Rising starlet Olivia Wilde embraces adventure
and ambiguity as the next evolution in style
Text by Jasmine Pahl
Photography by Matthew Welch
Fashion editors: Kemal & Karla
Like any storybook princess worth her salt, Olivia Wilde is both benevolent and beautiful. Wearing dark skinny jeans, Converse, a plaid shirt and a wide, warm smile, her teal-eyed extra-terrestrial beauty alone lit up the LA studio where photo shoot preparations were in full gear. But this is no fairy tale, and Wilde is, in fact, an honest-to-goodness princess. At 18, she married Italian-born LA-raised prince and filmmaker Tao Ruspoli, just six months after they met. Converse aside, Wilde does possess a royal carriage all her own—a dignity and confidence uncanny in a woman just weeks shy of 25. She credits her journalist parents for bringing her and her two siblings up to be independent, respect intelligence and follow through with whatever they set out to do.
“At 10, I had a brief stint of wanting to be a rapper. My parents were very encouraging. They were like, ‘OK if you want to be a rapper then rap.’ So I had to put together a little performance and show the family. I did the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ theme. I thought that was so cool that they encouraged it. They always encouraged us to take ourselves seriously. They never babied us and I think that turns into a sort of confidence in the world.”
Homegirl moment aside, Wilde spent most of her girlhood longing to be an actor. At 18, before entering theatre studies full time, she took a year to intern for an LA casting director as a way of investigating whether the movie business was really for her. The experience fast-forwarded her savvy to that of virtual Hollywood veteran and revealed an expansive vista of possibilities.
“Even though this town can be a terrible, dark place,” Wilde concedes, “there are a lot of really good, smart people here. People like to be lazy and assume you can’t get anything interesting done here. ‘It’s too commercial and it’s too selfish and no one cares about anything.’ It’s all bullshit. That’s just laziness, because what I have found is that if you have a good idea here, people really want to hear it and people here really want to make good work.” Cracking jokes, Wilde submits to the ministrations of a rather adoring team of hairstylist, makeup artist and manicurist.
Wilde’s fashion darling status is newly minted: the pale violet Reem Acra confection she chose for the Golden Globes placed her firmly on the fashion map, as well as on the radar of style page readers who had previously missed Wilde’s critically-acclaimed work as a complicated, bisexual doctor on the TV drama “House.” “What I’ve recently learned is that apparently wearing a nice dress to a big awards show is as impactful as having a movie come out. (Laughs.) People will stop me on the street to tell me what they thought of my dress. Friends of my parents, people who are, like, professionals were saying, ‘Congratulations on “best dressed.”’ It’s not like I actually did anything.”
Wilde acknowledges how integral clothes are to her process as an actor. “I like to work very closely with the wardrobe department and costume designers. When I started ‘House,’ we had this idea that this character would have a huge vintage suspender collection and that was part of our creation of her as being sort of an androgynous character, as being kind of ambiguous in a lot of ways. She’d be wearing a kick-ass pair of Louboutins with old, fraying very kind of grubby-looking suspenders.” Though she would never be graceless enough to say it, there are probably a lot of other things Wilde would rather be doing with her Saturday than having her photo taken in clothes any fashionista would crawl over fields of Naugahyde to wear. Given her choice, Wilde might grab an almond milk latte (she’s a vegan) on a day like today before charging on out into the muted LA sunshine devising ways to save the world. She spends much of her limited free time raising money for various organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, comprised of people she refers to as “saints, really the most incredible people on earth—brilliant and effective”; the ACLU; and her pet charity Power Up Gambia, which equips medical clinics in third-world countries with reliable solar power.
“The great thing is that my efforts to work towards helping the environment and my efforts towards humanitarianism are combined in the solar-powered clinic idea,” she says, “which is why it struck such a chord with me. And, playing a doctor, I have this newfound respect for medicine, so it really all comes together.”
Wilde is even attempting to green the hand that feeds, recently getting onboard with the Environmental Media Association, which pressures the film industry to be more ecologically responsible. “As everyone knows, sets are the most wasteful places in the universe,” Wilde explains. “You wouldn’t believe how many sets don’t have recycling. All that paper they use every day (and they don’t use recycled paper), the trucks idling; it goes on and on. So they are doing great things in creating a green stamp of approval for certain shows that do work under these certain restrictions and I’m hoping that will catch on.”
Even if image is not an overriding concern of Wilde’s, she recognizes its significance in her chosen career and, in the light-hearted, dedicated way that is her wont, has learned to rather enjoy it: “You can’t turn your nose up at that side of the business—it is a huge part of it, so you have to find a kind of love and appreciation for it, which can be really fun if you have the right people to inspire you.”
For this shoot, Wilde derives fashion inspiration from an entirely vintage wardrobe, which speaks to both her environmental fervor and personal style, which she describes as “constantly changing. Though I definitely have gone from more of a bohemian, flowy look to a more urban look—a different style that I actually think reflects my own confidence. When I was a teenager, every pair of shoes, everything, had to be a vintage piece. That’s sort of limiting of course, because there’s certain staple items that are not best to get from a vintage store. I continue to mature, but I do love finding that perfect vintage piece, like a crazy peacock feather hair clip or a hat.”
Given all the talk of activism and staunch upbringing, one might expect Wilde to be a little, well, dull as a photo subject, but on set she starts rocking out to The Kills, vamping like she’s Christy Turlington and it’s 1999, only stopping to pretend to fire at the crew between takes with the exaggerated shoulders of a vintage Martin Margiela suit. Then it’s time for a hair change and Wilde’s natural straight brown locks are tortured into dozens of tiny pin curls. A mound of beets and a haystack of kale salad arrive in an eco-friendly container for her. It’s all part of a strict diet and exercise regimen designed to pack 10 pounds of muscle on her slim frame for her role in a sequel to the 1982 cult sci-fi film Tron. Details are under wraps, but Wilde will say the costume she’s beefing up for is “unlike anything anybody’s ever seen before, and it uses technology that’s never been used in wardrobe.” She’s also promoting Year One, the Judd Apatow film she stars in opposite Jack Black and hopes the film will attract more opportunities to do comedy. And she is funny, seizing upon a tabloid featuring a photo of one of octuplet mom Nadia Suleman’s babies quipping, “That baby’s like, ‘Put me back in the oven. Alone please.’”
The photo shoot transplants to the yard of a luxurious private home in the hills of Sunset Plaza. Despite the coolness in the air, and the fact that the shoot is clearly barreling past the hour Wilde said she needed to be free to have dinner with a visiting uncle, she cheerfully submits to every last whim, gamely getting in the pool and barely shivering, while evoking gasps from the homeowners beholding her nymph-like loveliness. Soon, darkness falls, the fabulous clothes go back into plastic bags, and, just for a moment, Wilde hunches over her Blackberry—for the first time all day not engaged with the people around her. One can only imagine she is texting her prince.
Ironically, her exotic marriage is the one element that normalizes the fast-paced life of this starlet on the rise. “It’s my life saver,” she beams. “It can get quite confusing when you start to get a lot of work and you start to attract a lot of people as friends, and you’re not sure if they’re friends with you because of your success or not. It’s wonderful that I have a partner who knew me before I had any work. He’s always very supportive, he keeps me very grounded and he’s as far away from the bullshit as you can get. It’s really nice to be able to come home from an event, take off the make-up, take down your hair, put on your pajamas and be with someone who loves you more when you look like that than when you get all gussied up.”
Then, just as soon as it began, Wilde’s quiet moment is over and she heads to a pre-Oscar event crawling with heavy-hitters capable of fertilizing her blossoming career. She showers, has her hair blown out and changes into the last outfit of the evening: a short fuschia Cushine Et Ochs minidress with a high torso cutout, revealing utterly perfect under cleavage. Still clutching her pile of plaid shirt and Converse, Wilde hugs every member of the crew. And with that, the modern-day princess heads out into the Hollywood night to take on the town.
Olivia wears vintage archived pieces from The Way We Wore in Los Angeles, www.thewaywewore.com
Hair: Richard Collins at The Wall Group
Makeup: Mary Klimek for Kanebo Cosmetics
Manicurist: Beth Fricke at Artists by Timothy Priano for OPI
Fashion assistant: Erica Cloud