Movie icon Julia Roberts sets style

Star fashions onscreen glamour, off-duty simplicity

Queen Nefertiti had it. Audrey Hepburn had it. And Julia Roberts has it. And if you were not born with it, you can’t buy it. It’s The Line. It is that sensuous “S curve” that begins at the back of the head, flows into the neck and reverses as it gracefully sweeps into the spine. This elongated line of the neck has a mystical elegance and harmony, and it trumps all in its powerful allure.

Add Roberts’ warm eyes and engaging smile to this mystical line and you have a beauty that goes beyond classical and becomes the knockout but approachable girl next door whom every boy wants to take to the prom.

But there’s more. “When the neck is long and it’s lean, and then you put a beautiful face on top of it, you just have the whole package,” Bravo’s Tim Gunn says of Roberts. “Then when there’s a pronounced clavicle and, at the same time, you have an ample breast, you have the whole thing going.”

Then, for fun, throw that broad Julia smile into the beauty bag. “She has this smile of a wonderful little girl,” says designer Isaac Mizrahi. “You can really see the girl inside when she smiles. Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn had those kinds of smiles. I’ve done dresses for Julia here and there, and, really, she could almost be naked. No one ever notices the dress. You notice this woman. You notice this smile.”

Except on Oscar night 2001. Yes, we did notice that smile, but we also noticed that dress. That drop-dead vintage Valentino. That red-carpet perfection. The dress Julia herself chose.

That night, not until she appeared across his Italo TV screen, did the designer in question know that the star had chosen his design.

“For the biggest night of her career, Ms. Roberts made a very smart choice in picking a vintage dress from my 1982 collection dedicated to movie stars,” Valentino says. “I was excited. This one was classic Valentino, and I felt she would surprise people with her elegance. That night I was in Rome, watching the Oscars live on television, and I stayed up until the wee house of the morning to see if she wore it. Afterward she told me her niece had given her important advice: ‘Listen, when you come down the red carpet, don’t forget to turn around. Otherwise, no one will see the back, and that’s what makes it so special.'”

Off duty, Roberts’ style couldn’t be more un-glam, un-movie star. “Off the red carpet, she’s like an Angelina Jolie,” Gunn says. “They know who they are. They dress with confidence. They don’t overdress when it’s regular day in and day out. They’re well put together.”

For Avril Graham, executive editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Roberts embodies today’s American woman. “She dresses down off duty in a very bohemian style but captures that ‘wow’ factor dressed up. What is so interesting about Julia is whether she is going for a very pared-down, simple look or a dressed-up look, she pulls it off perfectly each time. And to score these hits time after time is very difficult.”

Hers is a style that transcends national boundaries. “In any country, Julia is the brilliant and gorgeous girl-next-door who takes your breath away in a pair of jeans or a couture evening gown,” says Giorgio Armani. “She is the perfect example of beauty from the inside out.”

She’s not studied. “And that’s what we love about her,” Mizrahi says. “Katharine Hepburn also knew how to throw these things together in an interesting way, in a stylish way that represented who she was. I remember the day Julia came to my studio. She was so unassuming they didn’t know who she was and, at first, wouldn’t let her in. She bought this incredibly beautiful, very thick men’s black cashmere sweater. I remember thinking, ‘That’s incredibly stylish.’ She was buying it to wear with sneakers and jeans. She squealed over it like a little girl. Like when a little girl goes, ‘Oh, my god. I love that.’ You never saw someone get so excited. I love that.”

Stylist Philip Bloch observes that Roberts has never chosen to play the sex symbol card. “Julia’s style is safe. She’s never dressed sexy, and I find that really interesting because she is sexy,” he says. “She really delivered when she won her Oscar. Everybody wanted to see her step out of that minimalist, plain, simplistic Julia thing. She gave it to us that night. She knew that’s what people wanted, and she delivered it. Have we ever seen it again? No. Why? It’s not her thing, and she’s never had to. The thing we have to remember about Julia is that she was a star from the beginning. She never had to try. She was pre-fashion consumption. She was pre-In Style magazine. She was already a star before these things came into play.”

Brides’ Magazine editor-in-chief Millie Martini Bratten is a keen observer of Roberts’ wedding films, which invariably impact fashion sales.

“In ‘Runaway Bride,’ for example, she wore some very romantic dresses like the off-the-shoulder, fitted bodice, tulle skirt on that sort of ironic picture of her on the horse. We still get calls for that dress,” says Martini Bratten. “And yet, when Roberts married Danny Moder, the style was also romantic — the halter dress with an embroidered bodice and a shawl over her shoulders. Her hair was swept up with lilies of the valley tucked into her hair.”

According to this editor-in-chief, who has seen a lot of bridesmaids, “Roberts was one of the prettiest bridesmaids I’d ever seen, in ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding.’ That gorgeous purple dress. That was before bridesmaids’ dresses became fashionable evening-type looks. She made them look so good. We saw the styles of bridesmaid dresses change shortly after that. We got calls on that dress. That was an example of someone making the dress look very, very good.”

Offscreen, Roberts also impressed Martini Bratten: “She’s got this great casual thrown-together but chic kind of look. She understands her appeal to her public, and she certainly dresses for those moments, but on her own time she’s Julia. She seems very real. That’s how I’ve always found her in the wedding films. Very real.”

Cloutier makeup artist Jonhy Saade has worked with Roberts on numerous occasions, and he observes: “She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup. When we do stuff, it’s very simple. The less she has to wear, the better it is. She has full-size lips that don’t need much — just a little accent. I use a light pink gloss. A wash of lipstick, a light pink lip gloss. It takes very little to make her beautiful. She’s one of those people you might overlook, but then you’re going to snap back and do a second take and be like, ‘Wow. She is amazing.'”

Roberts has been on the cover of In Style magazine five times and counting. “She is still the top ‘most wanted’ for most magazines,” says editor Charla Lawhon. “When you listen to her speaking on TV, there’s an intelligence there that I think most women admire. Julia has drawn a line that says ‘I’m an actor and I am a private person.’ She’s a mom with kids and more worried about that, it seems, than looking perfect for the cameras. She’s smart and she’s funny, and you kind of want her to be your best friend.”