On the new “Gossip Girl,” Savannah Lee Smith plays Monet de Haan, the mean girl terrorizing Constance Billard while aiming for a career in PR at any cost — friendships included, as the series hit its mid-season finale with Monet MIA after a costume contest betrayal. It’s a performance so convincing you couldn’t be blamed for assuming Smith herself might, say, dump a turmeric latte down your brand new sweater. But she’s (thankfully, for the sake of my own cream-colored Marc Jacobs sweatshirt) precisely the opposite in person when we catch up at the Kate Spade New York event on Wednesday morning: charming, bubbly and super friendly.
“It’s my first fashion week ever! So I’m really excited,” she says. “It feels insane. As a little girl, I grew up watching the Met [Gala] and fashion week and all the shows and dreamed of being a part of it.”
One other way Smith differs from the character she plays on TV? While Monet was likely born knowing the difference between Balmain and Balenciaga, for the young actor, “Gossip Girl” served as a crash course in the industry. She was always interested in fashion, lowercase-f, but it was working with costume designer extraordinaire Eric Daman that got Smith invested in the kind of capital-F fashion that rules the Upper East Side.
“After seeing the way that Eric works with individuality, you can tell that every character is so crafted in their clothing, so specific to them. It gave me an idea of where I wanted to go with fashion,” she says. “Every time I go to a fitting, he’s like, ‘Do you know this brand?’ And I’m like, ‘No no no’; I look it up, I write it down in my Notes app, like, ‘I need this dress.’ It’s an educational thing for me.”
Smith is proving herself a fast study, showing up to the show’s premiere in Louis Vuitton, then jazzing up her simple black Kate Spade New York jumpsuit with a matching set of statement jewels — a big cocktail ring and chandelier earrings — and glittering Mary Jane pumps. She loves to experiment with color and attention-grabbing pieces. “I also have a bit of an androgynous side I’m trying to cultivate right now,” she says. “Love some combat boots.”
Smith’s key accessory, though, was an apple-shaped “I Love NY” bag, since Wednesday’s event was all about celebrating Kate Spade’s collection emblazoned with Milton Glazer’s iconic tourism logo. It’s fitting for the Los Angeles native, who moved to New York in 2018 to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts only to score a starring role in one of television’s hottest properties just a couple years in.
Smith was already enamored with the city, but “Gossip Girl” deepened her appreciation for her new hometown. “My life changed instantly. It just made me fall in love with New York more, because ‘Gossip Girl’ is like a love letter to New York,” she says. “The show has shown me parts of New York I had never seen before.”
Then, with a sly grin, Smith leans in to share one of her favorite things to joke about: “It’s funny, because ‘Gossip Girl’ makes New York look very, very beautiful, and it is — sometimes! There’s no trash on the street in ‘Gossip Girl,’ but it’s there in real life.”
Joking about garbage: Just another reason Smith is so much more lovable and relatable than her on-screen persona.