Menswear maverick Ilaria Urbinati is known and loved for helping Hollywood’s leading men achieve new heights of style. She’s also become a sought-after influencer in her own right, with a slew of collaborations under her belt — and more on the horizon.
You have just styled Rami Malek, Bradley Cooper, Chris Evans, and others for the Oscars. Were you anticipating a crazy awards season?
Honestly, every awards season is crazy. We’ve actually had crazier ones in terms of volume — one season, we dressed 17 [clients] for the Oscars. But we’ve never dressed this many nominees. I don’t think that at this time last year, I could have anticipated that Rami [Malek] was going to win the Oscar — he’s one of my super good friends! It’s crazy!
We remember meeting him at a press preview for your Eddie Bauer line…
Yes! He even came to my Strong Suit launch in L.A. He’s so great. We met during the press tour for Season 2 of Mr. Robot, and we got along right away. I meet a lot of my friends through work; a lot of my clients are like family. We have a really good bond.
What was Rami’s style like when you first started?
He always had good style on his own, for sure. When we first met, it was a little bit busier, and I helped streamline it. When we first started working together, we were doing more out-there things, like color and Hawaiian prints. At the time, he was up-and-coming, and it got him a lot of attention. Guys weren’t as fashion-forward as they are now. Now that every guy in the world is peacocking — it’s become a stylist crutch to put a guy in a colorful suit — Rami’s been smart about taking it back down. This season, there was hardly any color. We did almost all black and white — everything was really sharp and elegant. I always joke that he almost knows more [about fashion] than I do now. He knows all the creative directors at the brands, and he has relationships with everybody. He’s really educated, and it shows in his style.
You also styled Bradley Cooper this awards season. Is this the first time you’ve dressed two nominees in the same category?
Yes. Because he was the director [of A Star is Born], it was about being simple, classic, effortless, and timeless.
Somehow, during all the madness of Oscar dressing, you managed to do a partnership with Walmart. How did that come about?
Walmart is one of the sponsors the Oscars, so they liked the idea of taking stylists of big movie stars and having them dress the behind-the-camera people. I dressed a production assistant in Walmart clothes and accessories, head-to-toe, and we gave her the full star treatment to create an outfit that she could wear to work.
Was it wild to see yourself in a Walmart commercial?
It was wild to see myself during the Oscars. That was weird. Usually, I get 30,000 text about my clients, and this year, everyone was like, “Walmart!” The concept is so perfect and timely.
We loved your Eddie Bauer collection.
Me, too! I did two seasons, and then they got a new CEO. It did so well, and all my clients still wear those clothes and ask me for more pieces, but I can’t get my hands on anything. I would love to do it again. That was one of my favorite collabs I ever did, for sure. And then I did a line of suiting with Strong Suit that came out last year. It was everywhere — it seemed like people were really excited about it, and I think that goes to show how far menswear has come. It was a pretty adventurous look, but the price point was so good.
You’ve always taken a democratic approach to style.
I’m not a snobby person at all. I’ve worked on all sides of the fashion business. I worked in retail, I’ve owned a store, I sold clothes for my aunt [designer Laura Urbinati], I’ve done wardrobe for TV shows… I’ve been in everyone’s shoes, and I have empathy for what everybody does, and the work that goes into it. There’s a generation of stylists now — me, Karla Welch, Samantha McMillen, Elizabeth Stewart — who are kind of turning that old idea of the fashion snob on its head a little bit.
You’re incredibly supportive of one another.
We’re always posting about one another’s work. We have a giant text thread, and we’ll ask, “Does anyone have an assistant last minute? Does anyone have a contact at this brand?” It’s a support group! It’s coming from a really genuine place. Everything is effortless and chill with me.
But you’re not afraid to voice opinions about fashion.
I dress men — I can come in and be a little decisive and bossy, and they don’t take offense!
Robin Givhan just wrote a great piece about you for The Washington Post. She quoted a favorite saying of yours — “looks matter if it matters how you look.”
[Laughs] That’s a line from the movie Bugsy, and I use it all the time when I’m in a fitting with a guy who will be rolling around on the floor, saying, “Please, make it stop!” Meanwhile, a girl would say, “Please, may I try on 30 more things?” That’s the biggest difference between working with guys and girls. With women, I’m trying to convince them to calm down; with guys, I’m trying to convince them of why [fashion] matters. But men’s styling has come such a long way. Guys understand now, more than ever, that fashion does matter, and it can be really fun. They get into it, and they start to see that it doesn’t have to be serious or scary or obnoxious.
You have a lot of custom suits made for your clients.
When I have enough time — like during awards season — I make everything custom [for my clients] with the brand. I’m really hands-on — I pretty much tell them every detail that I want. They’ll send books and books of fabric swatches, unless I want a specific shade of blue, and then I’ll get, like, four options. Then you have to take the client’s measurements, and their bodies change all the time, so you have to do them anew every time. Then they sketch it, you approve it, they make it… It’s a lot of steps!
How much time does that take?
My go-to brands, like Isaia, Brioni, and Ferragamo, can turn something around in two weeks. If it’s an Oscar look for a big client, a brand can make it happen in four days, but usually, it’s more like eight weeks.
How many people do you have on your team now?
I have four full-timers, and we have a few others who work for us when we need extra help. It takes a lot, because we have a thousand things going on.
How many clients do you have?
About 50. Because we have such a big roster, we’ll have at least seven people on press tours at all times.
Who’s keeping you really busy at the moment?
Chris Evans is doing Avengers press; we took on Christopher Abbott, and he’ll have all the press for Catch-22; Ben Affleck and Garrett Hedlund will do Triple Frontier; Ryan Reynolds will have Detective Pikachu press… Let me look at my list! [Laughs] David Tennant, Adam Scott… Donald Glover will have The Lion King this summer, and that will be huge. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is doing Game of Thrones, and The Rock has a few movies, too. It’s a lot! [Laughs]
Somehow, you manage to make time for Muay Thai!
Every day but Sunday. It keeps me sane!