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Last month while promoting the second season of the Bachelor-inspired behind-the-scenes dating show UnREAL — which, it must be noted, is just so much freaking fun to watch — the show’s stars Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer left Good Morning America hand-in-hand, wearing dresses that looked like pure sunshine (Appleby in embroidered Sachin and Babi; Zimmer in polka-dot L.K. Bennett). One thing you notice with these looks? They’re sharp contrasts to those their characters would wear, as Appleby plays the oft-disheveled, cunningly manipulative, mentally unstable producer/showrunner, Rachel, and Zimmer stars as her ball-crushing Victoria Beckham-wearing boss, Quinn.
And this 180 from on-screen to off-screen looks is very intentional — they are purposely dressed so they look nothing like Quinn and Rachel, and it’s not just because they’re nothing like their characters IRL. No, this is bigger than that. Zimmer already admitted to having a problem with fans thinking she’s Quinn. “The fan experience is fascinating because the fans are super, super trepidatious to walk up to me,” she told PEOPLE. “I kind of described it the other day as like, somebody trying to walk up to a rattle snake – they think that they can maybe get a really great selfie without the rattle snake turning around and biting them, but because everybody thinks that I’m Quinn in real life, it is really funny watching people like be very cautious.”
Enter their stylists.
In a business where image is everything, it’s Appleby’s stylist Ilaria Urbinati and Zimmer’s stylist Molly Fishkin’s jobs to give the two women who play Quinn and Rachel a style story off-screen. “I do think that people think that these celebrities are their characters, and it’s funny to me,” Fishkin tells PeopleStyle. “Constance is such a brilliant actress, so I think that because of that people think that’s who she really is. She’s so opposite of that, it’s actually insane.”
And for each star, they have it down to a science. For Fishkin, it’s about showing Zimmer’s more feminine side through her red carpet looks. “She’s harsh as a character, so I want to bring a softer side to her,” explains the stylist. “But I’m not going to make her dress frilly and bohemian because she’s a tough chick on a show. There’s a happy medium between the two because of how well she plays it and who she is in person. At the same time I don’t want to bring her too far away from [Quinn] because I still want people to not forget her character. She has to embody her somewhat when she is doing her appearances. But I do like to combine the two as much as I can.”
The result is delicate balance of a Quinn-meets-Constance look. “If she has on a really Quinn-like dress for example, we always try to play with a really cool shoe or a cool jacket because I have to bring some element of Constance into every outfit, so it’s not just looking like I am trying to dress her like her character,” says Fishkin. “I don’t want to do that.”
Meanwhile, for Team Appleby, it’s less about shying away from the Rachel look (a simple task as long as she brushes her hair and stays away from army green cargo jackets on the red carpet) and more about seizing the moment to turn Appleby into a fashion darling (which, arguably, Urbinati has at this point). “I am just approaching it from the sense that this is a big moment,” explains Urbinati, a red carpet pro who has worked with Lizzy Caplan (and turned into a fashion superstar) and dresses a range of beautiful men in outside-the-box looks, such as Rami Malek and Ryan Reynolds.
“Her character is very grungy, so it’s fun to show her glamorous side,” Urbinati tells PeopleStyle. “There is a lot of attention on the show so we’re just trying to do looks that are as chic, but also a little bit daring so they’re a little bit more attention grabbing cause it’s a good time for her to be out there and show people her stuff—show people what she’s got.”
“That’s the point of the stylist ideally,” Urbinati continues. “It is a) to make someone feel like the best version of themselves but b) to seize those opportunities in the spotlight to make the most of it. You see a lot of actresses doing the right looks at the right time and it gets the right amount of attention. It can really help their career, actually. I do feel like it has an impact. I’ve worked with some actresses who were on like a smaller TV show that got a lot of attention at the right time and they were able to get the right invites to the right events and next thing you know they’re at the Met Ball and they’re at Fashion Week. Those things help with career stuff. Nowadays, producers are looking at people’s Instagram accounts to decide whether they’re castable or not, which is crazy but that is a thing that is happening now. So if a person is like getting a lot of attention on the blogs and magazines because of the way they’re dressed, that can all contribute to the kind of attention they’re getting. It’s part of a game now.”
And they’ve come to play. “Shiri is in the right mindset,” says Urbinati. “She’s really game. She’s really down to wear whatever. She’s not fussy or difficult. She really wants to have fun with it. She wants to be daring. We did a look where it was the fuchsia top over the red pants and that was not a lot of people will wear — even she was a little nervous about it. But I loved it and I said ‘I think this is the time to be adventurous and go out there.’ The thing is she is so incredibly good on the show that I want people to notice her. She’s so good. If this little bit of thing helps that than great.”
Not only is the stylists’ work about crafting this image for the two stars, they’re also inspiring others with the looks they create. In Zimmer’s case, she’s the walking embodiment of the longstanding style lesson: Flaunt what you’ve got. “She has the most beautiful top half,” says Fishkin. “Her abs are insane and her arms are so gorgeous. Even though she’s a 45-year-old woman, she pulls off the high-waisted skirt and the crop top because that little strip of her stomach is so good and I feel like she should show the world. I also love to have her in anything fitted from the waist up, even if it’s a fuller bottom because her waist and her top torso are so incredible.”
“Constance loves clothes and she loves to be dressed,” continues Fishkin. “Before we started she always told me she had no idea what she’s doing and she gets so lost when it comes to clothes, when in reality she loves it. Now she knows which styles and brands work for her and what doesn’t.”
In Appleby’s case, Urbinati proves that fearlessness can pay off. “Shiri is so chill and so comfortable with herself and so at ease it’s so not like she doesn’t have hang-ups at all,” says Urbinati. “It never happens. And that’s also why I think she’s looking good — because when people are playing along and they aren’t hung up on their weird hang-ups and are insecure, that’s when you can really play. That makes a difference. Plus, she is very comfortable in her skin. I have literally every day when I am going into designers to get clothes for people they’re like, ‘Are you dressing Shiri today? She’s looking great.’ I have been hearing that so much about her specifically. So something is working.”
Now, with UnREAL nabbing two Emmy nominations — including one for Zimmer for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — the focus on the two stars will only increase, especially with an Emmy dress search starting soon. That will to be a fun assignment for Fishkin and Urbinati. “They complement each other really, really well,” says Fishkin. “Constance is just wacky and funny and Shiri is just sweet and adorable.”
For the nominated Zimmer, it will be a big decision which designer to go with for the Emmys. “She’s more confident in her looks in general, and that shows on the carpet,” says Fishkin. “That’s why a lot of designers now want to dress her as opposed to not wanting to dress her for the first round — because they are seeing how good she looks and how confident she is and how her character is developing and how the show is being more successful.”
“People don’t really realize it because it’s clothes and it’s not like we’re saving lives,” says Fishkin, “but it makes a difference.”
— Sharon Clott Kanter