A twist on tradition

Marietta Contadino says first-time clients of her Greenwich boutique are sometimes quite surprised by her approach.

“They say, ‘Don’t you want to sell me?’”

But while Contadino is certainly in business to be successful, she sees her role as a designer of custom apparel as one that transcends simply making money.

At Marietta C., it is, she says, also very much about making a client happy, making her feel elegant and encouraging her to experience the glamour of having a one-of-a-kind creation designed just for her.

And those creations range from black-tie eveningwear to wedding gowns, cocktail ensembles to classic suits and sportswear — with a few accessories, such as wraps and bags, thrown in for good measure.

With today’s growing appreciation for all things handmade, creations that are unique and individualized simply stand apart.

“If you give somebody the option, they go custom,” Contadino says.

And in this region, she adds, women know what they want — and what their clothing needs to do.

“The customers are very knowledgeable here,” she says.

In many cases, custom clothing is simply a way of life, but for others, it’s a new experience.

“That’s the biggest complaint: ‘I can never find a dress that fits me’… ‘I can never find a dress in the color I want.’”

At Marietta C., that all falls away as options are seemingly endless. Contadino offers a number of designs — with new collections regularly introduced — that can be customized for any client in dozens of colors and fabrics.

“About 90 percent of my collection comes in all the different colors.”

But that’s not all. Sleeves can be adjusted. Lengths can be altered. New silhouettes can be explored. It’s all completed, from consultation through final fittings, in an invitingly gracious setting, one designed by Contadino’s architect brother.

“We get clients…. The first time they’re nervous. The second time we have fun,” Contadino says.

Everyone gets to, in a sense, play a bit.

“With me, it’s all about the embellishments, the ribbons, the embroideries,” she says of the countless ways to make each piece fit a particular client’s taste.

“These are investment pieces,” she says, not off-the-rack selections that can be returned on a whim.

In the end, clients seem to recognize what it is she is providing, which she has described as “classics with a twist.”

For Contadino, the boutique, which next year marks its 10th anniversary, has been the fulfillment of a longtime dream.

The Greenwich native was a fashionista from her earliest days.

“My mom, being straight from Italy, she always had that sewing machine open. … She made me the most amazing dresses.”

When she was 9, Contadino began showing an interest, eventually creating and selling clothing to her classmates. From Greenwich High School, Contadino would go on to the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, a time that would find her winning awards and having her designs exhibited at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Also while at FIT, Contadino says, “I had an internship at Carolyne Roehm, and it was their fashion-show time,” an experience she calls “amazing.”

After graduating with honors, Contadino would take her first official job in the industry as a design assistant to Roehm. Contadino would go on to work at companies including Teal Traina, Ann Taylor, Rina di Montella and After Five before launching her own business in 1997. She had a studio in New York City, with her eveningwear attracting an impressive private clientele through trunk shows and word of mouth. In time, she would have her designs sold in dozens of specialty shops across the country, from New York to Palm Beach, Chicago to Washington, D.C.

Contadino built up relationships with “really skilled European” seamstresses who have been with her for many years. They share her dedication to a time-honored approach that respects the concept of stylish-yet-appropriate attire.

Contadino shares that she’s frustrated, for example, by the way people now (fail to) dress for the opera.

“It’s an event,” she proclaims with disbelief.

Contadino’s clients need not fear she will send them off unsuitable for any event, as she draws on a wealth of rich colors and luxurious European fabrics, hand embroidery, Swarovski elements, French laces and silk ribbons.

All styles are cut to order, customized to enhance every client’s figure then crafted in house.

Throughout her work, Contadino says one of the biggest rewards is becoming a part of her clients’ family celebrations. She may design a wedding gown and mother-of-the-bride dress and then, down the line, outfits for the baptism of that bride’s first child.

“It’s so nice to be a part of that.”

Contadino is a sharp observer of both history and trends.

“I go to shows, read magazines, have a passion for books,” she says. Museums, including trips with her 6-year-old son, also inspire. “It’s everything you see, you get exposed to.”

Since her college days, Contadino has also been exploring the costume archives of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“You have to wear your smock and your white gloves,” she says. “When I go there, it’s like heaven on earth.”

Contadino also goes to fabric trade shows and works with “a lot of European mills with reps in New York.”

“We’re closed on Mondays, so I’m always in New York.”

And she brings it all back to Marietta C., where its welcoming storefront always has a wedding dress among the fashions displayed in its windows.

For Contadino, it’s not enough for a woman to be happy the moment they leave her boutique.

“I just want them to wear the outfit they get from me to death. I don’t want it to sit in the closet.”

We’d say there’s little chance of that.

Marietta C. is at 436 E. Putnam Ave. in Greenwich. For more, visit mariettac.com.

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