Born: South Orange, New Jersey, 28 September 1940. Education:
Studied retailing at College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, New Jersey, 1958-60, and design at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1960-61, with associate degree in Applied Arts. Family: Married Saul Rosen, 1978. Career: Trainee, Abby Michael junior sportswear house, New York, 1961; designer for New York firms Bernard Levine, Petti for Jack Winter, Something Special, Sports Sophisticates, and Mary Ann Restivo for Genre, 1962-74; head designer, women's blouse division, Dior New York, 1974-80; launched own firm, Mary Ann Restivo, Inc., 1980; sold company to Leslie Fay Corporation, 1988; designer, Mary Ann Restivo division, Leslie Fay Corporation, 1988-92; division closed, 1992; independent design consultant, for clients including Saks Fifth Avenue and Burberrys, from 1993; launched new scarf line, 1999; began designing home accessories, 1999-2000. Awards: Hecht Company Young Designers award, Washington, D.C., 1968; Mortimer C. Ritter award, Fashion Institute of Technology, 1973; awarded Honorary Doctor of Humanities, College of St. Elizabeth, 1986; Alumnus of the Year award, American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1992; Ellis Island Medal of Honor award, 1993.
Milbank, Caroline Rennolds, New York Fashion: The Evolution of American Style, New York, 1989.
Fashion for America! Designs in the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, Surrey, 1992.
Larkin, Kathy, "Meet Two Designers Who Are Changing Establishment Fashions," in the New York Daily News, 14 January 1973.
Foley, Bridget, "Mary Ann Restivo Marches to Her Own Drummer," in New York Apparel News, April 1983.
Morris, Bernadine, "Working Women: A Designer's Focus," in the New York Times, 30 June 1987.
Daria, Irene, "Mary Ann Restivo: Targeting the Working Woman and Herself," in WWD, 26 October 1987.
Vespa, Mary, "Designer Mary Ann Restivo Walks on Fashion's Mild Side…," in People, 23 November 1987..
Michals, Debra, "Dresses from Sportswear Firms: Plusses and Problems," in WWD, 28 February 1989.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "From Restivo, a New Look of Softness," in the New York Times, 3 November 1989.
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Buck, Geneviéve, "Barneys, Buddy and Bo—New Style, Old Style and No Style," in Chicago Tribune, 15 July 1992.
Johnson, Tish, "Restivo Returns," in WWD, 12 July 1999.
"Robert Allen Event Combines Fashion, Charity," in HFN (Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network), 6 December 1999.
"People need fashionably sensible clothes," Mary Ann Restivo commented to People magazine in the midst of the late 1980s excesses, to which People asserted that Restivo was "emerging…as the savior of the stylish but sane professional woman." Career and professional dressing have been the appropriate context for Restivo's work, not only in terms of her clientéle, but of the clothing's emphasis on good fit, excellent materials and manufacture, personal luxury without ostentation, and wearable good taste.
Bernadine Morris, a likely champion of Restivo's work in her commitment to American sportswear, wrote of Restivo that she "tries to walk the tightrope between clothes that are subdued and those that attract attention." The attention a Restivo garment attracts is primarily for its flattering image to the client. Restivo emphasizes fit, with some camouflage to the hips, appealing to women in sizes six, eight, and ten. As the designer argues in the tradition of sportswear, no woman should feel squeezed into the clothing, but should have mobility for her own sense of elegance and self-confidence, as well as the functions of dressing for careers in which one outfit may suffice from home to office to evening. In the 1980s, Restivo's work directly coincided with the perceived need of women of middle-and upper-management to wear sensible clothing to the office without merely adapting menswear. Other American designers came to the same conviction in the 1980s, but Restivo was one of the first to create stylish careerwear and to establish it as the cornerstone of her business.
Through the 1980s jackets were an important element of all Restivo collections, even for resort. Like most designers of the period, Restivo made her jackets softer and softer, choosing the textiles for unconstructed jackets still capable of the fresh self-confidence required by career women. Restivo told the New York Times (8 May 1990) at the apogee of the well-tailored business jacket: "The jacket is the key. When you start to develop your collection, you begin with the jacket then build everything else around it. You work out the skirts or the pants and the blouses and sweaters." Further, Restivo commented, "It is interesting to me that when store buyers come to buy the collection, they follow the same procedure. When customers go shopping for their fall clothes, they will probably do the same thing."
Restivo's acuity to the customer has always been an essential part of her business, begun in 1981. The loyalty of her clients is legendary—when the Restivo line was abruptly dropped by Leslie Fay in the early 1990s, clients pursued the designer herself to be sure they would not be cut off from their favorite clothing. Restivo's client empathy is undeniably important in the success of a woman designer creating for like-minded sensible women of business and style. Gloria Steinem once described Restivo's designs as "the kind of clothes that, after you've died, another woman would find in a thrift shop and like." Such enduring good taste and clothing recycling may thwart the image of fashion as a place of excess and fickle change. Yet Restivo's clothing fosters another more sensible, purposeful, and undeniably beautiful concept of fashion.
Restivo has long been a fan of exquisite textiles and a fixture at fabric fairs like Moda In and the European Textile Selection, scouring their wares for the best materials and often permitting the textiles to determine her designs. By the end of the 1990s Restivo had turned away from her consulting duties for Saks Fifth Avenue and Burberrys to again design under her own name. A new line of scarves and shawls, in bright colors and patterns, came in a variety of fabrics including cashmere, silk, tulle, and velvet. The new accessories were sold to high-end retailers and department stores, some of the very same stores Restivo targeted with her next launch of home accessories, including small lingerie dressers and decorative pillows. Commenting on her new direction, Restivo told Women's Wear Daily (12 July 1999), "I like the freedom that accessories offers in terms of the scale of design."
updated by Nelly Rhodes