Driving down the side streets of Murphysboro, full, lush shade trees line the streets to the quiet neighborhood where Patti Rath has lived and worked for the last thirty years. The brick bungalow she and her husband share is a prime example of the early twentieth century Arts & Crafts movement in architecture, when homes were built with simple designs and handcrafted artistry, made of brick, with fireplaces and wide porches with thick square columns. This style of home is perfect for Rath’s motto in life and business: she prefers to keep things simple.
Pulling into the driveway of P. Rath Couture, the neat-as-a-pin home stands before you with tall windows and a wide stairway leading up to the front door. A bright blue and yellow sign hangs on the right side of the porch front while to the left is a swing with a handmade fabric shade behind it, just one of many personal touches that Rath has added to her home to welcome her faithful clients. The simple, crisp beauty of the outside of the home is an interesting contrast to the inside of the house, which is warm, fuzzy and welcoming, with what can only described as a soft, creamy glow. A sign on the front door says to “knock or come in and yell” and upon entering the siting room clients can relax in overstuffed armchairs while perusing mannequins displaying Rath’s custom pieces. White, flowing curtains frame the windows and delightful vintage decor is artfully arranged in the well-appointed room.
To the right of the sitting room in the home, is a fitting room with a large lighted mirror, gorgeous hardwood floors and tall windows that let in loads of natural light. More examples of Rath’s custom clothing adorn the walls where she performs measurements and fittings. A chic, spacious bathroom is just around the corner with plenty of room for changing at your own pace. The soft buzz of a lawnmower a few blocks away and birds chirping right outside the open windows is a stark contrast to the stuffy fitting rooms and commercial buildings where clothes are often sold, fitted and altered. And Rath’s skill set, earned over the last 40 years, can accommodate requests for clothing related problems of all sorts. She offers expertise in wardrobe assistance, access to limited availability fabrics, custom clothing, home decor and simple alterations.
“A lot of times women buy t-shirts and they’re cut straight across the bottom. Let me just make a curve in there, fold the sleeve and put a few buttons in to make it look more feminine,” said Rath.
With this uncomplicated and simple approach to her profession, she transforms everyday items of apparel into something chic.
Rath has an impressive and diverse education, complete with travels to Milan and Rome and private tutorials with famed fashion advisers. She studied in the Fashion Design, Art Studios, and Design programs at Southern Illinois University and continued her education in Chicago with Eunice Farmer and in New York City with Debbie Gioello. Throughout her career and education she has developed a business model that is fifty percent service industry with her alterations, and fifty percent creative industry with her custom and ready to wear clothing.
“Generally, every season I do a rack of clothes, have them on display and they all get sold,” shared Rath.
The very definition of couture — fashionable, made-to-measure clothes — is Patti Rath to a tee. The day I interviewed her, she had on a beautiful handmade pleated skirt with French bridal lace trim. This piece alone is a testament to her unique creativity and left me longing for custom made clothing of my own. Rath makes her crisp sense of style look effortless and that’s what any client would want in a couturier.
On the enclosed back porch of Rath’s home is a table layered with brightly patterned, quilted table toppers and presumably made from fabric scraps and the imagination of Rath. The cheery space is where clients sit with the designer for consultations and to discuss wardrobe options. Looking out the windows of the back porch, an impressive cottage garden opens before you with peonies, hostas, roses and herbs, weaving around the red brick walkways. Strolling through the backyard with Rath, she can name and describe each plant and recite when it blooms, when she planted it and how it may work in your own yard. It’s a delightful outdoor oasis where clients can sit for meetings or pose for photographs. From the front door to the backyard, the Rath's have put time and thoughtful care into their property. Working in the service industry, Rath is happy with the location of her business and knows it is a comfortable setting for clients.
“Historic homes are in pleasant neighborhoods with large lots and spacious parking. My customers make excuses to come back,” said Rath.
Returning to P. Rath Couture is made easy by Rath’s unique knack for making you feel like a lifelong friend, even if you just walked through her front door. It’s a beneficial personality trait for someone in her line of work. Both women and men alike are sometimes apprehensive when heading to a seamstress for a fitting. Whether it’s leaving a wedding gown in the care of a dressmaker you just met, to bustle the train and cinch in the waist, or getting measurements for taking in clothing after a substantial weight loss, the relationship with a dressmaker is a personal one. Rath’s warm, welcoming nature coupled with her cozy home make anyone who enters feel like a cherished guest.
The history of the Rath home is an interesting one, too, with ties to noteworthy events in Murphysboro’s past. There is evidence that some of the wood used in the structure was salvaged from historic homes destroyed in the 1925 Tri-State tornado that moved through Murphysboro. The basement where Rath has her workshop was reportedly once a polling place for local elections, where voters could come in the back door and go downstairs to vote. Rath and her husband have made many improvements to the home while keeping with the style of architecture. The fireplace and mantle have been well cared for and are a beautiful focal point of the sitting room. The French doors in between rooms were in the attic when they bought the home and were reinstalled by the pair.
Rath met her husband early in her career, while working in men's wear. Galen, who is a photographer and takes professional photos of Rath’s work, came to Rath for alterations on his new business attire.
“He came back here to help his father with his business in Murphysboro and he was buying a lot of beautiful clothes and that’s how I met him,” said Rath.
In the basement where Rath creates and sews, music bounces softly off the cool, stone walls of her workspace. Large, rounded light fixtures hang from the ceiling and a small window is open to let in fresh air. A portion of one wall holds a large rack of spools of thread in every color imaginable. Organized into color categories from deep royal blue to pale yellow, the display is a radiant work of art. On the large tabletop she uses to work, Rath laid out a series of large print photos, taken by her husband, showing some of her past clothing lines. Rath knows how to dress women and in the photos, women of all ages and sizes are represented.
“What I try to do is have real women in my shots,” said Rath.
Rath is always tailoring her business to how the world is changing and evolving. Keeping up with current fashion trends, new fabrics, and the trends in business and casual attire of men and women, she continually strives to work professionally and efficiently for anyone who visits her business. While she doesn’t have a magic wand, she has always done her best to accommodate varying requests and time constraints for the thousands of clients she has had since 1971.
“It took me a long time to get here. You have to get O-L-D to really appreciate what is handed to you or what you’re lucky enough to stumble into,” shared Rath.
The convivial atmosphere of her gorgeous home and years of experience that Patti Rath offers at her business is unrivaled in Southern Illinois. Whether it be a few nips and tucks to your existing wardrobe or a custom piece to dazzle at an upcoming event, P. Rath Couture will send you out in style.