YOU WEAR IT WELL Suzy Berry is a little old-fashioned, and that's all right.
In the local landscape of camouflage, baseball caps and flip-flops, a girl with iridescent hair and layers of lace and chiffon may look odd—but this being the North Bay, it's only odd for a fraction of a second. She quite possibly could be a Burning Man enthusiast, a burlesque queen on a coffee route or simply a colorful character.
In Suzy Berry's case, she's a designer with a serious entrepreneurial streak who won't rest until we all walk the streets of Sonoma County in sexy, dreamy attire. While the region is abundant with quirky folk, people who hand-make their own style are harder to find. Try to name a local designer, and chances are you'll be thinking of wine makers and chefs instead. Berry is trying to fix that.
Berry, 24, grew up in Santa Rosa and "always stood out." In junior high, she deemed the clothes her mom bought for her boring and so she started making her own.
"I borrowed my grandma's vintage dresses," she says in a coy and soft-spoken voice, like a character from season three of Mad Men, "and then started hand-sewing dresses and wearing them to school. My parents bought me a sewing machine at some point, and my grandma taught me needlepoint."
Some experiments were horrific, says Berry, while others succeeded, though peers rarely understood her style. "They'd call me 'Grandma Girl,'" she says, laughing. "They would ask, 'Are you a teacher or a student?' Sometimes, I actually pretended I was a teacher. I'd go to the teachers' lounge, eat the food and use the copy machine."
This rebellious attitude came in handy when Berry decided to turn her hobby into a brand, Dainty Rascal, which started selling clothes on Etsy five years ago. Unlike Project Runway contestants and design students slaving away in New York and London, Berry never sought guidance or mentoring, opting instead for the self-taught route.
"I tried to take a private sewing lesson once," she recalls, "and just ended up disagreeing with everything." Disregarding patterns or rules, Berry drafts and sews everything by hand in her home studio and sometimes takes beadwork to the beach.
Her designs are equally unscripted, heavily inspired by pin-up, burlesque and vintage glamour. "Grandma Girl," who also wore a bikini to school on a very cold and stormy Hawaii Day, always gravitated toward old-school allure, charmed by images of Marilyn Monroe and paintings by Polish art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka—"beautiful, curvy women in glamorous dresses."
On Dainty Rascal's Etsy store site, there is a see-through playsuit, a prom-inspired dress with bows, an evening gown adorned with feathers, a lacy two-piece. Many are one-of-a-kind, and while it's hard to pinpoint a certain signature style, the range is impressive. Some designs are replicas of famous 1950s dresses, such as Monroe's dress from
The Seven Year Itch; others are dresses Berry created for dates she went on after her divorce last year.
"My main clientele are brides looking for bridal couture," Berry says. "I do a pretty good replica of the famous [Marilyn] Monroe crystal dress. Usually women in New York order it, and for some reason, it's always a 48-hour notice."
"Made to measure" is a slightly more accurate term. Working with a measuring chart, Berry can make a dress for a bride anywhere from Australia to France, while her Etsy store offers ready-made pieces and costumes. Berry often models the creations herself, changing like a chameleon from frame to frame. The photo shoots never skimp on creativity, borrowing generously from the boudoir aesthetic Berry is so comfortable with.
For a young designer with a small online store, Berry has enviable poise and conviction, as well as many plans for growing her business. She's done a photo shoot with big-shot pin-up photographer Shannon Brooke and collaborated with a Sonoma County fashion blogger, AmusedBlog.com, by creating a simple canvass dress worn by the blogger and decorated by a graffiti artist. She also got herself into the next Vintage Expo in Los Angeles, where she hopes to create contacts with boutiques and retailers. This is all straight out of the playbook of savvy national brands.
Berry's biggest dream? "To acquire as much acreage as possible and open a rescue-horse ranch which will be funded by a percentage of my business. I want to have special-release dresses featuring the actual horses printed on them," she says.
Berry owns two horses herself, and her brand's name, Dainty Rascal, has something to do with the noble animal. "I always considered my favorite horse to be a dainty rascal. He's beautiful, but so naughty! An untamable spirit, he's been my inspiration all along."