Who’s Here: Maria Scotto, Designer, Model

Maria Scotto has it all—beauty, brains and a glorious Italian accent. Of course she can cook. Scotto and her husband Bill Marlow moved to Bridgehampton five years ago. For many years they were East End weekenders.

Cookbook author Silvia Lehrer introduced me to Scotto last summer while we were all shopping at the Sag Harbor Farmers Market. Scotto’s warm smile and outgoing personality won me over immediately.

Scotto was born in Genoa, grew up in Florence and moved to Milan as a young adult. She studied languages with an eye to becoming an interpreter. Scotto enjoyed a brief teaching career and then modeling took over. She worked closely with a few designers beginning with Ken Scott, walking many runways. New York called.

What does Scotto think of models today? “Giselle is fabulous. Christy Turlington is very professional-looking.” She also notes that Elle MacPherson has made a long-lasting name for herself as Scotto has—with her own label.

As Scotto put it, “We didn’t have agencies—we were on our own. I was to stay five weeks. I’m still here. I fell in love with New York.” Scotto began to co-design with Chester Weinberg. She went on to have her own shop, Maria Scotto, on Seventh Avenue where Scotto designed for Henry Bendel’s private label, among others—mostly separates and fine sweaters.

Scotto left modeling to pursue a full-time career as a designer. She now produces a popular line of “Maria Scotto” sleepwear every year. The basic designs remain much the same. Nightgowns, robes and bed jackets come in different lengths. Colors and trims change with the times. [expand]

Scotto and her fabulous cheekbones modeled among the best. She told me that many of her contemporaries went from modeling to acting—but she won’t name names. (Discretion is just what one looks for in a sleepwear designer.)

All of Scotto’s designs are executed at a factory outside Florence. Scotto stays there several weeks a year to oversee production.

Scotto met her future husband at a dinner party in New York. Lawyer Bill Marlow was a huge fan of opera and Italian culture in general; he was naturally smitten with Scotto. They have a son who now lives in Connecticut.

Right now Scotto is gearing up to show her latest work at the semiannual Curve Intimate Apparel show at the Javits Center in February. When I asked her what the future holds, she said she’s sticking with cotton.

Scotto believes that attending this show and waiting on storeowners personally is key to her continued success—because they tell her what works and what doesn’t and why. Scotto’s designs are “practical,” as she puts it. Who wants to sleep in a fashion statement? These are the kind of classic, comfortable night things that women buy for themselves. Quality never goes out of style.

I asked Scotto at what age she felt girls should start modeling. She pointed out that one really has to start before age 20, in order to have time to develop, but 12 year-olds lack the maturity to handle the whole experience.

Scotto became a grandmother earlier this year. Her first grandchild is a boy. Scotto told me if a girl comes along—she would not discourage her from modeling. She says, “It’s a great way into other things. It opens doors.” With grandma’s genes she could walk right through those doors!

Scotto and her husband have guests most weekends. Scotto loves to cook. She was eager to share her pasta sauce recipes with me. Frozen, local tomatoes are the primary ingredient. We enjoyed a delicious lunch together at Bobby Van’s last week and I’m still thinking about Scotto’s take on stuffing a turkey—Italian sausage!

Scotto’s work is on sale in shops along Madison Avenue. Locally you can find Maria Scotto shawls and sweaters at Tutto Bene and Maria Scotto sleepwear at Complements in Bridgehampton, Top Drawer in East Hampton and at Dreaming of You in Sag Harbor.

Many of Scotto’s nightgowns are given as gifts. In addition to Christmas and Chanukah, Mother’s Day is a huge holiday for Scotto. A comfortable nightgown is a great gift for your mom, or a new mom. As Scotto points out, certain styles are ideal for gift giving. One of her most popular designs is almost a t-shirt style, but with cap sleeves and a bit of lace. One size fits most. What does Scotto think of wearing an actual t-shirt to bed? “That’s the worst thing you can do—the poor husband to see you in that—why would you go to bed looking terrible?!” Her works are also popular wedding and baby shower gifts.

With regard to some of Scotto’s younger, kickier designs, she told me, “Some young ones they buy them, then they go out dancing!” That sounds like fun but late fall is such great sleeping weather, I’m ready to curl up in a Maria Scotto right now….

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