We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Marissa Cooper was it when it came to high-end high school fashion inspiration in the early aughts. Between the midriff-baring Lacoste polos, the arsenal of Missoni bikinis and, of course, that camellia-strewn Chanel prom dress, The O.C.‘s beautiful and damned lead had successfully secured herself a place amongst the upper echelons of television’s most stylish characters before the first season was even through.
This week, ELLE spoke with Mischa Barton about her days as an onscreen fashion plate, and to hear her tell it, she was even more instrumental in securing Coop’s enviable wardrobe than we might have guessed. At first, the actress admits, she couldn’t quite relate to the character, but all that changed when she stepped into the costume department:
"The one thing that I was in love with was her wardrobe. And it was when I would put on those dresses and stuff, that I was like, I know who this girl is. I know what she’s doing. It was a work in progress with both of us. The costume designer went out and got all that stuff and we built it, but it was definitely something I pushed. I would pick the outfits and then go to great lengths for it."
The inital idea was apparently to make Marissa look like your average wealthy, popular California girl at the time—think Juicy Couture and swimsuits—but Barton says her inspiration came more from the high fashion looks she was exposed to as a teenager in New York City.
"I started getting Chanel to send stuff. I started having these designers send stuff over because I saw the merit in getting that kind of stuff on television. It was interesting: If I had those connections in the fashion world, why not? [The wardrobe department] would totally have been happy just dressing us as regular teenagers, to be honest. Not in a bad way, we would have looked adorable, but we would have been just your average Orange County teenagers. But with my wiling and conniving I was like, ‘You know what would be super great is if we could get this Chanel dress for this [prom] episode,’ and it kind of all came together."
So there you have it: the story behind one of the most iconic TV looks of the era. Maybe Barton should think about costume design as a second act?
For a trip down memory lane, click through the slideshow above for some of Marissa’s iconic style moments.