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September 2 2014

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Dressing for Fame: Ilaria Urbinati Talks Styling Shailene Woodley and a Gaggle of Hollywood’s Leading Gents

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If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.

Ilaria Urbinati

Ilaria UrbinatiSure, the ladies generally reign supreme on the red carpet, but sometimes it’s tailored menswear that gets our undivided attention. Stylist Ilaria Urbinati has A-list actresses (like Shailene Woodley) and dapper leading gents (including Bradley Cooper) on her client roster. The latter bunch call on her for every camera-captured turn. Here, she talks to Style.com about styling politics, what it takes to prep a man for the red carpet, and why she thinks being a Virgo has helped her career.

How did you begin styling?

I started out in retail. I was a buyer for various boutiques—Satine, Milk, and my aunt’s store Laura Urbinati—almost right out of high school. I would style a lot of the lookbooks and runway shows for the designers we carried in the stores. I eventually went freelance and just kept going from there!

What about your early experience sets you apart from other stylists?

I grew up in a family of crazy workers. Work ethic ranked really high in our household, so I’m a bit of a machine when it comes to the hours I’m willing to put in. I also grew up in Europe in a pretty artistic family—my mom and grandpa are art dealers, my father is a photographer, and my aunt and sister are both designers. I knew who Irving Penn and Richard Avedon were before I knew basic math, so this stuff’s been seeping in since before I even realized it. Having that mental database of fashion and the arts definitely affects my sense of aesthetic. I’m also a super anal-retentive and over-organized crazy Virgo, which makes me really efficient. I don’t know how in the world someone could be a stylist and not be super-organized—it would be impossible.

Bradley CooperYou style a host of A-list actors, from Bradley Cooper and Chris Evans to Armie Hammer and Will Arnett. How does dressing men differ from styling women?

People always assume dressing men is easier. That’s true in the sense that there are way less politics than there are with women—there’s no fighting to get your hands on certain dresses that can only be worn once. But it isn’t easier in the sense that menswear takes precision and a certain meticulousness. It’s all about the details, tailoring, color combos, and fabric. Quality is key, and you can’t get away with a cheap suit. It’s really about trying to think outside the box because you have more limitations with menswear. I have zero interest in putting a guy in just another gray or black suit. But I also don’t believe in too many bells and whistles. You need to strike the right balance.

When dressing men, what’s the first step? Is it a collaborative process? And where do you find inspiration?

I’m always into some new thing, whether it be printed shirts or a new color combo, so I get really excited to try it on my guys. It’s always a collaborative process. It’s important to me that the guy always feels like himself, while maybe trying something new every once in a while. There’s a lot of camaraderie in fittings, so we make jokes like, “Shut up, look pretty, do what I say, and you’ll be the best-dressed you in the room.” I find that men are able to have such a great sense of humor about fittings and fashion—they don’t take it too seriously, in a good way.

Shailene Woodley Shailene Woodley has drawn a ton of attention lately for her head-turning red-carpet appearances. What is it like to work with her?

Shailene is just such a special human, she really is so heaven. We are always on the same page, and I think she likes that I don’t try to make her look like someone she’s not, but also encourage her to try new things. For instance, we do a lot of bright colors, which was new for her.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The politics, for sure. You just want to do your job and put your clients in your favorite looks, but it’s not always that simple. There’s the celebrity’s team to contend with, there’s the designers’ wishes to keep in mind—like sometimes we’ll run into a problem when I want to put a dress on someone but the event won’t have photos. Certain designers only lend to certain girls but not others, and there’s not always any rhyme or reason to it. It’s all about who the designers like personally, basically—who they’re fans of.

Sometimes I feel like I have to play publicist. I’ll pitch the client to the designer: “Look how many covers they are on! Look at this big movie they have coming out! They’re blowing up!” It’s silly, but it helps!

What’s your favorite part of the job?

The relationship with the client. I feel lucky because I truly love my clients—some of them feel like family. It’s a really intimate relationship, to dress someone. And I love that collaborative process. The best compliment I can get is that my client feels like him or herself. And I would never want my clients to all dress the same. I don’t want them to have an “Ilaria signature look.” I want their look to feel unique to them.

I also love that there’s a real bond within this generation of stylists. We aren’t competitive and we root for each other. Kemal & Karla, Jeanne Yang, Wendi and Nicole Ferreira, Cher Coulter, Sam McMillen, Joseph Cassell—we are all buddies, and we are genuinely excited for each other when we have a great fashion hit.”

Photos: Courtesy Photo; BFAnyc.com; Getty Images

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