Last night, Masters of Sex star Lizzy Caplan walked the Emmys red carpet in a stunner of a Donna Karan Atelier gown. Sleek and sophisticated with just the right edge of sexiness, it was perfect for the actress, who was nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Before the show, we caught up with Caplan's stylist, Ilaria Urbinati, who explained how they picked The Dress, as well as the Neil Lane jewels, Brian Atwood shoes, and Judith Lieber clutch she paired it with, and shared some behind-the-scenes photos from the lead up to the big event.
What is it like dressing Lizzy Caplan in particular? She seems like she has such a fun personality—is that something you hope is reflected in her clothes?
Absolutely. She's got a really cool, unique sense of style and impeccable taste in everything from clothes to housewares to music—just a really heightened sense of aesthetics. So I definitely always know that she will "get" certain chic, high fashion things and be able to pull them off, while at the same time she pulls off very timeless classic things as well because she also has very clean taste. She's not quirky for the sake of quirky—she just likes things that feel special and unique. That definitely affects the looks I pull for her. And I also think it's why cool designers are excited to work with her.
On the other hand I think because she's kind of a tomboy that she can pull off a more romantic gown without it looking too saccharine.
What is the process of finding the dress like?
I have a saying, “May the best dress win.” So as much as we think ahead of time about what the look should be or what designer she should wear or whatever, the right dress will blow all those initial ideas out of the water.
I like my clients to try on as many options as possible. I definitely have a sense of which dress will be the winner—and I almost always guess right—but every once in a while you'll be surprised. A dress will come alive on the body, or with the right alterations or styling.
For a big awards show we will sometimes do several fittings as various dresses become available or trickle in or get shipped in from Milan or Paris. This year with Lizzy we found the dress at the first fitting—it became "the one to beat" and no other dress beat it in our minds at any subsequent fitting. We had some really amazing runner ups which broke my heart to return, but we felt certain about the one we chose. She felt amazing in it and that's key. Plus she's nude on the show a lot so we didn't feel the need to be overtly sexy, which eliminated quite a few gowns.
Once we settled on the dress, we tried on everything from diamonds to emeralds and we fell in love with these earrings that were so Lizzy. Classic but with a quirky vintage edge. I always like to start with the earrings and pick the rest of the jewelry around that (unless there's a necklace, then we start with that) because your face should be the first thing people see.
Then the fun is figuring out hair and makeup and nail colors. So many things add to the look—it's never just about the dress, of course.
What do you do once the dress is chosen? What's on your checklist?
We take a lot of pictures. We have a white board that the client stands against. And they stand on a box because the dress isn’t hemmed yet. We take photos in a lot of different positions—to make sure the dress looks good from all angles, but also to figure out the best way to stand in it. I think it's such a nerve-wracking moment for them, I think its good to have an idea in mind of how they’re going to stand and what they’re going to do so they don’t get the deer in headlights thing.
Do you practice getting her into the car in the dress?
It is a big dress. We have not practiced getting in the car, but no, it will be fine. We try not to over think it too much or you just go crazy. But it always works out
What’s the vibe like when you’re getting ready?
There’s definitely some nerves. But Lizzy’s really cute—she usually puts out a giant cheese plate and she’ll get coffees for everyone. You know, try to make it fun and cozy and chill everyone out. For the most part we make it fun. It’s like 'Hey, here you are in a beautiful gown going to a fancy event; how lucky are we?' We try to keep things in perspective.
How is styling someone for the Emmys different from say the Oscars or Grammys?
Grammys are wilder as all music shows tend to be. You're dealing with musicians and the rules are just different—it can be more over the top.
With Oscars and Emmys, you want to go major but also more timeless. You want to look back at the photos in 50 years and still love the dress because those photos from the big awards shows run literally for decades—they still run photos of Audrey Hepburn from the Oscars.
Especially if a client is nominated, the focus should be on this amazing career moment and not on the 'crazy' risk they took with their 'kooky' dress.
When Lizzy first tried her Emmys gown, I got a mental picture of seeing the photo of her in it in 20 years on one of those postcards they sell in tourist stores on Hollywood Boulevard. Just classic, timeless Old Hollywood—but with a hint of that Lizzy Caplan edge.
What is your favorite event to dress someone for?
I love the Golden Globes because I have both TV and film clients attending which is extra hectic and fun. And for some reason every year we have about eight to 10 people at the Critics Choice Awards—I don't know what it is about that show but it seems everyone goes. Makes for a pretty proud day when I get to see a whole bunch of my clients on those carpets.
What are the big red carpet trends you’ve seen this year? Do you think about that when you’re picking out a look—i.e. are there any colors or styles you wanted to avoid because they’ve been showing up a lot this season?
I don't think about trends too much—ideally as stylists our job is to set the trends not follow them. On the other hand if a tricky look is having a big moment it might let you get away with something you couldn't have before—like the sheer trend or the crop top trend.
But definitely, if something has been done a lot, I try to stay away from it. It's more fun to surprise people than to do something everyone else is doing.
I'm pretty good at getting a sense of what's expected from a certain client at a certain event—and I like to go the opposite of that. You wanna keep people on their toes because it's more fun, and fashion is meant to be fun.