Dark Garden is a special place, not just because we offer such a unique product, but also for the special people we hire to craft it. In our new Meet the Makers series, we'll take you behind the boutique into our atelier. You'll become acquainted with the artisans who work here at 321 Linden St. to create our beautiful corsets and ensembles. For this, our first installment, we're focusing on Matthew Nash, the mustachioed man who leads our bridal & couture department.
What is your background? Describe the path that led you to Dark Garden.
My first professional job in garment making was as a stitcher with the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, in 1979. They had a summer apprentice program with on-the-job training. I put together a portfolio with costumes I'd made for friends, and interviewed in New York. I was hired though I had no professional experience and no formal training. I learned how to pattern by looking at books, and all the sewing I learned by trial and error. When I saw that there was a whole team of people that builds costumes, it was a turning moment. I realized I wanted to be a patternmaker, not a designer, and be the one who can turn those sketches into a real garment.
Then I was hired as a draper/patternmaker by the Folger Shakespeare's Theater back in DC, where I'd lived previously. I'd never done that before, but it was Shakespeare, so... not that complicated. So I just looked at books, and figured it out! The resident costume designer there used to work in England, in Covent Garden, and he was a patternmaker there. I learned a lot from him. I worked there for about five years.
Then I moved to California, with no job, and sent out resumes up and down the state. I only got one interview in San Diego, but they said I didn't have enough experience. I only had one resume left so I sent to the San Francisco Opera. Everybody said, "Oh, somebody has to die before you can get a job there," but it had just been taken over by Jenny Green from England. She was revamping the whole costume shop. She called me for an interview and it turned out that the resident costume designer that I used to work for in Washington DC used to work for her at Covent Garden. She knew he was a really good patternmaker and that I would have been trained in the style that she was interested in.
So she hired me! My first year I was there, I had 5 pay raises and 3 promotions. I guess I was good at it! There was always a last minute emergency in every production, and I quickly proved what I could do under pressure. I was there almost 30 years as their senior patternmaker.
After about a year working on my own, a colleague suggested I apply to Dark Garden. I hadn't made much womenswear before, let alone corsets, but I interviewed, and they were looking for someone to sew. I'm really a patternmaker, but I gave it a go, and here I am a year later! I learned to put in an invisible zipper and work with "girl" fabrics – charmeuse and chiffon and all that.
How would you describe what you do here?
I make everything that's not a corset!
|Matthew in his Tailored Cincher with matching slacks.|
Ambyr wears a Dollymop Amelia ensemble.
Photo © John Carey
I'm responsible for doing most of the patternmaking and sewing on all of our custom bridal ensembles. We do a wide range of skirt styles, as well as slacks and boleros.
I did menswear almost exclusively at the opera. I think that we could do more menswear here, especially trousers. A lot more men are coming in who want corsets – I see a lot of that! We can make corset vests and trousers as a matched set.
I also have my own business, Timeless Tailor. I do more menswear, costume, and leather work under that name. Visit my website at www.timelesstailor.com.
What are some of your favorite projects that you've done at Dark Garden?
It's great to be able to do ensembles like an elaborate Halloween wedding gown. But then we can also do simple stuff – a great, slinky skirt that fits really nicely and is beautifully finished.
We're working on a really rewarding project right now, with a petticoat, underskirt, overskirt, bolero, corset, and veil. It's based on a computer generated character design. I put a lot of time into draping the skirts, and at the first fitting they were perfect.
Design is all about proportion – that's what I learned at the Opera. No matter what someone's size and shape is, you play with the proportions and make them look the best they possibly can. 'Cause that tenor's gotta look like the soprano's going to kill herself over him! Just... gorgeous.
Describe your work philosophy.
When I was little, my dad told me, "No matter what you do, do it to the best of your ability, even if it's digging ditches. If you do your best, it'll be recognized."
I can't compromise on quality. I do things the way I do them... because it's the way I have to do them. I can't do it to anything less than my very best. It's a curse and a gift!