Maternal instincts: What impact does it have on a child's life if their mum works in fashion?
Harriet Walker explores the pleasures and pressures that come with growing up in style
Sunday 03 April 2011
For every person who worries they will end up like their mother, there's another who hopes they jolly well will. And such is the influence of one's mother in terms of shared interests and experiences – especially in an era where age often matters not a jot to what you wear, what entertainments you enjoy, or where you go – that it seems not unreasonable to expect that every mum will henceforward create her own special mini-me, rather than a separate being.
Gone are the days of married women abandoning their jobs and their identities when they get sprogged up; even the great gaping generational chasms seem to be closing, as parents take to Facebook or start listening to Arctic Monkeys albums, and their children become adolescents before the age of 10. There is a current generation of young mothers who are not being cajoled out of their love affair with fashion simply because their minds and monies now prioritise childcare. Rather, it has become a shared passion, a meeting point for mothers and their children alike.
We've come full circle since the days when children were rendered in paintings as miniature adults and expected to behave as such – for better or worse, kids today are thrust into consumerism early doors and given the same choices as the rest of us. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the fashion industry, which thrives on the creation not only of icons but of photogenic dynasties – sprawling family trees of sartorially faultless women who make an art of looking nonchalant, a life's work of dressing the part: Anna Wintour and her daughter Bee Shaffer; former Vogue Paris editor Carine Roitfeld and her daughter, model Julia Restoin-Roitfeld; British Vogue's Alexandra Shulman, mother to a teenage son, and herself a daughter of society writer Drusilla Beyfus. Madonna and Lourdes and Rocco; Jane Birkin and Lou Doillon; model and socialite Andrea Dellal and, well, model and socialite Alice Dellal. Four-year-old Suri Cruise is already nipping at her mother Katie Holmes' well-shod heels in the style stakes, and when Victoria Beckham gives birth to her long-awaited daughter this year, it will no doubt be one of the fashion events of the century. And by no means is it restricted to the girls: Beckham's son Romeo made it to number 26 in the GQ Best Dressed List, Roitfeld's son Vladimir was a model before he became an art curator, while designer Betty Jackson's son Oliver Jackson Cohen is an institution at her shows, clapping the longest and the loudest at each and every one of them.
The list is endless: fashion is full of a fabulous (if notably exclusive) genealogy, because it thrives on the bond between mother and child, be they rich and famous or rather more grounded. This is the primary relationship in which we strengthen our sense of self, but newborn babies can supposedly identify their mother's face within days, while it takes a further 15 months for them to recognise their own reflection. No wonder so many of us emulate our mothers' style.
Of course, some of that comes down to our appearance and how we present ourselves to the world. It's about how we are taught to present ourselves, whether we choose to accept or reject these rules; fashion takes its energy from those who do want to turn into their mothers, just as much as those who avidly don't.
Thierry Vasseur is deputy chief officer of French label and British high-street k staple Comptoir des Cotonniers, which is known for advertising campaigns that feature real-life mothers and daughters. The brand stages several casting events every year in its stores to seek out pairs with a stylish tale to tell, be they replicants or rebels.
"We realised that many mothers and daughters did their shopping together," he explains. "They share opinions and like to spend this moment of complicity together. The idea to choose real mothers and daughters to embody the brand came very naturally, as we thought from the start that our collections aimed to serve their natural beauty and style. We think that fashion is a question of personality more than a question of age."
But how does one form a "fashion personality"? The greatest influence, is, certainly, the maternal one – it is generally mums who buy babygros, dungarees and gloves-on-string in the early years; likewise they help pick out the party dresses, the job-interview suit or bridal gown. Style and taste is as much an inheritance as food preferences and cleaning habits; our mothers school us in them from a tender age.
"My mother was a stay-at-home mum with fabulous style," recalls Charlotte-Anne Fidler, creative director of Glamour magazine. "I remember her coming home from a business trip with my father in a great camel-hair coat and a leopard-print chiffon scarf – I thought she looked like a film star."
Such is the stuff of childhood memories – a bubble-perm here, a Hobbs jumper there – recalled in vivid and tactile detail as the very pieces we tugged at and clung to. And they are made all the more resonant and tangible by the attic archives that so many mothers save for their children. My own wardrobe contains several Technicolor paisley shifts and A-line miniskirts that render my mother's sense of style wholly current and perennially accessible (in theory, if not in actuality: taste may be inherited but, sadly, waistlines are not).
Fidler is now a mother herself, to eight-year-old Anouk, who took in her first catwalk show at London Fashion Week last season. "I held off taking Anouk to the shows," she explains, "but they were running over a weekend, so it was a good way of spending time with her and doing my job. She loved it, and felt very at home in the front row. Janice Dickinson took one look at her and said, 'Hello cutie!' Anouk didn't have a clue who she was, but she was very happy."
It's a fact of fashion week that Saturday and Sunday shows feature many editors' other (smaller) halves, who solemnly take photos and make notes as though they, too, are on editorial deadlines. It is an entirely pleasant facet of the industry's employing so many women in high-ranking jobs that children are not unwelcome at these events. It seems only natural to introduce them to their mothers' working arena, especially when it is something which has such broad appeal and can offer such a stimulus and sense of occasion to young eyes and ears.
Sarah Doukas, founder of the Storm model agency, is someone who knows how young people react to, and are moulded by, fashion. She discovered Kate Moss in an airport more than 20 years ago and nurtures fresh young faces for a living; she also has two grown-up daughters who have chosen to work in the industry. One, Noelle, 31, is an agent at Storm.
"I was a typical teenager with her own idea of what style was," Noelle remembers. "And I was more Rolling Stone than Vogue. My school life consisted of girls constantly asking to become models, but my curiosity in the industry only really developed when I left school and wanted to become a make-up artist."
"It was something she fell into quite naturally," adds Sarah. "She's smart, personable and tough and she's a brilliant agent. And my middle daughter Genevieve is forging her own path as a stylist – they are very strong-minded girls and will do well wherever they work."
Knowing one's mother is an industry powerhouse doesn't seem to have dampened the drive among these fashion progenies, though. "I think fashion is something to be enjoyed between mothers and daughters, but there are times when it becomes a source of friction," admits Sarah Doukas. "My girls are forever borrowing my shoes, bags and clothes," she laughs, "and we frequently love and covet the same things. For this shoot, Noelle and I turned up wearing similar shoes, jeans and tops – we hadn't discussed how we were going to dress at all, it just happened!"
It seems, then, that fashion is an innate bond, although it may not start from the same impetus: these fashion-conscious mums can either invigorate or enervate their children's blossoming sense of style, as Noelle Doukas recalls.
"There were times when she didn't speak to me because she was so appalled by my dress sense! I'm not entirely sure she appreciated my Gun N' Roses phase, for which I took to shaving the underneath of my hair, dying it purple and piercing my belly button."
Fidler also admits to a spot of fashion control-freakery. "I wish I didn't care," she says, "but I'm not at all laid-back about what my daughters wear. It has resulted in many stand-offs. But one of the things that makes me feel less guilty about shopping is the idea that when I'm old and over it, I can give it all to Anouk and her younger sister Bo."
But while these daughters inherit a sartorial legacy, it's a different story for the sons of the fashion industry – they learn fashion as a means of celebrating their mothers. Designer Emma Cook, whose pieces are stocked on Asos, Net-a-Porter and Matches and who has had several successful collaborations with Topshop, makes the most of her son's disinterest in what he wears.
"Sonny still lets me dress him pretty much," she says. "The best thing is being able to make him brilliant dressing-up costumes. It's my favourite thing, and I get a bit carried away – I made him into a pirate when he was two. It looked like early Galliano – I had to admit I'd gone a bit far."
In the end, a fashionable mother is the same as any other: someone you grow up with, take inspiration from, and who you may or may not end up turning into; it's all within a universally domestic frame of reference. "Sonny doesn't really understand my job," adds Cook. "He thinks it a shame I can't drive and do something more exciting."
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