It can be difficult to know what to expect when meeting an online personality IRL, but there is far more to Federica Labanca than the immaculately styled pictures we see on her Instagram profile. Funny, charming and insightful, when Labanca welcomes us into her home, she is reminiscent of an Italian Carrie Bradshaw. One of the biggest spaces in her flat is dedicated to her wardrobe, and there are a lot of shoes, but just don't expect a walk-in wardrobe. "I've done that and had the big, grey apartment, but it felt cold and soulless. I wanted an intimate space that felt cosy if you were visiting for the first time," she says. And cosy it is. Like a true Milanese host, she offers to make pasta for everyone ("I eat pasta twice a day, every day," she muses), but we settle for espressos and macarons to sit down and talk fashion with the content creator, art director and special projects manager who has restarted her life and career in the last 12 months and is now flourishing for it.
"The way I dress now is my revenge wardrobe," Labanca asserts, as a tough year saw a breakup, career change and periods of loneliness that shook her confidence. But what a revenge wardrobe it is. Colourful, eclectic and unapologetically strong, Labanca's twist on power dressing comes from an eye for vintage styling and a well-curated collection of one-off pieces, designer collectibles and a who's who of accessory brands, including everything from Charles & Keith to Chanel. Who better, then, to allow us a peek inside their wardrobe than a keen shopper who boasts of finding a secondhand YSL blazer for only £12?
Keep scrolling to find out how Labanca's Milanese upbringing, newfound love of colour and outlook on life shaped her glamorous style and garnered a following of 34,000.
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: JADED LONDON TOP; PRADA TROUSERS; CHARLES & KEITH SHOES; VINTAGE EARRINGS
For those who don't know your journey, could you tell us a little bit about your career in fashion?
So I started out by moving to London six and a half years ago. I'd started at Dolce & Gabbana doing in-store visual merchandising, and then after six months, I moved to Prada in the same position. My growth there was really quick. In fact, it was only six months after that that I was promoted to head office, and then moved to headquarters a few months after that. And I've always thought it's so funny because I have the "university conversation" a lot with my friends and whether academia is the only access to creative professions. But I often think that when you secure a job, it means you have the tools within you to do it. You were born with it. There's nothing really that you can study when it comes to style. You have to be a creative anyway. Even if you go to uni, you have to have it, and especially for visual merchandising. I never got into VM because it was my dream job. It just happened because they saw that I had an eye for it. And I loved my time at Prada, loved it. But ultimately, I ended up leaving because, in that kind of position, you need to find a way to start afresh because working with the same brand and product every day for six years can give you… What do people say? "The artist's block."
After I left, I had a whirlwind kind of year. I'd broken up with my boyfriend of seven years and moved into a new place alone, and for a while, I felt quite lost. So I joined a talent agency because they wanted to open an office in Milan, and initially, I was going to be the creative director there, but it wasn't really for me. Obviously, I met Amy [Sturgis, founder of PR company ASC], and we just get each other. She brought me on board to head up special projects at ASC, and I love my job and going the extra mile for brands and clients.
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: CELIAB DRESS, BETTINA VERMILLON SHOES
And what does a typical day in PR look like for you?
I'm Italian, so I wake up [and] have my coffee and my cigarette. I'm getting better at not looking at my phone for the first half hour, but I end up checking emails and having a little scroll on Instagram. I work between home and the office doing the usual admin, calls, and emails. Pretty normal actually—it's not all glamourous. But I also work with Instagram as well, so I set some time aside to shoot a bit of content if I have a project coming up, but my main focus is ASC. For example, we're currently working on our L.A. showroom ahead of Coachella, so I'm spending my time in the office pitching projects to brands and to my contacts as well as planning the locations, what we can offer brands, securing talent. There are just so many moving parts, and a lot of public relations is reaching out to sponsors and getting together a strong guest list. But I oversee on every level of creative, from designing the decks to the look of the invites. It's definitely one of my strengths.
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: BOGDAR DRESS, VINTAGE NECKLACE, ZARA SHOES
You were born in Milan and live in London, but you travel all over the world. What would you say is the typical London-girl style vs Milanese?
Milanese style is very specific. It changes slightly, but never that much. When I moved to London, it was so refreshing to see people just being cool because they're cool, not because of what they wore. I would see a mum wearing a tracksuit and some cool sneakers and just a cashmere jumper, and I remember thinking, "That's cool. It's so chic." Milan is much more into logos and brands. It's very dressed up, very stiff, very polished. It's classic Milanese style. There's no oversized or slouchy, always perfectly fit. The two are so different. I love London because, depending on the area, it really changes. I used to live in Chelsea for the longest time, and wow, it's so different from Notting Hill in terms of style. But I prefer London, 100%. I feel like my style developed here.
Again, because last year was such a tough one for me, I was wearing a lot of neutrals and muted colours just because I feel like I wasn't as confident as embracing my life. Recently I was like, "You know what? I'm going to start wearing colour and feeling strong and confident when I do." But I definitely feel like my attention to details in accessorising has come from my mum for sure, my mom and my grandma. It's very Milanese to be taught that a bag and shoes need to match. It's all about the style in the details.
Where is your favourite place in the world to look for fashion inspiration?
I would say it's kind of cliché, but Paris and London. There are bits in Milan for some reasons, London for others, Paris for others. If I could have the perfect style, it would combine all three of them. When you travel, you end up gathering inspiration from everywhere without even knowing.
Absolutely. And if we looked through your wardrobe on any given day, what would we find?
I'm actually really quick when it comes to getting dressed. Just because I have kind of a structure to my looks that's hard to explain, I'm going to try and give you an example. For instance, lately, I'm in my skirts-and-jumpers era. I can mix and match and swap the pieces, but the vibe stays the same, if that makes sense. I often joke with my friends about this because they say that my style has "rich auntie" vibes. So if I have that in mind, then I'm gonna be like, Okay, I'm gonna wear these casual trousers but pair it with this chic blouse and add a big pair of vintage earrings to add that little bit of chic." I truly believe that if it takes you too long to get ready, then it's not really you. If it takes you too long to build the outfit, it means you're trying to achieve something that doesn't come naturally, and that's just overthinking it.
So if at the moment you're enjoying "rich auntie" vibes, what we can expect? Does your aesthetic change every few months with how you feel?
I mean, definitely. That's my vibe. Generally, because I love vintage pieces and I'm not a fan of casual dressing, you won't catch me in sneakers. But not because I don't like them. Sometimes, you want to be comfy! But I just love being put-together. Yeah, I love and respect fashion so much that I enjoy the process of dressing up. I love building outfits and wearing heels to work, probably because I grew up with a mum that never ever wore sneakers. You're more confident when you know that you're wearing something banging, and I like that feeling. So why not do it every day? So for now, my vibe is staying as rich auntie, but better embracing colour. This is here to stay, I think.
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: ROKSANDA x FABRIQUE JACKET; NA-KD TROUSERS; DIOR BAG AND SHOES
Which style icons have had the biggest impact on you, and why?
For sure my mum just because she's the strongest person I know. No matter what, she would put on a pair of heels and look fabulous, any day of the week. My grandmother too—in Milan, the Milanese woman is all about long fur coats and polished handbags, and I grew up with that and loved it. So I pay homage to that with my looks now.
I think there are also so many Italian icons. When I grew up, I remember seeing the Dolce & Gabbana model a lot. And I used to love it because they always used curvier models with boobs and an ass, bombshell Mediterranean women, and I felt like I belonged. Growing up and seeing all that lace and fur and beautiful curvy icons like Sophia Loren made me think, "Now that's a woman."
If you could wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A suit, very easy. I'm obsessed with vintage suits and blazers. I have a couple of incredible Ungaro suits that are super fitted around the waist but with big, exaggerated shoulders. Tailoring is so key. I also have a couple of very '60s suits that have matching skirts, but I'm not a miniskirt lover. I tried it, but I hate feeling naked, so I don't like short dresses for the same reason. I'm all about statement pieces, and usually, for me, that's a long, sequinned dress. Being sexy is not about showing skin. It's just about feeling empowered and confident. And I happen to feel my most confident being fully covered.
What is the most important item in your wardrobe, and why?
Well, as I built my wardrobe from scratch from nothing quite recently, there are a lot of pieces that mean a lot to me. Like for example, my first Prada skirt, my first pair of designer shoes, my first designer bag… My whole wardrobe is very, very sentimental to me. I have a necklace that my grandma wanted to give me when she was alive, but after she died, my dad passed it on to me, and that is extremely precious to me. It's hard for me to pick just one thing because my whole wardrobe symbolises my achievements. Every single piece has meaning, like the first expensive item that I bought with my own money. My mum always used to say, "If you buy good accessories, you're fine," because it's normal to invest in bags and shoes, but when you can afford to buy designer clothing, then you've kind of made it in your own way.
So what has been your most indulgent purchase?
Probably my Gucci Jackie bag, just because I always had a rule that when it comes to designer bags you should buy neutral colours so they can go with everything. But my Jackie is far from neutral, and I've still never regretted it because it's my favourite bag!
What's the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
In my career, I've always had a tendency take things too personally. So the best advice that I've ever been given was to simply detach myself. It's so difficult when you're a creative person not to not take criticism personally because whatever you pour your heart into is your baby. You've created it. But then again, perspective is important. My parents always taught me to just slow down and to remember that what you have now is what you've always dreamed of. So just take it easy and enjoy the journey. And never be too greedy! You're at the point you were dreaming about a couple of years ago.
Photo:PHIL TAYLOR; STYLING: SOURCE UNKNOWN TOP AND JEANS; JIMMY CHOO BAG AND SHOES; ALESSANDRA RICH EARRINGS
What's the best piece of life advice you’ve ever been given?
Well, it changed my life, for sure. I was lost during lockdown and really unhappy. I wasn't sure what I was going to do and so deep down a hole that I've never experienced in my life. It was almost like a test, though. If I think about it now, everything was gone in the space of two months—all that suffering and anxiety. It was hard to recover from that, but then, it was gone. In that time, I lost a relationship, friends and all of that, but I've made friendships that are now like my family. I've found a career and realised what I actually wanted to do. I found the strength to follow my dreams, which sounds extremely cheesy, but it's true.
I learned not to listen to anyone that says you can't do it all because you can. You fucking can do it all. And I feel like I am. And I'm proud of that, you know. So that tough period of my life was just me growing and growing up and realising that I needed to break up with so much that I had in my life to be stronger and more confident. The way I dress now is my revenge wardrobe. The flat I live in is my revenge flat where I pay my own rent. I don't have to ask anyone for anything, so it's changed my whole life for the better.
What is next for Federica and your goals for the next year?
Right now, I'm growing with ASC, and at some point, I would like to run my own thing, something that helps people achieve their goals. I want to help people do what I did, which is having so much more than just a "job" but a satisfying career. The dream is to create a community where everyone has their special input, but we all help [find] people or grants or styling opportunities. Whatever it looks like, they should be able to achieve anything they set their minds to basically. But right now? I can say that I'm finally really happy.
Photo:PHILL TAYLOR; STYLING: VINTAGE MEN'S SUIT; PAZ & CO EARRINGS
Thanks for having us, Federica!
SHOP FEDERICA'S STYLE