Who Is She is a column that unveils the most elusive tastemakers on the internet.
Before everyone else started babysitting eBay auctions and browsing estate sales for big button earrings (call it the Bottega Veneta effect), Federica Labanca had already amassed a collection of baubles that she's been wearing for years. "I've been wearing big gold earrings since like… I can't even remember," she tells me on a video call from London. Though her earrings—a defining feature of her style—are big, her love of vintage is bigger.
The Italian creative director is somewhat of an anomaly of the internet-famous fashion-person trope: While most content creators will tell you that only an iPhone is necessary to take great outfit photos, Labanca prefers a camera—with flash. She despises the subjective and fast-paced nature of trends (if anything, she says she goes against them), and most of her clothes are older than her. With a neatly coiffed side part and a selection of glamorous archival pieces, she's what you'd imagine an Italian film actress from the '80s who time-warped into the 21st century would look like.
In fact, the decade is where Labanca draws most of her fashion inspiration, referencing figures like Andy Warhol and her own grandmother. (Her grandmother's closet is also one of Labanca's preferred sources for vintage.) "I'm very into finding gems that are originally from the '80s, so not just '80s inspired but actually from the decade," she explains. Sequins and faux fur are staples for Labanca, and her penchant for the dramatic could partly be attributed to her reverence for Italian pop star Mina Mazzini. The soprano was a bold symbol of her time with shaved eyebrows, strawberry-blonde hair, larger-than-life hairstyles, and unapologetically bold outfits.
Labanca's nostalgic-glam perspective has gained her a healthy following on social media, but she didn't just post a bunch of pretty pictures to get there. As a visual merchandiser, Labanca worked under Miuccia Prada—a very big deal if you're a fashion nerd—before branching out on her own as a creative consultant. Now recently back from L.A., the Milanese tastemaker is sharing why she rebels against trends, what it's like to work with Prada, and her tips for sourcing designer gems on eBay like a pro.
You seem to be a woman of the world—where's your home base?
I'm Italian, but I'm based in London. My ex-boyfriend wanted to move here for work, and I was like, "You know what? Actually, I'm so sick of Milan. I'm gonna come along." And then I ended up staying because I loved it here.
I've been to London but didn't feel like I got the full tour to appreciate it. It felt very much like New York to me.
Honestly, when I was younger, I was so in love with New York. I always thought that I was gonna end up there—I used to kind of hate London actually. But then I moved here, and now, I love London so much that when I go to New York I actually don't know if I would move to America in general anymore.
How did you end up in fashion?
I knew that I wanted to get into fashion—especially visual merchandising—from the beginning. I never went to university because, from a young age, I always thought that to do what I wanted to do uni was gonna be a waste of time. So I only studied languages. I studied German, French, and English. Ultimately, I'm so glad I didn't go. After I finished school, I started working for Dolce & Gabbana as a visual merchandiser. When it was time for me to finally move to London, I went in that day and resigned, but they actually ended up transferring me instead. So I basically moved to London with Dolce & Gabbana. Then, I moved to Prada, and I grew up a lot within the company, where I became head of visuals for around five years.
What was your role like there?
I would oversee the visual merchandising for all of the events, like pop-up stores, launch parties, etc. One of the main goals was to show new ways of styling the product. For a long period of time, I focused on menswear, where the objective was to make the menswear look as cool as womenswear, basically. My team would come up with a plan to make that happen. But obviously as a creative, when you work for a brand for so long, it gets really repetitive. … It kind of kills your creativity. So I decided to go freelance. Now, I do visual merchandising and creative direction for multiple brands.
Do you have a signature aesthetic or something that you find yourself continually referencing in your work?
I'm obsessed with anything from the past. I really think that there's something very special about back then. You can also see how it reflects in my style because I'm really passionate about vintage archives. For example, right now, I am obsessed with the pop era—so a lot of Andy Warhol and stuff from that period in time. Those influences also really reflect in my art direction as well. But I tend to never follow trends. I think that's my thing. If anything, I actually go against them. Sometimes when something new drops, that actually inspires me to go back to my grandmother's wardrobe and just pick out the oldest pieces I can find. I'm just really against being trend driven.
Being that you're into Warhol and the '80s, it makes sense that you're into big earrings. That was one of the first things I noticed about your style. But it's ironic since big earrings are a huge trend right now. What's your take?
It's just funny how maybe you're doing something that's "cool" one day, but it's not "cool" the next day. It's crazy, so I just do my own thing.
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Since you're a vintage pro, what are some of your favorite places to source?
My grandma's and mom's closets! They're also where I take most of my inspiration from. But I'm also big into eBay. What I usually look for when I shop vintage are things like my grandma's suits. You know, old woman's suits—like really granny-like, almost bordering on ugly. I think the way I see fashion is very much similar to the way Miuccia Prada sees fashion, sort of ugly chic. Her thing is being ugly chic, and I think that's my thing as well.
EBay can get crazy! Do you have any shopping tips?
My thing is mainly shoulder pads—like big, big shoulder pads—and vintage earrings. That's my signature right now just because I love the '80s. I just bought this crazy purple suit on eBay that's from 1986. When it comes to blazers, the bigger the better. I don't really care if it's a size 8 or a size 14. I make it work. When it comes to bottoms, I usually just buy them. If I like something, I'll just buy it, and worst-case scenario, I'll get it tailored.
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Is there any person from that era or just in general who you look up to style-wise?
I don't wanna say my mom, but she was really cool in the '80s. But as far as inspiration, I have a mix of people. I would say the original Italian models from the '80s and '90s as well as Mina. She's really famous for her extravagant makeup and shoulders, but she was just a boss woman. She was one of the biggest Italian singers of her time, and her fashion was so good—she was basically our Italian Cher. I always find myself going back to her when it comes to my look.
Mina Mazzini in the 1960s.
What type of outfits make you feel the most confident?
It's really funny because I used to feel confident in black, and now, I feel confident in color. It's interesting to see how my style evolves because it's really true that what you wear reflects what you're feeling. If I look back at my style like six months ago, I was only wearing neutrals, and now, I cannot stand neutral colors—I literally try and avoid them. There's been a lot of changes in my life as well for the better, so I really think that I blossomed lately with my style, and that also reflects in the colors that I wear.
Is there a trend you wouldn't wear?
I've never been a fan of those body-con minidresses. I don't think I'll ever go there. For me, when I'm not showing any skin, that's when I feel the sexiest.
So back to the topic of vintage. Is there a specific piece that you're currently trying to add to your closet? What would I find if I snooped through your eBay search history?
I'm obsessed with mules! I actually found this pair of Gucci mules the other day (they're horse-bit mules from the Tom Ford x Gucci days), and they're insane! But there are only so many times when I'm going to wear super-high satin mules, so I'm trying to control myself.
That's like the Dior Saddle bag for me. I was looking for one before they reintroduced it in 2018, and now, the prices for the vintage Saddle bags are out of control. It's crazy!
I actually saw this dress today. It was a John Galliano dress, the newspaper dress. It's $16 grand!
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Who would you say is your favorite designer at the moment?
I am always obviously quite biased when it comes to Prada, but I do think Miuccia Prada is one of the greatest designers of my time. The fact that she was open enough to welcome Raf Simons into the family was pretty major just because I know the way she usually operates. But I always love to see what she does all the time, especially now since she's revisiting the archive. Since I worked for Prada for a while, I had access to archives and past collections and stuff like that. It was amazing. It's cool to see what she can do with archival pieces to make them new again—that's why I really love her.
Having that access sounds incredible.
With each new Prada show, it's funny because I'm like, "Oh my god, I remember that." It's nice how she reimagines things, you know?
Is there a specific Prada collection that resonates most with you?
The spring/summer in 1995, but honestly, all of the collections from Prada in the '90s are my favorite. Those are cool because she's specifically trying to bring that aesthetic back.
A look from Prada's S/S 95 collection.
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Your London Fashion Week outfits were amazing! How do you feel about some of the recent collections that debuted during London and Milan fashion weeks?
My favorite, favorite, favorite so far has been Bottega Veneta. Matthieu Blazy is doing such a perfect job with Bottega. He's keeping the Italian heritage, but he's also making it modern. I was literally going through the collection yesterday evening and was like, "Whoa!" It's just pure perfection and what I think fashion should be in my eyes. I also love Yuzefi. I really love what they're doing. There are so many designers … but I also love Harris Reed. He's killing it, and it's just grand what he's doing.