Lively is having what she calls a princess day. It began with putting on fire engine red lipstick and a pretty Panama hat and crescendoed into a tour of the Prussian palaces of Potsdam and shopping for vintage dresses. She’s in Germany to visit her husband, actor Ryan Reynolds, who’s wrapping a movie in nearby Berlin, and the past four days have been all ripped jeans and dad’s old baseball cap—tomboy days, she calls them—but this Thursday, with castles to explore and kitschy East German boutiques to plunder, Lively is feeling decidedly flirtier.
“I never think about how other people will respond to the way I dress,” she says. “Dressing up is all about reflecting how I feel,” she adds—not to satisfy paparazzi. If she’s lazy, she’ll throw on a slouchy sweater and L.L. Bean moccasins. And on an aforementioned princess day? “That could call for wearing something totally inappropriate, like a beaded purse and a gorgeous pair of crystal heels just to go to the grocery store.”
With six seasons of Gossip Girl sealing her It Girl status and roles in The Town and Savages proving her acting chops, the Burbank, California, native is feeling more crystal heels than moccasins lately. She’s still riding the high of her secret wedding to Reynolds last September and her recent appointment as the face and muse for Gucci Première perfume. She is lucky enough to call her favorite musician, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, a close friend, and when she can’t decide which shoes to wear, she simply texts Christian Louboutin for advice. (“I’m still geeked out,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Christian, when you texted me, I took a screen grab!’ It’s crazy!”) And despite the fact that she famously has no stylist right now, she remains one of the most-hunted targets on the red carpet. Her life, in some ways, is like a Disney movie.
Lively wasn’t born on fashion’s A-list; she worked her way there. In the role of Serena van der Woodsen, she’d often go through 16 wardrobe changes in one episode—which usually meant three hours of fittings a week. “I felt like I tried on clothes for a living,” she jokes of those six years. As a result, Lively knows what works on her frame. “I like a waistline, a nip almost right under the boobs, because I want the lines of the clothes to make a journey around my curves, rather than travel straight up my body.”
On the road to fame, Lively is the first to admit, she’s made some unexpected choices. “When I moved out of my parents’ home for the first time, it was an epic transition for me,” she says of her early days, way back in 2008, when equestrian boots and maxi dresses were her thing. With time, travel and a little help from the Style.com app, Lively has gained the confidence to mix a diaphanous printed wrap from India with a striped Burberry scarf or add a jagged-edge train to the goth Gucci gown she wore to this year’s Met Costume Institute Gala. Now she’s photographed daily for her style and is a regular at Barneys and Saks—but she’s still equally dazzled by the frilly skirts at Zara and Topshop. “I was recently asked how my style has changed since I got married, as if I was living under some sort of dictatorship,” she says with a laugh. “I should hope I dress differently at 25 than I did when I graduated high school. I hope I never stop changing.”
She still takes plenty of risks (remember that red pantsuit? That see-through white lace gown?), but Lively always returns to her old favorites—of which she’s a huge collector: There are the many scarves she bought in Varanasi, India, and the printed plastic bangles she picked up while working in South Africa. She’s heavy into flea markets and regularly combed the Rose Bowl with her family while growing up in Burbank. One of her favorite possessions is a sweater with a pig on it. “Marc Jacobs would sell it now for a small fortune!” she says. Don’t even get her started on the piles of stackable cocktail rings she hoarded while shooting in New Orleans. And how many Louboutins can one girl own? “If I could wear those in stacks, I would,” she says.
But what Lively is mostly amassing these days is furniture. She’s decorating her New York home herself; the money she’d allotted for clothes, she’s now using for flooring and fixtures, so she’s swapped the front row at fashion shows for the aisles of Home Depot and wallpaper manufacturer Flavor Paper. She’s on the hunt for a handcrafted Rosemary Hallgarten rug and the perfect midcentury Danish side table from Etsy. Like her wardrobe, Lively’s loft-like place is a mix of textures, patterns, old finds and new discoveries. Fortunately, her roommate shares her passion for mixing it up. “I’m very lucky to be with someone who has better taste than me,” she says of Reynolds. “We influence each other in different ways.” Creating a home together, she says, is more instantly rewarding than making a movie: “With film and TV, you don’t see the results for months. Building a home, you get immediate gratification.”
When Chez Lively-Reynolds opens its doors, the kitchen will be the star; the actress is a dedicated cook who takes cooking lessons in every country she visits and has prepared meals for paying customers at four-star restaurant Per Se in New York and for the staff at Boston’s top-rated O Ya. “[O Ya owner] Tim Cushman should have taken out a restraining order against me, but instead he and his wife invited me to make dinner,” she jokes. “Chefs are my rock stars.” She has such serious kitchen skills (check out her egg-cracking technique on the Vogue.com video with Elettra Wiedemann: The shell-falling-into-shell trick is seriously impressive), you’d definitely want to have her over to whip up Brie en croûte in your kitchen.
Home is exactly where Lively wants to be, especially now that she’s settling into marriage. “Work is important, but my greatest passion is my personal life,” she says. She recently realized she hasn’t had a real break since kindergarten (she started Gossip Girl fresh out of high school), and this discovery lends extra value to the time spent redoing her backsplash and getting reacquainted with friends. In a way, she’s just another girl trying to find the secret ingredient to a balanced life. Which, perhaps, explains why she will spend much of her downtime this fall on a quest for the perfect balsamic vinegar. “It’s my umami,” she says. “I put it in everything.”
Click through above for more photos from Lively’s Lucky cover shoot and some of her best looks from both on and off the red carpet.