Nina Dobrev Met Gala
Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage; Victor Virgile/Getty Images

Inspired by the Costume Institute’s Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit, this year’s Met Gala was something like a celebrity Project Runway challenge, leaving more than a few stars scrambling — and failing — to dress the part.

Amid the sea of spikes, heavy eye makeup, and black nail polish, Nina Dobrev stood out in a look that was sexy, chic, and just the right amount of punk. How did she do it? Stylist Ilaria Urbinati, who has worked with the Vampire Diaries star since the 2011 Emmys, gave EW all the details.

Although Urbinati says she “grew up listening to punk,” the initial inspiration for Dobrev’s ensemble came from a designer who’s best known for creating ultra-feminine wedding dresses.

“You go to the Met Gala if you’re invited by a designer, so when Nina got the invitation from Monique Lhuillier, we knew [she would wear] Monique,” the stylist explains. “We started off by looking at the fall runway, and there was a look that I really loved. It had the pants, the lace leggings with a skirt over it and long, lace sleeves. It was pretty punk — we were lucky because the collection had a lot of goth lace and leather — but very covered up to the neck. We wanted to do a little more skin on the top.”

Urbinati asked Lhuillier to customize the look using details from a gown she’s seen in one of the designer’s previous collections. “It had the bustier with the leather harness, so we asked Monique to [use] the top from that gown,” says Urbinati. “That’s how it works with custom gowns, you Frankenstein the looks together and try to make them look cohesive.”

Dobrev herself came up with the idea to add a little extra volume to the skirt to keep it from tripping her up as she navigated the Met’s grand staircase. (Lhuillier used horsehair to help keep the hem in place.) “Nina always has a lot of input,” says Urbinati. “She knows her body and what works.”

Once star, designer, and stylist were all happy with the design, Urbinati and Dobrev selected rock-chic jewelry from Kimberly McDonald and collaborated with the hair and makeup team to pull the look together. “For every event I always put together a photo book of inspirations for hair and makeup. The wrong hair or makeup can ruin the look,” the stylist explains of Dobrev’s 80’s shaved-effect hairstyle and smokey eye. The finished result: A head-to-toe look that wasn’t over-the-top. “It fit the scene but didn’t look completely out of character [for Nina].”

Urbinati’s thought’s on the many Met Gala fashion misses?

“There’s such a fine line with the theme in that you wanted it to be an inspiration and not a literal interpretation. I actually grew up listening to punk and I grew up on Vivenne Westwood and Comme des Garçons — really rebellious designers — so I definitely have an understanding of the concept, but at the same time, you have to keep in mind the person you’re dressing and the designer you’re working with,” the stylist says. “When you watch it and you’re seeing people not adhere to the theme at all, it’s so disappointing. But you also watch people do way too much and that’s sort of scary.”

The stylist’s picks — besides her own client, of course — for best dressed: “I loved Rooney Mara in Givenchy. I know there was a little bit of weirdness because people were saying the dress had been worn before by Penelope Cruz, but whatever, it’s punk! Who cares? I thought she was beautiful and I thought it was a beautiful interpretation,” Urbinati says. “I thought Kerry Washington looked awesome [in Vera Wang]. She always looks amazing to me. I think she’s one of the best styled girls. I loved, obviously, Sarah Jessica Parker, her [Giles Deacon] outfit was just so cool. She can really pull that kind of stuff off and I love that she always goes for it. I feel like you’re just never disappointed [by her].”

Urbinati, who will style Doberv for the CW network’s upfronts presentation next week, says we can look forward to seeing the actress take more risks on the red carpet. “We’re trying to evolve a little bit. [Nina] just wore Thakoon for the first time. That was really different for her. We did the Versace dress at the Great Gatsby premiere and that was her first time wearing Versace. I don’t ever want to have her stuck in a rut,” the stylist explains. “The thing is, Nina’s [tastes are] very classic, but we’re trying to go a little bit edgier, to start wearing cool, new young designers. Between the two of us, we kind of dream things up.”

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