How Monica Barbaro Gave Top Gun: Maverick’s Premiere Its Couture Moment

Tom Cruise’s 1986 blockbuster Top Gun came out years before Monica Barbaro was born, but the Californian actress is at the heart of its sequel, Top Gun: Maverick. Starring as female fighter pilot Phoenix, Barbaro is part of a new generation of Air Force heroes that includes stars like Miles Teller, Glen Powell, and Manny Jacinto. Transforming into her no-nonsense character, a woman who rose through the ranks in a male-dominated field and more than holds her own, is something Barbaro will never forget. “It was ten months of filming while going through intense training and flying in jets,” she says, moments before the film’s world premiere on board the USS Midway Museum in San Diego. “It was unlike anything I’ve ever done—a completely life-changing experience.”

Working with screen legend Cruise, who was involved in every aspect of the production, was a particular highlight. Through observation, Barbaro gained insight into his filmmaking process—and while Cruise’s hits are known for their groundbreaking stunts and use of technology, when the actor searches for inspiration, he looks to Old Hollywood. “I remember a day when Tom Cruise was explaining a detail he had changed and why he changed it,” says Barbaro. “Offhandedly, he said, ‘Well I was watching Casablanca last night,” and I realized how his practice of constantly studying great historical films informs all of his creative decisions. Every day on set, we discussed the importance of making this a timeless film.” 

Naturally, Barbaro wanted to bring that energy to the red carpet, so when she and stylist Jeanann Williams began brainstorming looks for the premiere, they kept things elegant. “We decided we had to find something classic and timeless but also very current,” says Barbaro. “I couldn’t believe our luck when Armani presented us with their stunning archival piece at the final hour.” The look from the  spring 2010 couture Armani Privé collection gave the event its elevated fashion moment and left Barbaro feeling impossibly glamorous. “This dress was stunning up close and far away—Armani thought through every single inch,” she says. “Even the inside of the skirt had threads of guppy-like sparkle detail along the seams. The craftsmanship was immaculate, which created the most beautiful clean lines. I just loved how it dazzled in the sunlight. Then, of course, the gorgeous Tiffany pieces and the Louboutin heels polished off the look brilliantly.” 

A sketch of Barbaro’s stunning Armani Privé gown.

Photo: Courtesy of Giorgio Armani

The white lamé dress embroidered with opalescent crystals was a showstopper, but also meshed perfectly with Barbaro’s style. Though she keeps things simple in her daily life, she likes to step into new personas and experiment when it comes to premieres. “I love getting to dress up in an array of styles for press events, and as the various characters I play,” she says. “[Off-duty] I love a classic staple like a white button-down or perfectly fitted tee, with some snug jeans or comfy slacks and a nice flat. I go for quality over quantity in my wardrobe nowadays, and then I like to have a few more colorful pieces to throw on when I’m feeling festive.” 

With the film slated for release around the globe this month, Barbaro’s schedule will include plenty of moments worth dressing up for. Still, after seeing the film on the massive screen, what she’s most excited about is sharing the next chapter of Top Gun with the world. “I’m still trying to process everything, to be perfectly honest. We’ve all dreamt about this moment for years, and it’s just so wonderful to finally get to celebrate the hard work everyone put into this film,” says Barbaro. “It was beautiful to be surrounded by my castmates who’ve become such good friends of mine, along with their friends and families. Mostly we kept grabbing each other and going, ‘It’s finally happening!’ We all worked so hard to make it as incredible as possible, and now the world gets to be a part of it too.” 

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