If there’s one woman who has the final word in racing fashion, it’s Sarah Kate Byrne. Best known for her work styling ITV racing presenter and former amateur jockey Francesca Cumani, Byrne comes to the world with a deep passion for vintage fashion — and an eye that sets her apart. And although styling has always been a part of her life, making it a profession came as a surprise. “It all came about quite accidentally,” Byrne tells What We Seee. “I founded an e-commerce platform bringing vintage shops under one roof. As the creative director, I was doing more and more styling, always looking for opportunities for putting pieces — particularly vintage pieces — in the public eye.” But when she was approached to do it professionally, something clicked. “We’ve got this amazing gig for ITV Racing, a very natural marriage for us,” she explained. She realized that these two areas were so obviously aligned, that moving forward with racing and fashion was a natural career step. “I just really drove the point home that the heritage of racing and heritage of fashion — all of these British industries — really go hand in hand.”

Since then, she’s been busy — very busy. But she stays close to her love of occasion wear, more than general styling. “We’ve done hundreds of occasions with Francesca in the public eye — presenting for ITV racing, for functions, or just generally. I get a real kick out of occasion wear — styling for a specific thing, rather than generally,” she says. Because her career is really an extension of what she already loved doing. “Over the years, I’ve always dressed friends and friends and friends — I was always doing it. My background is in luxury travel, but fashion was always a part of my life. When I realized I could make a living at it, that’s when things really changed.”

Juxtaposition Of Masculine And Feminine

One of the reasons she’s been so successful in this natural marriage of two quintessentially British arenas is that she’s thoroughly grounded in them. Her love of vintage fashion and occasion wear has very clear roots — she grew up riding side saddle and competing. “It was occasion wear, you would never wear the things you wear showing in normal life,” Byrne explains. “I loved the silhouette, the juxtaposition between masculine and feminine. The look is incredibly feminine, but you’re still having to ride a horse and hold your own.” She keeps up her love side saddle, a small but recently rediscovered discipline, thanks to a resurgence of period dramas.  “It’s a fascinating thing — it’s a unique talent in a weird way that you never really think about, but it’s led to me being invited to amazing places,” she says. “It’s a huge community and it’s really grown. Downton Abbey — well, it’s done it a service and a disservice, really. But it’s a bit of heritage that’s being revived.”

Thriving Under Pressure

Sarah Kate Byrne

Because her work is such a clear extension of her passions, it’s easy to see why she thrives. When she talks about her days, even in the hectic high season, the lines between business and pleasure are constantly blurred. “Because I do occasion wear, my time is really the British season — the polo, the racing, Henley, all the various British social engagements,” she explains. “Occasion wear is very much tied to history and heritage.” And though she’s running around meeting with celebrities and private clients, finding stock, and more, she doesn’t bat an eye. “I’m a reactive person, I thrive under pressure — I’m at my most creative when I’m seeing things and I have to think on the spot. I try to have an outline each day, look at different stock, get to different places, and see different people. Because I love vintage, I’m always trying to find those things that you can’t usually get at — so that can mean a lot of day trips outside London.”

But one of her key strengths is knowing how she works best — and not being afraid to push the boundaries of traditional styling. While for many styling is synonymous with planning, for Byrne it seems like more of an exercise in improvisation. “A lot of stylists will revolve around planning, like ‘That’s your look, it’s settled’. Especially for TV clients,” she says. “I don’t want to be like that — I just think, you never know. I could find the most perfect thing the day before. But some people don’t want that — some clients want to blitz it together. It’s a balance.”

A Visual Image

Sarah Kate Byrne

With a down-to-earth disposition and a wicked sense of humor, Byrne has been able to see through the pressures of high-profile styling and focus on the end result. “It’s quite daunting, but equally I think an absolute testament to Francesa — I couldn’t have a better person in the public eye,” she explains. “I was friends with her and I trusted her and she trusted me — that was the golden ticket. We could just have fun together. That gave me the confidence. Every day, as you grow and you meet bigger brands and you think ‘God, this is exciting!’ but like everything, we all suffer from a crisis of confidence. At the end of the day, I have a visual image. I have a picture or a person or an outfit. If they’re getting compliments, that’s my job done. But if they’re talking about how they’re watching racing when they’ve never done it before, because they want to see Francesca and they’re interested in what people are wearing — if I can get them interested in the sport, it’s a great thing.”

Byrne’s work is a testament to taking what you love and finding a way to make it your life. She surrounds herself with people she trusts, in an industry she cares about — and this has led her to keep growing and expanding, both as a stylist and an entrepreneur. She wants to find a way to reach more people with her love of vintage fashion and occasion wear.  “A lot of people are afraid to approach me because I work in television — but I offer tailored services,” Byrne says. “I can help someone for an entire day or just help them pick out a hat. I set up Maison de Saison, all about the season, to help reach more people. If you’re going to a wedding, the polo, or just a party or an occasion, you can come to me.”

And when you do, you’ll see why she’s in a league of her own. “A big part of my job is fun, it’s looking, it’s discovering new pieces — new brands, new pieces in a charity shop, seeing something online — I never resent it. Doing things you would do normally but you’re doing it for work,” she laughs. “You don’t mind it, do you? When it’s something you love.”

To see more from Sarah Kate Byrne you can follow her on Instagram and contact her through Maison de Saison.