A Life in Style
Renowned buyer and fashion executive Sarah Rutson shares her best work advice and wardrobe essentials.
By Britt Burritt
Sarah Rutson has shopped every designer label, not just for her own enviable closet but for major international retailers. Each season, the former VP and fashion director oversaw ordering new collections from the world's top houses and discovering new labels, like MONSE and Johanna Ortiz. Now as chief brand officer (CBO) for the Collected Group in Los Angeles, Rutson is helping guide three beloved and established brands—Equipment, Joie and Current/Elliott—through a shifting industry. It's the role she's been preparing for.
"I've bought every single brand in the world for over 25 years," says Rutson, wearing a white windowpane pantsuit (Equipment Spring 2019, "I'm a little ahead of the game") with a black blouse. "When you're buying for a global customer and buying every brand that exists, you know what works and what doesn't." No fashion professional would disagree that the British-born buyer has a discriminating eye and sartorial instincts. But her reputation has long been established among designers, businesspeople and consumers, too. "I spent so long as a global buyer working directly with the brands, that they'd ask for help: 'Where are we going wrong? What are we doing right? What are we missing?' This has given me all the tools to be able to build brands."
As CBO, Rutson leads the Collected Group's design teams as well as the merchandising arm of the company. "It's between art and commerce," she describes. "Between all three brands I have to deliver 15 collections a year. I don't think Karl Lagerfeld ever did that number at all the houses he was head of. From start to finish, there is nothing that I don't see or touch."
This new role in a new city has caused the usually high-heeled street-style fixture to adapt to her environment. "I'm running around to three design teams in a huge space. And in LA the vibe is relaxed and very casual," Rutson says. "Practically every single day I wear jeans and an Equipment shirt, sneaker or flat sandals." But even when she was based in Hong Kong or New York, Rutson's style had a practical edge. "Everything about me is driven by classicism. I've always been very real about clothes. I'm relevant but I don't follow trends slavishly," she says. "That's why Equipment is the perfect brand: it's around that mentality but with a lot of style."
Rutson can break down her elegant personal style into four pieces that every woman working in fashion or working while looking fashionable should own. "Absolutely a beautiful crisp white shirt. A tailored black jacket. A beautifully tailored pant, whether wide leg or skinny, one that goes with your body type. And I personally love a belt, because I'll belt anything and it makes it look like you're done," she tells us. "These staples, whether or not I was in fashion or was going to Fashion Week or to a factory in China, work for me. "
Busy as Rutson now is, she prioritizes finding balance, precarious though it may be with all her global travel. "Can you have it all? Family and a career? I've managed to do that," she says. "My advice now, as a leader with a lot of women working under me, is to take that time to feel balanced. Don’t feel pressured that in this business you have to give up a part of yourself and your dreams outside of work. You will never be a balanced person without a personal life."
For Rutson finding balance hinges on her hobbies and her family. "I cook. I create. Everything is sensory for me. I'm a big animal rescuer," she says. "I rescue every little creature possible. And my daughter, Eliza, she's 16, she's a huge amount of fun. There's more to life than just fashion. When I'm in fashion I love every bit of it, but I don't let it eat me alive."