My mother is the reason for my love of great outfits. My mom planned every detail of my appearance from the bows on the top of my head to the frilly dresses that I wore to family events. She would select ribbons and beads for me to make headbands to match my school uniform. And she would choose fabrics for mommy-and I to wear in the form a mommy-and me dress. Fashion was a part of my life at every moment. My mom taught me fashion was not a vanity thing. It is a way for a woman to navigate the world and help her get clarity about who she is and where she wants to be. My mom taught me how I could look my best, no matter what it meant to me.
This shared love is the foundation of my relationship with mom. As teenagers, we would go on weekly shopping trips to the mall together. I would pick out clothes for her and she would be my stylist. When I moved out of her apartment, she even gifted me a Vogue adult coloring book so we could bond over our amateur art at a distance. For me, my love for fashion is an aspect of love to my mom.
We are mainly relegated to sharing #OOTD inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, with me in NYC and her in Puerto Rico. That all changed in 2020 when the pandemic forced me to live with her for five more months.
We were both inspired by the promise of IRL office return after vaccinations. I sent her photos of some of Princess Diana’s monochrome suits. She spent hours in the fabric shop, one of very few left in Caguas, looking through the many options of organza, silk, taffeta and cotton fabrics, to discover the right linen and polyester blends for making mix-and-matchable suits.
I was able, with $250, to purchase fabrics for an eight-piece capsule collection that included back-to-work clothes. These outfits are, to my mind, priceless. What really excites me is the chance to work again with my mom. Our fashionable relationship is stronger than ever because we are now two adults. After many years of living in New York City and writing about fashion, I am able to bring an aesthetic sensibility that is in line with the current runway and street style trends. My mom’s amazing sewing skills, which she has mastered for more than 30 years, help me turn my vision into actual garments. If we were to do this full-time, I’d be a creative director and my mom would be the atelier’s premiere.
This bond is not exclusive to us. “Fashion is an important part of our relationship – we have gone through many chapters in our lives where fashion played a different role,” stated Charlotte de Geyter. She, along with Bernadette de Geytor launched Bernadette’s brand in 2018. “Having our brand together was a completely different and exciting chapter in our relationship.”
Antwerp-based mother-daughter team creates ready-to wear and home collections. They exude the same classically chic aesthetic that they channel in their personal life.
Bernadette, a fashion lover throughout her life and former buyer for Ralph Lauren’s, saved many of her clothes and kept them in storage until Charlotte was old enough for them to be worn. Charlotte said that she feels like she is able to connect with her mom through the clothes she wore in her twenties. Much like me and my mom, Charlotte and Bernadette spent Charlotte’s childhood perusing stores, particularly an Antwerp-based luxury boutique called Cocodrilo, where the two marveled at the shoes.
Akua Shabak, Rebecca Henry of House of Aama and Rebecca Henry of House of Aama believe that fashion started with crafts. Henry learned sewing and knitting as a child and passed these skills on to her daughter.
Henry said, “When [Akua] was in high school and wanted to upcycle and make her own clothes, I was there for her.” They started an Etsy shop that sold upcycled clothing they had made. Now, they’re CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund honorees, with a New York Fashion Week show under their belt. Henry is the master sewer. Shabak, however, is the creative leader and, according to her mother, the boss. “She’s the one who whips everyone into shape.”
Henry and Shabak are folklorists and historians who dive into their family’s history through their collections. “Bloodroot”, their debut collection, was inspired by their Southern heritage and the post-Antebellum period. Their latest collection, “Salt Water”, reflects on the complex relationship Black people have to water. It covers everything from the joyful and painful to the religious and cultural. It is a focus on Black resort communities such as Manhattan Beach, California, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Although my mom and I haven’t shown our collaborations yet at New York Fashion Week, the five-month process of creating clothes together was challenging and rewarding. It also strengthened our relationship.
The first piece was a two-piece gray checked suit with padded shoulders and oversized ’80s shoulder pads. My mom would always ask me to go into her sewing room and get fitted. This transported me back to my childhood. Even though it was decades ago, I still remember the basics: Get undressed, wait patiently, be careful of sharp pins and then repeat. I was able to suggest a shorter hemline or a higher button this time.
The rest of the suits were completed quickly. My mom used to lock herself in her home atelier for hours and only occasionally would come out to ask questions or to fit me. She never hung the final garments. Instead, she placed them on her mannequin for me to check if there were any adjustments. She made four suits in three months. She finished the suits with her nameake logo.
It was all about seeing how my mom cared that my clothes expressed who I am. She was thrilled about the possibility that I would return to work and wear her suits at New York Fashion Week. She still uses clothes to help me navigate the realities of being a young lady all these years later.
As I packed the suits for my return trip to New York, I was determined to take care of them as a family heirloom. I wore one of the suits, a monochrome, bright-yellow two-piece, for an interview via video chat a few weeks later. It felt like my mom was launching my adult life into the next stage and bonding me even further.