LIVING Anyone up to date on the latest season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills will surely recognize Sutton Stracke—socialite, philanthropist and haute couture client. Here, Stracke chats to Reilly Sullivan about her passion for custom, in particular Italian Alta Moda, and the cities and experiences that have defined her style
Photographed by Stefanie Keenan
First published in the May 2021 issue of Lucire KSA
In her first appearance on the reality TV juggernaut, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we follow Sutton Stracke to Stefano Gabbana’s New York apartment for a fitting with team D&G. ‘Dolce and Gabbana’s the best,’ Stracke giggles in the scene. ‘They give me tiaras for my birthday every year.’ Later, at her first dinner party with the ladies, a Housewives coming-out of sorts, Sutton donned a show-stopping dress from Dolce & Gabbana spring 2018. ‘That dress weighed a tonne!’ recalls Stracke via phone from Los Angeles in a honeyed, southern accent. ‘I’m not a va-va voom girl, I love to play with clothes and not take them too seriously. It’s quintessential Dolce: their love of tradition and the Catholic Church. Their reverence for it is very inspiring.’ It’s a thoughtful analysis of the dress, and the first of many Sutton will make during our call. As a great supporter of the American Ballet and former professional ballet dancer, Stracke’s love of fashion began with dance. ‘We were constantly in costume. You fall in love with costumes and fabrics and the dream. It definitely influenced my personal style and my love for couture, especially pieces that are hand-sewn.
‘I’m not a va-va-voom girl, I love to play with clothes and not take them too seriously.’
Before talking on the phone with Sutton (it is the age of COVID-19 after all), I do a quick search of some of the gowns she’s worn to various galas and benefits. Overwhelmingly, Sutton favours shift dresses, which accentuate her long, ballet dancer’s legs. She calls these her ‘Twiggy dresses’. A socialite and ex-débutante from Augusta, Georgia, Stracke has become the season’s breakout star. With her propensity for custom made creations, she’s also quickly been dubbed Beverly Hills’ resident couture expert (she actually lives in neighbouring Bel Air). You see, among the various Real Housewives franchises, the Beverly Hills cast are especially known to bring their sartorial A-game. So much so, when self-described outdoors girl Denise Richards joined the cast in 2019, the ladies nearly had a coronary at the sight of her tank tops and top knots.
So how exactly did Sutton find herself taking fittings at Stefano Gabbana’s apartment? ‘It started at the first Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda show I went to in Capri. You get to know them so well and they’re so hospitable and lovely and generous. Domenico and I have this love of the arts and ballet, so we just got to be very close, and it grew from there. I don’t feel like a client—I feel like family. It sounds cliché and trite, but it’s real! He’s a very important person in my life.’
In 2017, Sutton was invited to walk the runway along with a myriad of influencers and friends of the house during the autumn Dolce & Gabbana show in Milano. For Stracke it was a one-in-a-lifetime experience—her supermodel moment. ‘Stefano is truly the director backstage: I got off the plane and went straight there to get styled.’ However, she’s quick to impress how decidedly unglamorous and tiring waiting for a show can be. ‘When they asked me to do it, I had no idea about the production that goes on backstage. These models need to get paid more! They work all day and you’re standing in line waiting to go, it was a lot more tedious than I ever thought. It was a fascinating process for me, and I have such respect for the designers and the models.’
Those keeping up with Sutton on Instagram would know she has a tight group of friends on the couture show circuit. Among them Academy Award-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly and Canadian socialite Sylvia Mantella. Both are also card-carrying members of the D&G famiglia. Another stylish pal is Cameron Silver, fashion director of Halston and founder of legendary LA vintage spot, Decades. ‘When I moved to California, I heard about Decades and it was one of the first stops I made. I got a handwritten note from Cameron a couple days later and we became friends, and then he introduced me to Jennifer. We travel well together and we love to shop together!’ The friends were out in force at Jean Paul Gaultier’s emotional final couture show, where long-time models and muses walked the runway and Boy George serenaded the audience. ‘We were all crying and laughing at that show, it was a huge celebration of what Jean Paul’s done.’
Since débuting on Housewives, many of Sutton’s bold outfits have become memes in their own right. It’s slightly surreal. After all, the season débuted mid-pandemic, and she’s yet to experience much of the normal day-to-day side effects of overnight fame. But make no mistake, pandemic or not, references to Sutton and her love of couture have been popping up all over. Take this titbit from British Vogue’s Anders Christian Madsen in a recent Dolce & Gabbana collection review: ‘Last December, at the party for the Alta Moda show in Milan, I witnessed Sutton Stracke perform the best country karaoke I’ve ever seen, and I told her so afterwards.’
At this point, it’s important to note, Sutton’s reputation as a couture collector and all-round fashion girl long predates joining Housewives. Stracke has been firmly in the style and society pages for years and even photographed for magazines as far-flung as Vogue China. It may come as a surprise then that she’d join a show like Housewives in the first place. She’s not a professional or aspiring actress, unlike most of her cast mates. ‘I’m in a very strange position. I wanted to make my family proud, and the organizations I volunteer for—I’m a philanthropist at heart.’ The show has also served to showcase her own eponymous store, Sutton, a mixture of clothing, art and antiques in trendy West Hollywood. Framed sketches of her couture gowns decorate the walls. ‘It’s my personal style on everything. You can’t just buy for yourself, but I definitely have a certain æsthetic you either like or you don’t. I see designers as artists, and I just want to showcase their work in my store.’
Among the designers carried in the boutique is Alexis Mabille, of whom Stracke is a long-term client and friend. While Housewives fans may know her best by her many D&G ensembles, Stracke is a customer of a range of established designers and up and coming talent. As a Dior client, she crossed paths with then-creative director Raf Simons, and instantly became a fan. ‘I love Raf so much. I think that he is an architectural genius with clothes. I was very sad to see him go [from Dior]—I worship at the house of Raf Simons.’
As we speak, it’s a week after the cancelled Met Gala would have been held, which Stracke has attended for years. ‘My first was my favourite year. I wore Oscar de la Renta and it was this huge dress. Climbing the steps was like climbing Mt Everest, only at the summit you got to meet Oprah and Anna Wintour!’
As the gala has expanded to rival perhaps only the Oscars in the celebrity fashion stakes, Sutton has grown slightly weary of the Hollywood-ification of the event. ‘The one thing I hope does not get lost with the gala is that it is for the museum. To lose sight of that would be a travesty. Diana Vreeland started the Costume Institute to celebrate fashion as art and I hope that people are really there because they care about the museum and not about being photographed. I would like to see it become a bit less celebrity and remember that the Met is one of our treasured museums in the world.’
In that sense, Stracke extolls a virtue of the traditional couture client: a deep appreciation of fashion as applied art. The rarefied circle of haute couture is also historically known to be, above all, discreet. Indeed, only a small handful of couture clients have reached mainstream recognition, such as heiress and fashion icon Daphne Guinness, HM Queen Rania of Jordan and Texan socialite Lynn Wyatt. Although it’s a world that lends itself an air of haughtiness, I’m struck by how giving Sutton is with her time and warm she comes across, and well, normal. Divorced from husband Christian Stracke, and a mom of three, she’s been passing the extra time at home bingeing Killing Eve and Ryan Murphy’s miniseries on the O. J. Simpson trial.
Despite collecting some of the most expensive dresses in the world, Sutton is a firm believer in cost-per-wear, and is just as enthusiastic describing exciting vintage finds from consignment stores as she is discussing Mabille gowns. ‘Somebody did write on my Instagram account about one of my confessional outfits, “Is this the same dress you met Boy George in?” I said yes, I wear clothes more than once!’ Haute couture, Sutton surmises, ‘really is like art—you wouldn’t buy a piece of art you didn’t love.’ In her view, gowns are made to be worn and enjoyed. ‘Special pieces [are] where you put your money. Spend the money on it, keep it forever and give it to your daughter or your granddaughter. It’s passing down art.’
They’re also conversation-starters. ‘I can be a little shy at first. If you’re going to a cocktail party and don’t know a lot of people, it’s nice to have something to talk about.’ Being a particularly loyal couture client has its perks, too. ‘I was at one of my Dior fittings, and I said, “I loved the shoes from the runway,” and they don’t sell their runway shoes. I’d been a good client, she went into the back and she gave them to me!’
As we say our goodbyes, I wonder: does she have any parting advice for aspiring fashion collectors everywhere? ‘Build a foundation in your wardrobe: the perfect black dress, a suit and a really nice handbag. Even if you buy them from a consignment store, it’s a good place to start. The rest is like glitter on top, but you want your cake base to be really good!’ •
Reilly Sullivan is a writer for Lucire.
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From issue 41 of Lucire