The Secret Behind Nina Dobrev’s Romantic Date-Night Style Her Stylist Tells All

Some of you may be obsessed with Elena’s, er, Katherine’s, er, Amara’s—oh wait—just Elena’s on-screen style on The Vampire Diaries. (Not to mention all those blood-lusty, suspenseful story lines—DAMON, sob.) But I’m fixated on Nina Dobrev’s off-screen and non-undead sartorial outings. She’s willing to be fun and adventurous with color, shapes, and designers, but she always look chic and polished. So much so that a few of us on the team (I’m not naming names or anything) look to Nina and her flawlessly romantic red carpet looks for a little date-night inspiration. Case in point: Nina in this ornate but lively Zuhair Murad minidress from the resort 2015 collection.

So it was basically a unanimous call to present her with the Style Icon of the Week tiara—yay! But what’s even better than a roundup of fabulous red carpet pics? Well, when Hollywood stylist Ilaria Urbinati, the mastermind behind Nina’s stellar outfits, dishes on the actress’s killer style—and shares some style advice to the rest of us mere mortals. (Vampire joke, get it?) But first, Ilaria shares her thoughts on Nina’s style.

“I would describe it as mutable,” Ilaria says of Nina’s chameleon-like looks. “She’s at that age where she is still experimenting and changing things up and constantly trying new looks and generally having fun with her style—and she can pull off pretty much anything. Overall, her looks tend to be flirty, but sometimes we go more edgy, sometimes—especially for gowns—more timeless. And we try to stay away from looking too overtly sexy; she doesn’t need to prove anything—she just needs to have fun with her style.”

Well put. (Oh and side note: Ilaria styled Damon Wayans Jr. in the dapper outfit above too.) Now let’s check out some of the celeb power stylist’s favorite looks she created for Nina. Not quite date-appropriate but completely glam nevertheless:

“The obvious answer is the red Donna Karan Atelier gown she wore at the 2011 Emmys. It was just one of those red carpet moments. They still run the look on all the “Best Emmys Dresses of All Time” lists and it’s the first thing people bring up to me when they hear I style Nina. It was her big coming-out for sure. And I’m obsessed with that Neil Lane choker. I love that the rest of her is bare—no rings, no bracelets, and that it’s so high on her neck, it makes it a little edgier. People said it reminded them of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.”

“The paint splattered J. Mendel pantsuit she wore to the Teen Choice Awards last year. I had been trying to get my hands on that look forever and finally got it right on time for Teen Choice. It was cool and unexpected—everyone else was in dresses, so it was fun to do a pant look, especially such a bold one. The little star earrings with the bouncy ponytail was awesome. Nina says if it were up to me, she would only wear ponytails. She just looked cool and youthful.”

“The pink Elie Saab to the 2013 SAG Awards. Another big moment for her—Mr. Saab and Nina have always been a match made in heaven. I love going against what people expect from her. She had been doing a lot of bigger gowns, so I loved the idea of this super-modern sleek silhouette but contrasted by this very feminine sweet color. And with that figure, who needs bells and whistles? The little belt added a little cool to the look, and the jewelry and crystal box clutch was the perfect amount of glam to take it up a notch. Nina is the one girl who never disappoints me when I go online to see the photos. She just knows how to stand, and she owns every look.”

“The Donna Karan Atelier gown for the 2012 Met Ball is special to me because I was very involved in the design process. I grew up in the ’90s, and Great Expectations was one of my favorite style movies. When I think of Donna Karan, I think of that movie—she did all of Gwyneth Paltrow’s costumes, and that was my first impression of the brand. So when Donna Karan invited Nina to the Met, they sent us all these sketches. I wrote back and asked if they could do a version of the Donna gown Gwyneth wears when she’s running in the rain at the end of the movie. I also sent them the old ’90s Donna Karan campaigns with Demi Moore. And—voila—a dress was born! It was such a fun collaboration.”

And one of those crunch-time-wardrobe-miracle moments: “There was the time she went to Cannes with a gorgeous white Elie Saab gown and the zipper split about 10 minutes before she had to leave and she had to run to the Elie Saab suite in Cannes. It was 4 A.M. L.A. time and they were calling and emailing me photos of gowns to choose on her. There were a zillion gowns. And I just remember being like “that one” and going back to sleep. And then it was like one of her biggest red carpet moments ever—so typical. I ended up liking it even better than the original dress we had planned. The blue was just perfect for the French Riviera. It was a major moment for her, and it just felt meant to be.”

Flawless. But before we close out, let’s hear what Ilaria has to say about taking Nina’s date-night talents and turning it into something we can use for our nights out with our own Damons or Stefans…

“I would say, strike a balance,” Ilaria says. “If you’ve got a low-cut top, then pair it with pants instead of a short skirt. If you’ve got a shorter dress, go for a higher cut or long-sleeved on the top. If you wear something really girly, try an edgier shoe.”

“And, most importantly, what looks good on you and what works on your body and with your personality should be priority over what’s trendy—always,” she adds. “Especially on dates. Boys don’t care about fashion. Ideally they are looking at you, not your clothes. And for a night out with your girl friends, my motto is: Wear shoes you can dance in.”

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