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Choosing Naomi Watts’ Venice Film Festival outfits has been “a family affair.”
No, really; the first-time juror and her stylist Jeanann Williams are family. “We’re sisters,” says Williams, who had a child with Watts’ brother. “I’m no longer with her brother, so we jokingly say that we’re sister-out-laws now.” The women met around 2005, but Williams didn’t begin styling Watts until 2012 — for the opening of the Venice Film Festival.
Six years after that nude Marchesa gown, the artists are gearing up again for this year’s festival, which runs Wednesday-Sept. 8. Between three or four red carpet looks, press calls, boat rides and several day looks, Williams has her hands full planning Watts’ wardrobe.
The pair spent the days and weeks leading up the festival in fittings. “My house is flooded with couture right now, and beautiful, amazing, wearable dresses. And I’m going to spend the night at her house, and the kids will all be running around, and I have all these amazing jewels,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Williams adds their kids love it and give their opinions on the looks: “I’m like, ‘Really, Kai?’ And my daughter gets a say, too. … We’ll have a good time. It’s a lock-in, like a sleepover fitting.”
But this year is bigger. “Venice is always special to me in the respect that it was the first job we did together,” she says. “This is a huge one for us. She's never been a juror before and it's 12 days.”
For the red carpet, Williams incorporated plenty of Italian labels in a nod to the setting. “Not the entire time, but there's definitely some moments with Italian designers on the red carpet," she says, along with one or two couture looks that Williams wrangled amidst European shut downs in August. (Watts will attend events with Chanel and Prada.)
Be prepared to see the Twin Peaks actress in “flowing, comfortable, beautiful gowns, mixed with chic flats and great hats.” Yes, hats! Williams says the dresses will be reminiscent of the 1940s and '50s with florals.
“Her notes to me were definitely, ‘I want hats, sunglasses and flats,’ says Williams. "Expect to see a lot of the season's best flats because she's like, ‘Jeanann, I'm watching three or four films a day and I need to be comfortable on and off boats.” Also requested: sandals and sneakers for comfort.
“You might see her in a beautiful Valentino gown in the day, but she's going to wear it with a gladiator sandal or a sneaker,” adds Williams.
For Williams, styling Watts is about being together: “We’re close and we support each other. This keeps us even closer. So in these big moments of her life, I get to be there with her.”
See Watts’ past Venice Film Festival looks, below.
The first look Williams created for Watts was back in 2012, a lacy and romantic Marchesa gown for the opening ceremony for Venice (pictured above with Liev Schreiber). Williams had been working in PR for a decade and wanted to start a consultancy firm for brands.
"[Watts] was in London shooting Diana at the time and she called me," Williams says. "She said, 'I need a look for Venice. I think you can do it. We can do it together.'
"I was just like, 'Okay, I think I could do that,'" Williams continues. "I reached out to different brands and it was just a scramble. I’m very close with the girls at Marchesa and I know that Naomi has worn Marchesa many times. They rushed a whole box over to her in London, and we landed on something beautiful and that was the start."
"We fell in love with a couple of Cavallis from that season," Williams says. "She ended up wearing another one to the Toronto Film Festival just directly after. I just love that dress. I still love that dress. It's all stars and purple and it's romantic and fun, and we hadn't really worn much purple before."
Watts wore the dress alongside Schreiber, her co-star and now-ex, at the AMBI Exclusive Dinner in honor of The Bleeder in 2016.
The actress liked that the dress was comfortable, Williams tells THR: "She wants fashion to be wearable, and it's not always. … Wearable fashion, when you can look amazing, chic and elegant and still be comfortable, is always a goal."
Watts' style tends to have a good mix of femininity and androgyny to show strength, the stylist adds. "She’s always very effortless," says Williams. "She has natural beauty, so her looks are never overdone with tons of jewelry or accessories or belts. I think the first thing you see about her is her. The clothes don’t wear her. She’s not just trying to chase every trend. We do what works for her."
During a party for The Bleeder in 2016, Watts stepped out in a black V-neck Fendi gown, but it was what she wore underneath that made her feel powerful.
"She had these big, knee-high Tabitha boots underneath," Williams says. "I think they made her feel quite sexy. … It's kind of like you can't tell looking at the dress that she has those sexy boots underneath. I think that's something about a woman, like knowing what you have underneath, that you have these crazy boots on. It's kind of exciting and we love that."
Watts wore a lot of platforms during the trip, because Venice isn't the place for stilettos. "It's grueling, it's hot and on and off boats," Williams adds.
The Roksanda really pushed Watts outside her comfort zone. "Sometimes she can steer away from print," Williams says. "I always think I tried to push whatever she fears, although she also fears red and I still haven't gotten very far with that."
Looking back on Watts' 2016 Venice looks, Williams notices their bold print choices: "She lets me play, she loves fashion and we’ve worked together so long, she trusts my decisions."
The team chose a nude, embellished Elie Saab gown with a high slit for the premiere of The Bleeder in Venice. The resort 2017 piece was accented with a suede black belt and Jimmy Choos.
"She's very petite and typically does slimmer silhouettes. So that was a lot of dress for her. But we just fell in love with it and we went for it," Williams tells THR. "The detail in it was just so beautiful up close — the pattern and the bead work and the sequin work."
Williams approaches Venice differently than she would other festivals like Cannes, keeping in mind the setting of Italy in the summer. She calls it a back-to-school moment, and "looks tend to reflect that and they're much more romantic and floaty." Venice is feminine like old Hollywood.
"You can really go for it. With those big red carpets, you can have the trains and the jewels and it's a fun festival to dress for sure. So the style was I think a big look for her," Williams adds.
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