It was a perfect quarantine project after red-carpet events came to a screeching halt — and an opportunity to hand the mic over to her famous clients.
Photo: Courtesy of Ilaria Urbinati
Like many other celebrity stylists, Ilaria Urbinati had just wrapped another awards season and was getting her clients ready for the Cannes Film Festival, press tours and movie premieres when the pandemic sent the world into lockdown. Suddenly, the red carpet industry came to a screeching halt.
“In March, we had just finished fitting Rami Malek for ‘Bond’ and we had just flown to New York to fit John Krasinski for ‘A Quiet Place.’ We were starting press on Dwayne [‘The Rock’ Johnson]’s movie ‘Jungle Cruise.’ Aaron Paul had just done a fitting, we were starting to thinking about Cannes,” Urbinati recalls. “They just kept cancelling one project after another and we just had all these clothes we had fitted and tailored and nowhere to go. It’s been a disappointing experience, very frustrating.”
She also had just given birth to twins, and ostensibly “went from having an income to not having an income,” she adds. “I have three children and a mortgage, so it hasn’t been great.”
Despite this unusually clear schedule, she hasn’t spent her summer baking bread or bingeing Netflix. By April, the woman behind Hollywood’s best-dressed men was hard at work on a project she’d wanted to do for years: a men’s lifestyle site.
Leo, which officially launched on Monday and is named after her son, encompasses fashion, culture, food, booze, travel, fitness and sports. There’s also a crossword puzzle, advice columns, a podcast club (like a book club, but for podcasts) and a daily newsletter.
Urbinati assures that she has been extremely hands-on, writing or editing nearly every piece. She does actually have a writing background: Before she began styling the likes of Bradley Cooper, Riz Ahmed and Donald Glover, she wanted to be a writer, and contributed to various men’s publications. “That’s how I’m able to do this,” she says, “because otherwise what a nightmare if I couldn’t write and didn’t know grammar.”
In many ways, Leo is a culmination of a career spent building a reputation as a sort of style guru to some of the only men who frequent best-dressed lists and generating real interest in men’s red-carpet fashion for perhaps the first time ever.
“I’ve been wanting to do this website for years, I’ve had a lot of clients over the years be like, ‘You should to a men’s website,'” she explains.
In addition to styling, Urbinati co-owned Confederacy, an influential menswear store in Los Angeles that didn’t survive the e-commerce revolution. “I always find myself in the men’s world,” she says. “I happen to have a knack for what men are interested in and what makes them feel their best and look their best and I wanted to create a space that gave them that, especially right now.” She also points out that, unlike brick-and-mortar stores, “websites aren’t going anywhere.”
Leo’s point of differentiation from other men’s lifestyle sites also hinges somewhat on Urbinati’s Hollywood network: Many of her star clients are in fact her contributors.
The site went live with a tequila cocktail recipe by The Rock, a workout from Tom Brady, a playlist by Charlie Puth and a Nashville city guide by Lady A. Urbinati notes that she didn’t want celebrity features to center around projects they had to promote, but rather to showcase celebrities’ genuine interests.
“I know my clients very well and all the nerdy stuff they’re into. I know Armie Hammer’s really obsessed with grilling so I called him and said, ‘Do you want to write a guide about grilling the perfect steak?’ I know The Rock is super into tequila so I was like, ‘Would you wanna do a whole feature on tequila?'” she says. “Men like to geek out on things, delve deep into things that are sometimes unexpected. I wanted to be able to get them to talk about those things instead of getting them to talk about who they’re dating or what movie they have coming out, I think there’s enough of that.”
Clearly, her clients have been on board: “I took it as a really good sign early on that every guy I called was so excited for this website to exist and really felt like this was needed and they didn’t have anything like this out there for them and I think they trust me and know I’m not gonna do anything embarrassing or ugly.”
Beyond her buzzy styling roster, Urbinati reached out to fellow behind-the-scenes talents to be contributors, as well. There’s a push-present gift guide by Jennifer Lopez’s stylist Mariel Haenn and a drugstore shopping list compiled by Timothée Chalamet’s groomer, for example.
Photo: Courtesy of Ilaria Urbinati
Urbinati’s perspective as a woman running this men’s site — a woman who knows we’re all in love with her clients — comes through in the copy. “We think of things that maybe a guy wouldn’t,” she says. “Almost every piece, I’m like, ‘Oh my girlfriends are all going to want to read this.”
There’s also, of course, plenty of men’s style content, and Urbinati selects every single piece of clothing featured on the site. “It’s kind of like being styled by me for free,” she quips. She also presents it in the same way she might to, say, a Milo Ventimiglia during a fitting.
“Our slogan somehow has become, ‘Trust us, you need this,’ she says. “The website talks to men the way I talk to men in fittings which is very assertive, borderline bossy: ‘This is what you need and trust me, shut up and wear it.'”
Urbinati asserts that the site will contain “no news, no gossip, no politics, no clickbait, no misleading headlines.” She stresses the importance of garnering trust with both her celebrity contributors and readers: “I would never turn around and misquote them or misconstrue their meanings.”
Leo will make money through affiliates, sponsored content and ads that will only appear in newsletters and videos, according to Urbinati, who underlines that this will be done with integrity and in an organic way, partnering with brands she’s want to cover anyway or has relationships with through styling, and that she’d never select products simply because they offer affiliate revenue.
There are 30 features on the site at launch. Leo will debut only three new pieces of content per week while readers catch up, then speed up to one new piece per day, perhaps building up to more as the staff grows. As styling picks up again, Urbinati will have to relinquish some control and make some hires; her famous contributors may also find themselves with less time to write up recipes and city guides for the internet.
While perhaps less risky than brick-and-mortar retail, publishing is also a tough business these days. Urbinati admit Leo has been a lot more work than she anticipated. But if she’s able to maintain the caliber of boyfriend-worthy talent and the trust in both contributors and readers she hopes to garner, Leo could become the go-to men’s resource she wants it to be.
Homepage photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
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