The rise of the celebrity stylist has fascinated me for a while, yes we have all seen Rachel Zoe and Brad Goreski on their reality shows, and many a celebrity name drops their stylist as one of their close friends, but what actually does a stylist have to do in the run up to a major award show?
Well, I asked one of my favourite red carpet stylists, Ilaria Urbinati, who has been making waves recently with her incredible styling of Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev, I think each look last year and this has been on my best dressed lists, and I love the way she seems to make Bradley Cooper look even hotter in his dapper suits.
For me, Ilaria is up there with the likes of Jen Rade who dresses Angelina Jolie, Kate Young who is known for styling Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman, and British stylist Cher Coulter who seems to make Rosie Huntington Whiteley look so stylish with little effort, and it was so cool to find out how she got started in this crazy world called fashion, what inspires her styling, and how she makes Nina Dobrev look so flawless on the red carpet.
What made you want to be a celebrity stylist? And how did you get your start? Also can you tell me a little about yourself and fashion background?
Ilaria: “I actually didn’t want to work in fashion at all! Growing up I only wanted to read and write. Most of my family works in fashion and I was sort of the black sheep. But I needed a job and my aunt (who had an incredible store in the 90s that was really popular with stylists) wouldn’t hire me to work at her store so I went and worked at Fred Segal and became their #1 salesperson. So then my aunt was like - OK come work for me now.
“I became her buyer and suddenly at 18 found myself sitting front row in Paris at Balenciaga and Margiela runway shows. After that I was the buyer for several other really popular stores, and one day I met actress Mia Kirshner because she liked the store I was a buyer for called Satine. She asked me to come interview to be the stylist for her show The L Word. I’d never styled anything in my life so I didn’t think I’d get it and I didn’t really care either way. So I went in there with nothing to lose and a lot of opinions about what they were doing wrong with the clothes on the show.
“Out of the 30 working stylists they interviewed, I got the job. Typical! It’s always like that when you have nothing to lose. That was like styling boot camp – it was totally insane. After that I went freelance and now here I am.”
Can you run me through how you get from brief to red carpet, the time involved in dressing a celebrity for the red carpet? Basically what is a typical day for you.
“Usually if a client has a big red carpet they either tell me way in advance – or two days before. It’s always like that, it’s totally unpredictable. Then I go through the political nightmare of trying to get my hands on the dresses or gowns I want. It’s tough – so many girls, not enough good gowns! Sometimes you gotta get creative. That part is definitely the most challenging, because it’s not just about your taste or your skill, it’s about your relationships and the status of the client in the industry.
“Once I get all the clothes in we do a fitting – if it’s a big event like an award show we do a couple of different fittings as various gowns start to trickle in. If it’s for an entire press tour then a fitting can take HOURS. We try everything on, pick our favourite and I pin it (I do all my own pinning because I don’t trust tailors to do it the way I want). Then I take it to my amazing tailors and we try to squeeze in another fitting if there’s time just to make sure everything’s perfect and the undergarments, accessories, jewellery etc., all work. Otherwise we close our eyes, get really stressed out and pray for no last-minute surprises!
“If it’s for a press tour that I organise it by outfit, label it by date and event, and pack it up in true OCD style. You gotta figure the clients waking up at 4am, in a different city or different country every day. They just want it spelled out for them at that point.”
What inspires your styling?
“Almost always its movies – I’m a real film junkie. Anything from Woody Allen and Bertolucci/Fellini movies to 90′s chick flicks like Clueless and Heathers. I’m a real 90′s kid. For men I’m inspired by the great icons like Paul Newman, James Dean, Alain Delon, Steve McQueen, Brando – all classic guys whose outfits still look cool today.
“Sometimes I’m inspired by an old photograph (I keep A LOT of archives of photos on my desktop) or a book (I’ve definitely been known to shout ‘it’s so Franny from Franny & Zooey!’ in fittings before). I’m sort of a cultural and pop cultural junkie so that informs everything I do. Otherwise I get bored because fashion can be vapid. There needs to be a bit of a story to keep a look cohesive (and more fun for me).”
How important are fashion weeks for your styling? Or is more about relationships with fashion houses and showrooms?
“Not to sound spoiled, but I have had to go to every fashion week (four times a year if you count men’s) for the last 16 years of my life, and still now because of my store Confederacy (I do all the buying). If it were up to me, I would avoid it like the plague. It’s everything I DON’T like about this industry. Just a bunch of silly drama. It’s exhausting and unpleasant and stressful and only glamorous the FIRST time or if you’re an actress just attending shows. I’m there to work and for me it’s hell. As much as I love NY, I pretty much hate it during fashion week.
“So for me it’s definitely about the relationships with the fashion houses. There can definitely be some bitches working in this industry – and I remember the ones that used to be horrible snobs to me but who now send me Christmas cards every year – BUT, I have mostly met some incredibly lovely people. We’re all in it together and I see some of them more than I see my own family most of the time! So there’s a real bond there, and we’re all total workaholics.”
You style both female and male celebrities, is there differences in how you approach the styling? Also do you have a preference?
“There is totally a difference because with men, it’s really more about your taste and knowledge and skill of it because there’s not as many politics involved. Designers don’t care if more than one guy wears the same style suit so it’s a totally different game. For that reason I do prefer it. I have more control over the job.
“I also have a lot more male clients than I do females so I constantly just have racks and racks of clothes in my studio to work from. But people always say that men are easier to dress than women, and I disagree. There’s way more attention to detail with men. With a girl – you put her in a pretty dress, she looks good. With a guy there are so many limits and it’s harder (but really fun) to try and play around and within those limits – to make a guy look classic and simple but still have him look unique.
“During awards season though I do love working with women more because I do love a good gown!”
What is the biggest challenge you face with dressing celebrities?
“Their entourage. Lets leave it at that.”
Which celebrity do you feel has flawless style? And why?
“Recently – Kerry Washington – she takes insane risks and ALWAYS pulls it off. There’s a real story behind her looks, you can just tell. I’m always totally in awe of her looks – especially her Django press tour. That checkered Louis Vuitton dress with the bow headband and the little box clutch – I was floored.
“I’m always in awe when something is risky but totally works – because I know the balls it took on the stylist and the client’s part. It’s a tough world out there and everyone’s a critic! To be able to say screw it let’s make it fun, I love that. Fashion shouldn’t be so serious.”
You style some of the ‘best dressed’ stars in the business, is there a celebrity that you would love to style in the future? And why?
“I can’t name names, but it’s always the girls that are well-known but manage to look terrible that I want to dress. I love a project. Also I sit at home watching the award shows going – oh my god with the access to designers you have – THAT’S what you wore???? That’s the craziest to me. When someone is really well-known or nominated and I know for a fact that they can get ANY look from ANY designer including couture OR custom and they’re wearing some bland dress – that, I’ll never understand.
“That said, I really do try to not judge other stylists’ work because I know how many other elements are at play. And one thing I never do is knit pick. It’s crazy the stress we go through like, ‘shit, if we use this bra, they will be able to see an inch of it through this one little panel here’ – and you know the blogs will ZERO IN on that one imperfection. It’s kind of crazy.
“The internet has done amazing and terrible things for the world of styling! Everyone just relax! I’m sitting there thinking, god if it was me I would just throw the damn thing on and who cares if they can see that I wore a bra! But such is not the case on the red carpet.”
What trends do you think we will see this award season? Or do you not work to trends?
I don’t ever work trends. I stay so far away from trends. For one thing, how are you supposed to set trends if you’re following trends. Secondly, I like to pick things that will still look great in 50 years. Like old photos of Natalie Wood, Bardot, Sofia Loren, Birkin, Elizabeth Taylor. You don’t get that by following trends. Having said that – sometimes something being ‘in’ lets you get away with something that would never fly otherwise (case in point – Kerry Washington’s Louis Vuitton checkered dress).”
When it comes to styling Nina Dobrev, who I think was last years breakthrough star, what do you have to consider? Does she has preferences on designers, styles or are you able to suggest new things for her?
“With Nina, we both really try and maintain balances – like the balance of trying designers she hasn’t worn before, while also maintaining a level of loyalty to the designers she has worn in the past. Or like the balance between fashion-forward and accessible.
“She has a young fan base and I want them to be able to look up to her so it’s important to keep her chic and never ever border on trashy or too revealing – at the same time, she’s young too and we want to have fun with her look. There’s definitely a responsibility that comes with a young fan base and Nina is always super respectful of that, and so gracious – that’s also why they love her so much, they get that from her.
“What’s fun is that I always know that if a look looked good on the runway, it will probably look great on her. She has such an incredible figure – even better than the models cause she is slim and tall but also has some curves – she’s a dream to work with. There’s also a real collaboration between us. She is very involved in the whole process.”
Can you name your biggest styling achievement?
“Probably Nina at the Emmys when she wore the red Donna Karan gown. People in styling always talk about ‘a moment’ – THAT was a moment. A total game changer. A stylist gets only a few of those a career!
“Also I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve worked with most of my clients as long as I have – I had Bradley right before the first Hangover, Chris Evans before Captain America, Armie Hammer before Social Network. It’s fun to see them blow up and get the career they deserve. I’m proud of their loyalty to me and I’m proud of my relationships with them – some of them feel like family to me.
“My client Krysten Ritter, whom I met on a shoot almost 5 years ago, is one of my best friends on the planet. They don’t make too many humans as true blue as that girl.
“It’s easy to get close on the job because you work together so much and it’s really a collaborative and creative process. It’s also pretty intimate – you see everyone in their skivies! So you get comfortable with each other real quick!”
What do you think about using social media? I know that you are big on using Twitter and Instagram – do you enjoy sharing your work?
“I LOVE twitter. Instagram is fun as well cause of the images, but as ridiculously stupid as it sounds - I feel a lot of support on Twitter and you get an immediate response. On award show days I’ll still be driving home from the client’s house and start getting the fans tweeting me the photos of the client hitting the red carpet.
“Recently I was so nervous/excited and I tweeted ‘happy golden globes day! wish me luck!’ and I got about 50 tweets from total strangers wishing me luck and saying cute things like ‘as if you need it, you’ll do great!’ - I mean – it’s really cute and it’s really sweet. And they’re my client’s fans so I love seeing their support of them because I’m a fan too so I get it. Also I kind of love giving out style tips haha so when my big GQ article came out last year it was really fun answering all the boys’ fashion queries!”
Do you have any advice for aspiring fashion stylists?
“I always say the same thing – there’s no rules. I never even assisted, but you have to work your tail off - whether you’re interning or assisting or on your first job – you have to be the first to arrive, the last to leave and you have to care about it more than anybody.
“I always go above and beyond with my clients and that’s such a big part of why they stay loyal. It’s important, in any aspiration, to have work ethic and to give more than you’re getting. I really believe that. That said, I’m a complete workaholic and probably need to learn to take it a little easier.
“I also always advise people to really know your references – know your fashion history, know every collection, know what it means when someone says ‘Dolce & Gabbana is channelling Schiaparelli this season’ (or whatever). Also be a culture junkie – the more you take in, the more inspiration you will have to draw from.
“Most importantly – realise that this is not an audition for your reality show, this generation really needs to learn that! Some of these interns I interview, I swear!! It’s not all glitz, glamour and shopping. 85% of it is schlepping and long hours and racks falling over on your head (which by the way just happened to me yesterday.”
Let’s step away from the red carpet and find out a little bit more about you, what’s your style, where would you recommend to visit in LA and what are your current addictions!!!
What three items in your wardrobe can’t you live without?
“My Corey Lynn Calter star print silk pant suit. Perfect for fittings cause its comfy and chic. My vintage Havana black sweater with a giant skull on it (as VERY often seen on me on instagram. Any and all cute flats! I don’t wear heels cause I’m lazy and a slave to comfort – so I compensate by wearing fancy and fun flats.”
I’ve only been to LA once and loved it, what shops/must see places would you recommend?
“Um, well obviously mine – ‘Confederacy’ in Los Feliz! The ‘Way We Wore’ and ‘Resurrection’ for the best designer vintage by far. ‘American Rag’ for affordable thrift store finds (and lunch next door). The ‘Malibu Country Mart’ for a day of outdoor shopping by the sea – aka my happy place. ‘Arclight’ for the best movie going experience in the WORLD (and stop by ‘Amoeba Records’ next door) – aka my other happy place, and ‘Pinz’ for bowling - I had my birthday there!”
“And oh my god so many amazing restaurants. To name a few: beef picked tacos from ‘Malo’s', gourmet burgers from ‘Umami Burger’, ‘Picca Peru’ for foodie/Peruvian heaven, ‘Terronis’ for Italian, ‘Cliff’s Edge’ for atmosphere (night), ‘Trails Cafe’ for atmosphere (day), ‘Johns Garden’ in Malibu for healthy outdoor comfort & people watching, ‘Sugarfish’ from famed chef Nozawa for the best sushi in the damn country and ‘La Poubelle’ for drinks.”
What are you currently addicted to?
“The TV show Nashville (I’m secretly a big country music nerd, which is weird cause I’m from Italy ), the band First Aid Kit, Winona Ryder and Sandra Bullock chick flicks (always and forever – and the best cure for heartbreak and/or a stressful day, just add ice cream, and rescue dogs! I keep trying to adopt them all and my husband is like ‘please no more dogs!’”
Who are your favourite designers?
“For red carpet: Elie Saab, Valentino, Prabal Gurung, Givenchy, Calvin Klein, Erdem, Rodarte, Donna Karan, Oscar DelaRenta, Ralph Lauren, Monique Lhuiller, Erdem, Reem Acra, Dior, J Mendel, and Alexandra Vidal.
“For men: Gucci, Burberry, Dior, Dolce, Tom Ford, Calvin, Shipley & Halmos, Todd Snyder, Michael Bastian, Gant, Belstaff, Rag & Bone – and most of all Simon Spurr (I am anxiously awaiting his return to fashion!).
“For me to wear: Valentino (in my dreams), Proenza Schouler, Carven, ALC, Opening Ceremony, Thakoon, Helmut Lang, Dolce, Topshop and Asos.com.”
If you could steal the style of one person who would it be?
“No contest – Keira Knightley. Scruffy tomboy by day, romantic swan by night. HEAVEN!”
Also very randomly, did you ever style with Barbie dolls when you were little?
“I did but my sister used to steal my dolls and hang them by their necks with my blankie out the window. Very traumatising.”
**I was so giggy that Ilaria agreed to answer my mountain of questions and I hope that you enjoyed the second part of my Award Season Interview series – plus if you don’t already follow Ilaria on Twitter – do – she always gives the inside scoop on who she dresses @ilariaurbinati and offers great styling tips.**
[Pics: Ilaria Urbinati/Tom Ford/Elie Saab/Donna Karan]