Nicole Chavez Reflects on 15 Years of Styling Rachel Bilson

From "The O.C." to "Take Two," the perennial style star has remained a subject of our collective obsession both on and off screen, and Chavez has some ideas as to why.
Author:
Publish date:
Nicole Chavez and Rachel Bilson at a Vanessa Bruno dinner at Chateau Marmont in 2010. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Wireimage

Nicole Chavez and Rachel Bilson at a Vanessa Bruno dinner at Chateau Marmont in 2010. Photo: 
Stefanie Keenan/Wireimage

Welcome to Pop Culture Week! While you can always find us waxing poetic about the hefty overlap between fashion and pop culture, we're dedicating the next five days to the subject of our favorite music, movies, TV, celebrities, books and theater, and how that all intersects with the fashion industry.

"The O.C." certainly holds a special place in my heart, and that of many millennials who reveled in the show's drama, humor, soundtrack and enviable wardrobes. But the popular series was especially meaningful for celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez, who met her first client and current husband on set of the Josh Schwartz masterpiece back in 2003.

Chavez was a costumer on the show's first two seasons and immediately connected with actress Rachel Bilson, who played Marissa Cooper's adorably feisty best friend — and the subject of emo dreamboat Seth Cohen's lifelong romantic obsession — Summer Roberts. "We both loved fashion and we would always be sitting on set for hours," she says. "We'd always look at magazines and love the same things." The two began working together off-set on press and red-carpet looks as "The O.C." quickly became a bonafide hit; that's also when Chavez began dating her now-husband. "He was repping Adam Brody at the time and [Bilson and Brody] were dating and then we started dating," she reflects nostalgically.

After realizing her passion for styling, Chavez left "The O.C." to pursue it full-time, thereby ushering in our lifelong obsession with Bilson's style. From the red carpet to off-duty paparazzi moments, she never wavered in her ascent to style stardom. She wore emerging labels and vintage dresses with the same effortless equanimity as off-the-runway Chanel, for whom she was a celebrity ambassador. Throughout "The O.C."'s four seasons, then onto "Heart of Dixie" and even in-between, when she was basically a professional clothes-wearer, Bilson has been a best-dressed list regular and reliable source of style inspiration for over a decade. 

While her new role as a wayward actress shadowing a P.I. in "Take Two" might be her least fashionable character yet, we are thrilled that she's been back in the public eye, with opportunities to showcase her increasingly sophisticated personal style — with help from Chavez, of course.

Rachel Bilson on "Extra" in June 2018. Photo: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Rachel Bilson on "Extra" in June 2018. Photo: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

In the spirit of pop culture week — and in celebration of "The O.C."'s 15th anniversary (We're old! Cool!) — we got Chavez to reflect back on her experiences dressing one of our biggest pop culture obsessions.

"She's my first client so there's a special place in my heart for her forever," she tells us. "I'm always inspired by her."

Read on to learn more about how much the styling landscape has changed since the mid-aughts, why Chavez thinks people are so drawn to Bilson's style, her tricks for dressing petites and her hopes of teaming up with Bilson on another design project. (Remember Shoemint?) Chavez also shared a few of her all-time favorite looks with us, so peep a few of those below.

What was Bilson's style like when you began working together? What were your early discussions like?

She was really open to new designers, and when we started, her career was just starting out as well so it drove me to seek out newer designers. It was really fun to work with up-and-coming designers because we were up-and-coming ourselves.

Who are some examples?

Brian Reyes has such a special place in our hearts — we're still friends though he no longer has his own label. I called his studio; I was the first-ever stylist to call and request a look, so it was special to them and was also special to me.

I would just cold-call people back in the day. We had a little bond the three of us, we were all young and everything was new and exciting. We were all just starting out in our careers.

Was Rachel very collaborative? She's clearly into fashion.

If you gave us the same magazine, we would pick out the same tear sheets. We're sort of in each other's brains and she has an amazing sense of style, obviously. She loves fashion and she's super creative and loves to step out of the box, especially back then. She was always wearing belts as headbands; we both love vintage, and we bonded over that when we first met. We both used to do a lot of vintage shopping — we just loved mixing and matching high-low stuff.

Her style has always been really chic but a little bohemian and very natural. She's not too fussy; she's never been super glammed, but it's very true to her sense of style. She always knew what she felt comfortable in; she would really stick to that sensibility, which I loved, and it just made working together fun and easy.

Rachel Bilson during 'The Last Kiss' Listening Party. Photo:  J.Sciulli/WireImage

Rachel Bilson during 'The Last Kiss' Listening Party. Photo:  J.Sciulli/WireImage

What kinds of events were you styling her for in the beginning?

When ["The O.C."] first started, there was so much press because the show was a huge hit right off the bat. Obviously Teen Choice and every fun young Hollywood [event], Teen Vogue, all of those things were on our schedule. She was out and about doing everything.

Beyond just being well-dressed, she really became a fashion darling. People (like me) were obsessed. What do you attribute that to?

I think when people are drawn to people's style or want to emulate it or are inspired by it, I think it comes from [not being] afraid to think out of the box and choose unexpected things. With Rachel, it wasn't big, over-the-top grand gestures, but she would make small choices that maybe weren't the obvious [ones] and it would give the look a quirkiness or a sense of humor — or it would soften it or harden it up or be a juxtaposition. It was never perfect; that was something Rachel would say [was] not her vibe. It was better if it wasn't steamed or it wasn't the right color, which I love and I think that makes it more accessible.

When you think of people like Kate Moss, there are so many style icons [that are] always making interesting choices, and I think that when you love fashion, you're curious about it, you like experimenting and exploring and I think that's what it's about. I think when you do that and it's authentic, people are drawn to it.

Related articles

Fashionista's 15 Favorite Scenes From TV and Film That Take Place in a Mall

Was This 2006 Marc Jacobs After Party the Best Fashion Event of All Time?

How to Make It as a Celebrity Stylist in 2017

How different was the celebrity styling landscape and process back then? It was almost the beginning of celebrities using stylists openly.

It definitely wasn't public knowledge that people were using stylists. It was right at the dawn of that explosion — of seeing a face with a name, or seeing us out with our clients, so it has changed dramatically. I think that it was a smaller pool of people; there were less showrooms; there was less to move around; it was simpler. 

There were more personal connections with the celebrity and the designer or stylist/designer. It was less "business" and more creative; there weren't really those deals. It's become more of a business now. Obviously there wasn't Instagram or any of that stuff, so you weren't overly exposed to content. You were excited to see who you loved, what they were wearing. The red carpets were more spread out. There were less events; it was a less saturated environment.

Rachel Bilson at the Chanel 'Collection Croisiere Show 2011/12' at Hotel du Cap in 2011. Photo: Kristy Sparow/WireImage

Rachel Bilson at the Chanel 'Collection Croisiere Show 2011/12' at Hotel du Cap in 2011. Photo: Kristy Sparow/WireImage

How did Rachel's Chanel ambassadorship come about and how did that impact your job?

We had a relationship with Chanel on ["The O.C."], because they would lend us samples for the actual show, which was super cool and at the time not a lot of designers were doing that. "Sex and the City" was probably the closest and that made sense because they were in New York and a lot of designers were in New York, but as far as shooting in LA and working with designers, that was a newer thing.

When [Rachel and I] started, we had that relationship [with Chanel], so it was super organic and they were really supportive of the show and the cast. What I love about Chanel is they're really authentic to the ambassadors they bring on board; it's like a real family, so it usually happens because they genuinely want to spend time with you, hang out with you, invite you to their parties. Rachel developed a relationship with the label and everyone there and Karl. We went to a lot of amazing shows and got to travel and spend time supporting the brand. As a stylist, it was amazing. I still have a great relationship with them. It's the dream, does it get any better than that?

How would you say Rachel's style has evolved since you began working together?

Since becoming a mom and then going into this show, I feel like there has been a shift to a little bit more of a sophisticated [style]. A little less girly, which reflects her personality as well. For the most part, she loves color and pattern and mixing. There's silhouettes that are our favorites and that we stick to and love and that work for her. She's very petite (5'1"), so we always have to keep that in mind and that can sometimes change up what we do because she is so so tiny.

Rachel Bilson in Roberto Cavalli at a Paris Fashion Week party in 2010. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Rachel Bilson in Roberto Cavalli at a Paris Fashion Week party in 2010. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

As a petite person myself, I would love to know your tricks for styling petite people.

We deal with that a lot because the samples we get are obviously cut for models that are double her size. It's all really about proportions and recutting and reworking pieces. We end up doing a lot of rolled-up sleeves, three-quarter sleeves, things like that, so if we're doing a midi [skirt or dress], you're not [completely] covered. I think it's important to see ankles and wrists.

The obvious: Try to keep it monochromatic, since that will make you appear taller. We tend to do a higher-waist cut on her and I think that makes your legs look longer. Most of the waistlines you'll see are slightly above the belly button when we do dresses or pants or pencil skirts. Now I just do it without thinking about it.

Would you ever want to work on a design project together again like you did with Shoemint?

I would love to, that would be so fun. We work really well together and we share similar aesthetics. We have our own point of view but it's always really easy. 

Any other reflections to share?

People love Rachel, she's really a good, sweet human so I think people love her authenticity and love her vibe. It's good to have her back on TV again and back out where people can be excited about her style and her clothes.

Never miss the latest fashion industry news. Sign up for the Fashionista daily newsletter.