A month into the pandemic, Ilaria Urbinati — who styles several of Hollywood’s leading men, including Chris Evans, Ryan Reynolds, Bradley Cooper, Ben Affleck, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Adrien Brody and Rami Malek, to name a few — decided to launch the Leo Edit, a lifestyle website (named after her firstborn son).
Writing has always been her first love, she said, and with styling put on hold in early 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19, she put her energy into building the site, which features interviews with many of her clients while covering a variety of topics from style advice (naturally) to recipes and daddy gear.
“I would like to keep expanding,” she said of future goals. “I’d like to have a little media empire — but in a not-so-yucky sounding way.” She plans to launch a YouTube channel, open pop-up shops and partners on design collaborations across categories, she explained. “Keep expanding the Leo brand, keep growing the readers and be able to do as much as we can with it.”
Over a year into the launch of Leo Edit, Urbinati — born in Rome, raised in Paris and living in Los Angeles — reflects on its content:
WWD: Am I right to say that you began your career as a writer before venturing into styling?
Ilaria Urbinati: I kind of came out of the womb thinking, “I’m going to be a writer.” That was always going to be my life. I studied writing and journalism and literature in school. And one of my first jobs was writing for a magazine — a freelancer for Nylon. I worked at Interview magazine at one point. I was always going to do that. But then what happened was every magazine I kept writing for kept asking me to style for them…and I ended up getting scooped up in the styling world. I kind of went with where the road was leading me, but I’ve always loved writing. It’s always been my first love.
WWD: You’re not just writing but working on many different elements of content making.
I.U.: Yeah, I keep joking that I could go run a magazine, because I like editing, photo editing, copy editing, pitching, marketing. It’s every aspect — it’s such a small operation, still. We’re so young. I’m definitely getting the whole hands-on experience of, you know, working in a magazine or a website, whatever you want to call it.
WWD: What inspired you to launch the site?
I.U.: I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Actually, a bunch of my clients kept saying, “You should have a men’s website.” I think a lot of my clients for years have been coming to me for, obviously my opinions for styling, but a lot of other aspects, too. I somehow became the person they would text for, “Where should I go on a date? Where should I go on a trip? What hotel should I stay at? What do I buy my wife?” Because I’m a person who just happens to have kind of strong opinions, people like to ask those questions…I liked the idea of doing [a website]. I just didn’t know what it would look like or what the angle would be or what I would focus on. And I didn’t have any time. Styling is incredibly time-consuming. Plus, I have three children. And then the pandemic happened and suddenly I went from being super crazy busy to not, and I’m just not a person who does well with idle hands. So literally, it was like a month into the pandemic, we went full force into starting this thing.
WWD: What was the idea behind the concept on Day One, and how has it evolved?
I.U.: Originally, I knew I didn’t want just a style website. I knew I wanted it to be lifestyle. There are so many different facets that are interesting to me, but also to the men in my life. I’m surrounded by men, and I found that men have so many varying interests that were contradictory. Like, the same guys that come into fittings, that are into brands, that know their designers, that care about the way they look, also watch football and are into the UFC and like to go fishing and camping. They’re also intellectuals, and they read, and they like foreign films, and they listen to podcasts. I just felt like there wasn’t really a go-to place for men, a website or magazine, that had all these things…that addressed the fact that men are very multifaceted people, just like women. I wanted to have that spot where you could get it all in one place in a way that was done easy, easy reads. I wanted it to be fun, breezy reads but were also interesting and could give you something to aspire to.
WWD: Given the variety of the content, what insight do you have on the audience, the readers so far?
I.U.: About 70 percent of our readers are male. So that’s our focus; if this is interesting to men, it goes…That’s really the only thing. I mean, I have my standards, obviously. There are certain things that I think are not our demographic, if it’s too cheesy or too corny or too gossipy or too social media-y. I like it to be intelligent, but I also like it to be intelligent in a way that isn’t snobby or trying to be intellectually above anyone’s head.
WWD: You have big names featured on the Leo Edit. Looking back, what piece stands out most and why?
I.U.: There’s a few. What pops into my head is the Brunello Cucinelli feature we did, where he talks about philosophy and humanity, huge passions of his that have really set the tone for his brand, their brand’s ethos…It’s interesting to see what goes into it, why it’s special, why it’s got the quality that it has, and everything they’re giving back and who he is as a man…Obviously, the interview we did with Chris Evans. It’s our most successful story ever. He’s got a huge following, so that’s obvious. But it was also fun to do a light, fun interview that is asking questions that were so random and specific that you got to know him better, without getting intrusive…One of the fun parts of the website, too, is that a lot of the people will write their features themselves, like Casey Affleck’s feature about Boston, which is to this day one of my favorite features we’ve ever done. He wrote it himself, and he’s really funny and intimate and personal and in depth about growing up in Boston, how the city’s changed over the years, about his father…It feels special.
WWD: With your clients giving insights into their lives, given you’ve worked with them for so many years, was there anything that surprised you about an answer or piece of content they ended up sharing?
I.U.: Oh, man. I really have to think about that. I mean, we did a feature called “The Basics” with John Krasinski — basically the same feature we did with Rami Malek and Chris Evans where we just ask them very specific miscellaneous questions, and there were a lot of funny insights from John that I thought was surprising in that I felt like I really got to know him better, even though I know him already so well. Funny, cute stuff like he’s talking about how he dressed up as Peter Pan 10 years in a row as a kid, weird little things…Off the top of my head, I remember his interview specifically, I found a lot of cute, funny, interesting, surprising answers.