Rise of the Dapper Dame
Chatting tailoring, Lauren Bacall and Milan with Mary-Cait Bristow
Article by Lee Osborne courtesy of his sartorialee blog (interview first published mid 2015)
I thought it was high time I profiled some of the remarkable women making an impact in the menswear industry – it’s not just men in menswear after all. From those that have already made the headlines, to the ones quietly conducting their business below the sartorial radar.
I discovered tailor on the rise Mary-Cait Bristow on Instagram, where I have happened upon a plethora of stylish like-minds since I launched Sartorialee in 2014. Many have gone on to become great acquaintances and Mary-Cait is no exception.
As epitomes of timeless style go, Mary-Cait could have written the rule book. She’s a throwback to the days of the Hollywood silver screen siren, with her hour-glass figure and model-like ease in front of the camera. From her signature high-waist 3-pleat trousers through to her pout, her chiffon blouses to her strings of pearls, she has perfected her look and truly owns it.
You don’t need long in her company to realise that while she’s a go getter, she’s a thoroughly grounded woman, completely comfortable in her own skin, her style a mere extension of her personality. She talks with passion and confidence beyond her years, leaving you in no doubt she will go on to accomplish her goals. But not without a good measure of charm and a trademark glass of prosecco along the way.
You have a very distinct style. Describe it and where it originates?
My style has been influenced a lot by last century. 1920s – 60s style evolution fascinated me when I was growing up. How everything changed from decade to decade so dramatically. I’m heavily influenced by Katherine Hepburn. Her style and how she wears her clothes, she was a very strong-minded woman and knew exactly who she was, which if reflected in her personal style. I loved how she wore trousers. I first got into clothes when I was nine, I got my first sewing machine off my mum and would sit for hours making garments.
My style is eclectic, sartorial and mannish. I love mixing classical menswear pieces into my everyday look, however I do like to keep it feminine too. I like classic colours, navies, greys, burgundies and camels. I don’t like the idea of any loud or brash colour, it’s just not me. I make my own suits just the way I like them. I have a classic two button with peak lapel jacket, but my trousers short and tapered with a triple pleat always.
How did you get in to tailoring?
Having always been a creative person, I love the skills required to create something from scratch and the feeling you get when you finish a garment. Tailoring was just a natural stepping-stone after university. I love the neatness and the natural elegance a bespoke suit creates.
What courses/training did you have?
I completed a fashion design degree at MMU, but then went onto intern at King and Allen Tailors, I spent three months in the alterations room taking apart suits, adjusting them accordingly I learn a great deal within this time, I really got to grips with the anatomy of a suit and how it should fit the body. I was then offered a job on the shop floor fitting the suits and designing them with the customer. I spent my spare time back in the alts room learning how to draft patterns from scratch right through to the construction. I spent two and a half years there and it was the best and most informative time of my educational life.
Who is your mentor?
Gianni Fontana! The man is a genius. His personal style alone just radiates individuality and freedom of expression. He took me under his wing back in the summer of 2015 when he showed me the ropes around Milano. I’ve learnt so much from Gianni, he has introduced me to some great menswear legends: I spent an afternoon at Caraceni and also with Nicola Ricci of Sciamat.
Where else would you consider working?
Eventually I can see myself settling in Milano. I feel a special affinity with this place. It’s a fantastic city filled with lots of rich culture and heritage. I have a great social interaction there, it’s like my second home.
Who do you most admire in the UK women’s tailoring sector and why?
Kathryn Sargeant broke the glass ceiling by being the first woman to open up on Savile Row, it gives women like me drive to be as influential.
Describe the challenges of being a woman in a predominantly male profession…
Tailoring has always been a man’s world, more men’s suits are cut than women’s, it’s just a known fact. Dress codes are different for the different sexes and modern society allows people to dress down more regularly. As a woman you have to be ten times better than any man before they will let you in, this is the case in many other professions too. However times are changing and challenges aren’t as bad as they used to be.
Who epitomizes women’s style in your opinion?
Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. That two piece check skirt suit just screams power. However in today’s world I would have to say Sonya Glyn, she just radiates class and style, and she can sure wear the hell out of a suit! Of course I must mention Erica Strom, Giulietta Falvo and Pia Antignani (among the most papped women at Pitti) – those girls definitely know how to dress smart.
Favourite style destination?
Florence in January. Pitti always has a crisper look. I love the layering outfits, 3-piece suits, scarves, overcoats and fedoras. People watching during this time, even in the evenings, is so much fun. Observing the interaction amongst the stylish elite, what they wear and how they wear it, how they carry themselves. You do get your usual Pitti peacocks and posers, but if you peel back this layer, you see some fantastic sartorial elegance. You just need to keep it simple.
Most stylish guy you know in menswear?
This is probably the toughest question to narrow it down to just one guy as I know some snappy dressed gents, so I will name my top five (in no particular order) Frank Gallucci just epitomises Italian flare; from the way he dresses with his classic 3-piece suits, right down to his manner in which he conducts himself, such a great guy. Fabrizio Oriani of Gentlemen Wear’s Daily, you really see his individuality shine through in the way he dresses, he just gets it right every time. James Jonathan Turner, or as I like to call him ‘Brando’. James has a great sense of classical style, he cuts all his own suits with the essence of Cary Grant running through as inspiration. Shaun Gordon epitomises a classic British gentleman with his attention to detail and his ability to accessorise perfectly. Of course last but not least Gianni Fontana, my mentor and my Italian brother, he sure knows how to get his personality across within his daily dress, so much character.
I know you’re a fan of vintage. Where are your go-to places? What has been your best bargain so far?
As cliché as it sounds, I’ve found some great bargains in Camden Market, there are a few little treasure troves if you’re willing to rummage through. The best piece I have found so far is my Aquascutum overcoat in a large brown herringbone for only £90. I didn’t have it off all winter.
Do you have a preference for tailoring for men or women?
I have no preference, although men are always easier to fit, I do enjoy the freedoms of women’s suits though, we need to see more ladies tailoring out there.
Completing my first bespoke suit for myself. Karl Lewis (from King and Allen Tailors in Wilmslow) helped me with the fittings but I made everything from scratch – trousers, waistcoat and jacket.
If you make a bespoke suit what’s the lead time?
8 -12 weeks depending on fittings.
What item of clothing would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
An Edward Sexton two piece double-breasted suit in a classic Prince of Wales Check. Simple and classic.
In what place are you happiest?
In Milan, I find so much inspiration for designing over there, from the architecture to the people, it’s just a comfortable place where I can create.
What drives you?
I need to be successful. I want to be the best and conquer the style world. I always have to do better than yesterday, which means that progression, no matter how slow it is, is always happening.
What ambitions do you have?
My main ambition is to run my own company. I want to be able to have something that is mine. In fact I’m working on it right now, hence why I am only working part time. I fly out for New York Fashion Week in January to meet with Laura De Rochas. We have a few projects in mind that we are looking to push further in 2017. The Mannish look that we are obsessed with, the sartorial woman, is our main focus and we are excited to get going.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I will be running my own company and looking to expand. I will be living in Milan and I will always be looking for new opportunities and adventures in the world of style.