Marcus; he’s from England, and of course, it makes Chuck incredibly jealous. And it’s hard, Blair really does want something, but she can’t let her guard down because she’s been hurt a lot. Of course, nothing can be perfect for her, even though all she ever strives for is to be perfect. And there’s a lot of Serena and Blair “frenemy” stuff…

G: Are things between your two characters a bit more tense this year?
 Yeah, I think they’re always having a moment here and there. Right now they’re definitely going through it. I don’t really know what to think about it; neither of them is right. It’s such a good relationship, what they’re showing.... The fact that Blair has a mother who’s absolutely the opposite of what a mother should be—she’s not incredibly nurturing, she’s not loving, she’s not supportive—so Blair is a product of her environment. It infiltrates her personality— she’s got problems with men, and friends, and I think that’s because of what she’s been dealing with, with her mom. It makes her incredibly insecure, and that’s her biggest problem with Serena. That’s why she’s always having fights with her, because she’s very insecure around Serena. Serena’s effortless, and Blair has to try so hard to get anything.

G: Blair is flawed, and real, and she tries—which makes her interesting and appealing. There isn’t that expectation of earnest virtue from her that there is from Serena.
 It’s very human. And I think that’s why people like Blair, even if she is the biggest bitch you’ve ever seen. Everything she plans falls apart. Her relationship with Serena is kind of unfortunate, because it could be so good. Blair’s intentions are always good, but when you piss her off, it’s really bad.

G: Is theirs a realistic female friendship?
 I think so! I think that’s why people like it. It’s not just about who they’re dating, or that they’re best friends with each other with no problems. I think it’s something that should be portrayed in television. Especially between young women—there’s a lot of competition and they don’t even realize that’s how they’re acting sometimes.

G: And when you’re that age, everything takes on a heightened sense of importance.
 Your boyfriend seems like the last guy you’ll ever date, and your best friend—it’s the end of the world if she’s mad at you, and you have to get invited to suchand- such party. Blair is very wrong for being so jealous, and Serena is wrong for being so sensitive.

G: Why do you think people want to make that rivalry translate into your and Blake’s real lives?
 I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. I think it does have to do with being a girl. And I think that people are just not creative. They want us to be our characters on the show. They want us to all be dating each other and fighting with each other, when in reality it’s a TV show.

G: When in reality, only some of you are dating and fighting with each other.
[Laughs] Well, you know what? I can’t even think about that anymore. There’s really nothing that I can say, I feel like I’ve said it a million times: It’s not true. And the thing is, once you read something that isn’t true about yourself, you never believe anything that any of those people write ever again—about anybody else, or yourself…. People ask me about it all the time. We work together every day, and we do get along. 

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