Sarah Kate in a Harry Hall x Martha Sitwell Collection campaign shoot, photographed by Georgina Preston.
Sarah Kate Byrne
Side Saddle Equestrian. Sustainable Fashion Consultant.
ITV Racing & Celebrity Stylist.
She has been called one of the most elegant women in the world on a horse. Sarah Kate Byrne is a serious sporting lady, helping revive the interest in side saddle and a bygone era of glamour. Born in Ireland, her charming and effervescent personality draws everyone to her, from London to Lexington, Kentucky.
Sarah Kate also has the final word on racing fashion. A proponent of vintage and sustainable style, she is changing the way secondhand is viewed. Look no further than her client, the hugely influential Francesca Cumani, ITV’s Racing presenter. Never too far from the racecourse, Sarah Kate shares her passion for side saddle and the return of the British season.
Can you tell us about your equestrian style influences?
Horsemanship has been a way of life for my family going generations back. I was raised in Tullow, in County Carlow, Ireland, next door to my father’s family stud farm, where my grandfather and great-grandfather bred thoroughbreds and sport horses. My grandfather stood Errigal, who went on to sire King of Diamonds. I was put on a horse at the age of four, eventually taking up side-saddle.
I always wore hand-me-down breeches, boots and coats and later, when side saddle, I wore my grandfather’s bowler and carried his hunting whip. Without realizing it, I was drawn to equestrian elements of design – beautifully cut jackets, high-waisted trousers and skirts, a cleverly tied neck scarf. I tend to wear mostly vintage and shun fashion trends. I suppose this was something instilled in me from a young age, by my parents.
They met through the Irish Georgian Society; they were both passionate about preserving Ireland’s architectural heritage. They created a business out of architectural salvage, finding rubies in the rubble really. I think my style and inspiration stems from that, growing up surrounded by beautiful things that others no longer saw beauty or value in. I thus have an appreciation for craftsmanship, timelessness and uniqueness.
We love your Instagram images riding through Spain, both fashion and equestrian. Can you tell us about your adventure there?
Fashion, style and equestrianism collide in Spain! The women on the ground or on horseback are so elegant and so, too, are the men. Cordobés hats, leather zahones, swirling skirts! Even Jackie Kennedy rode at the Feria de Sevilla in the traditional costume.
I was first invited to Spain by my super glamorous friend, Martha Sitwell, who needed a sidekick. Our host, the Duque de Maura, asked if we could turn out side saddle – no mean feat when side saddles and habits are not easily transported. But we managed it – Martha in Ratcatcher tweed and I in my traditional 100-year-old Busvine habit and bowler hat with veil. The Spanish were beside themselves. They thought us the most elegant and daring creatures! And we, in turn, fell in love with all that we encountered… the individuals, the food, the fashion, the horses.
Each year I return and every trip serves up a caper, be it at Ventosilla, Jaime Patino’s lovingly restored family property or Jaime Espinosa’s Valdeparras estate. Dancing ‘til dawn fuelled by icy fino and goblets of gin and tonic are order of the day. And so, too, are glamorous outfits.
Sarah Kate at an Autumn wedding,
wearing a 1960s dress and 1930s boater.
What is your top style advice for achieving elegance? And, as a renowned Stylist within horse-racing, how do you advise clients on their approach to Ascot?
As Carmel Snow, an editor of Harper's Bazaar and a fellow Irishwoman said, elegance is good taste, with a dash of daring. That is my mantra, be it on or off a horse. Be true to yourself, don’t be a sheep and if you feel you need help, ask a stylist whose style you admire. It is all about the silhouette and the lines, and this is especially important when wearing a piece of millinery to an event such as Royal Ascot – it is the roof to your house after all. Each client demands an individual approach. A TV client needs a neat hat, as does someone who has a sit-down lunch on the agenda, while someone who wants to stand out from the crowd can opt for a statement piece of millinery. It really is a skill to choose the right hat for the right outfit, and I have been told I have a knack for it!
For an event, such as Royal Ascot, my expertise will stretch beyond sartorial advice. Of course, I advise on the outfit rules, source proper top hats and arrange the perfect buttonhole. Elusive badges for the Royal Enclosure, throwing picnic parties in Car Park 1 (the place to be despite its unassuming name) and ensuring the car that is parked is a rare classic variety -- all part of my remit, too. It is as much about looking the part as it is about creating a once in a lifetime experience.
Sarah Kate's Archive
Images courtesy of Sarah Kate Byrne, Georgina Preston, Candice Lake, Hazel Mansell Greenwood,
Uli Weber and Nadina Ironia.