Like Savoir Faire, Matthew Christopher Sobaski is everywhere. A native Iowan who currently calls Brooklyn his home, the 6-foot-4, 42-year-old wunderkind behind the Matthew Christopher Bridal label was recently in Los Angeles working on a new collection. There I managed to wring a 45-minute interview out of him, between bites of dim sum.
Let’s start with a super-predictable question … sources of inspiration?
Oh man, my mother. She saw early on I had the instinct to draw and sketch. … She bought me Fashion Plates [a fashion drawing set] when I was a kid, come on! Always putting creative stuff in my hands. … I got Rainbow Brite plaster-of-Paris for one birthday. At Christmas, she’d give me little design projects: “Here, you’re going to make these ornaments, you know, the kind where you put the glass inside and melt them in the oven.” (laughs) She threw a cookbook at me at 8 years old and said “Go for it.” She knew what I wanted before I did. A very cool mom! And I was always enthralled by sewing … that machine! All the women in my life were incredibly supportive. My grandma gave me a video of Victor Costa [“Texas’ most famous dress designer”]. Who gets their grandson a video of Victor Costa (laughs)? He was the bomb; he made the most gorgeous evening gowns. She would also tape The Bold and The Beautiful soap opera for me (more laughter).”
Talk to me about growing up, grade school.
No surprise that I was involved with musical theater, 12 years of voice. As detention punishment, my teachers would have me stay after school and decorate the classrooms. Sketching dresses in fourth grade, they’d let me put them on the walls and bulletin boards. I got bullied for being a chunky kid, but I lost all the weight in high school. I was always the biggest and tallest in my class. Captain of cross country and track. While I was running track senior year, I designed eight prom dresses (laughs). My track coach finally said, “Sobaski, you got too many irons in the fire. Go do what you need to do … design!” After high school. I got, like, the FIERCEST sewing machine for graduation, and it changed everything.
No, even better, it was a Pfaff! Google it. It changed the dynamic of my work. Did you see The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman, about P.T. Barnum? That was me … always making stuff out of nothing.
And after high school?
It was time to get out. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, and had my heart set on New York. By way of Chicago. I enrolled at the Ray-Vogue School of Design because one of my idols, [famed bridal gown designer] Lazaro Perez, went there. When it became the Illinois Institute of Art, I transferred to Iowa State. I interviewed for internships in NYC … at Vera Wang (huge, of course, especially when she came out with her illusion and bell-sleeve dresses, like Nancy Kerrigan wore when she skated against Tonya Harding), Fink Bridal, and Demetrios. Vera Wang just wanted me to be a runner, so I said no to that. Sync Bridal hired me, but subsequently closed their doors. Demetrios said, “We’re taking you, we need you,” just over the phone! That was 1998.
Gown Shopping 101
The Four Agreements, according to Matthew Christopher:
SHOP AT LEAST NINE MONTHS AHEAD
Your dress and your venue are the first two boxes to check off on the to-do list. You don’t want something off the rack that someone’s tried on 1,000 times. You need to shop at least nine months before the wedding, end of story. These gowns are handmade. Girls think these can be cranked out in 10 seconds. You can’t, there’s too much workmanship involved. You’ll appreciate that for years to come.
RUNWAY, NOT RUNAWAY
You don’t need to visit eight different stores to find your dress. Consultants work very hard to make your dream come true. Trust them and they will be loyal to you until the end. And be wary of trends. Classic with a twist always works.
SLOBS AND MOBS
Come wedding-ready! Come with your makeup done, come with your hair done. Don’t bring a posse; three people is enough. Parents, a best friend, your best gay friend … NO SISTERS (laughs). Unless she’s your best friend!
LEAVE THE PHONE AT HOME
It’s between you and the mirror. I know you’re dying to take photos and get more people’s opinions, but the mirror tells the story. “Oh I look fat, oh I look terrible…” Knock it off! Trust the mirror. You don’t need a majority vote and everyone’s approval. Approve yourself.
What drew you to bridal?
A wedding is the special event in people’s lives; that one gown, such a meaningful piece. My mom woke me up at 5 in the morning to watch Princess Di get married! Pure grandeur. It’s the one day you really get to be a star. I tell my clients, this is your red-carpet moment.
Bridal shops carry you across the U.S. Do orders and trends vary, depending on geography?
We’re still in a bit of a bridal transition. … In March 2016 the industry saw the bottom fall out. The industry is changing. It always evolves. Millennials want the experience but have trouble perceiving value. Generation Xers just want to look awesome. We’re catering to both in different ways. It’s an exciting time to design for this new generation; it also has its challenges. In general, nowadays there’s a lot more costume changes. An outfit for the rehearsal dinner, the reception. Anywhere from clean and elegant to over the top. Coastal is usually about fantasy. The vision entails classic, gorgeous, modern … with lace and delicacy … off the shoulder. With the recent Harry-Meghan matchup, royalty is predominating the conversation. And some brides ask to look like a particular celebrity. Middle America is boho chic. Dallas wants ball gowns … Atlanta, too. Bridals By Lori is one of my biggest salons there. We’re seeing a lot more sales coming from urban America.
Speaking of celebrities …
I’ve been blessed to work with many in film, TV and red carpet! Megan Hilty, Carli Lloyd, Kristin Chenoweth, Kelley O’Hara, Debra Messing, Kathy Najimy. Kristin Chenoweth really got the ball rolling; we met in 2009, when she was filming You Again. Kristen Bell used two of my gowns in When in Rome. The Wedding Ringer with Kaley Cuoco … you’ll see three of my dresses, plus we did all the wedding gowns. Even Lethal Weapon!
Tell us about how your company is structured, and what we can expect from MC this year.
My warehouse is in the U.S., and patterns are made globally. My team has eight members, and we’re in the process of relocating to Chicago from NYC. I work with an overseas company on fulfillment, with offices in L.A. and across the world. Our company’s really branching out this year. Stay tuned! We’re already international. You can find us in Australia, Korea, Ireland. There’s just a whole bunch of fresh, new, exciting stuff coming in 2018.
The most satisfying part of your job?
When you match the perfect gown with a bride and she hugs you and she doesn’t let go. … I just helped her find an heirloom, something she’ll treasure the rest of her life.
Matthew’s gowns can be found in Connecticut at Bridal Trousseau in New Haven. Learn more about Matthew’s collections, trunk shows and retailers at matthewchristopher.com.