The designers who are defining our times describe their most intimate and enduring of influences – that of their parents
There are few people who can claim such an imprint on our lives as our parents – for better or worse. Fashion designers, who have long sought to reimagine their experiences in cloth, find a rich repository of inspiration in their adolescence; sit down with a designer long enough and sooner or later the conversation will circle back to their mother or father, where their first memories of fashion likely began. Here, we look to five designers whose parents have had a profound impact on their work.
1. Alessandro Michele
“I am a result of my parents,” Alessandro Michele, the creative director of Gucci, told Susannah Frankel in the S/S18 issue of AnOther Magazine. As a designer whose approach is both visceral and eclectic, the two sides of his being can be traced back to each of his parents, a combination of the shamanic tendencies of a father who was a travelling technician for Italian airline Alitalia, and a mother with an appetite for cinema as an assistant to a film executive. “She was completely Hollywood and my dad was like a crazy shaman from the mountains,” he explains. “I inherited from them the idea of a very eclectic beauty.”
Such unexpected combinations have defined his work at the house – traversing centuries and place, he has drawn at once from the Florentine Renaissance, 1980s New York and outer space. Flourishes have come in the form of Daffy Duck and Snoopy, the stage costumes of Elton John, dinosaurs and references to Derrida and Barthes, among others. It was in his A/W18 collection, however, that his parents’ influence emerged to most dramatic effect: Michele evoked his father in playful takes on the corporate attire of Alitalia and nods to far off lands, and his mother in the Hollywood-calibre special effects, where models were accessorised with prosthetic severed heads, snakes and dragon puppies, carried in lieu of bags.
2. Raf Simons
Raf Simons’ mother and father, who spent their working lives as a cleaner and an army watchman respectively, were some of the first to make an investment in his eponymous label by way of a fax machine for his studio in Belgium. Since, they have become a regular fixture at his shows, most memorably embracing a tearful Simons after his debut haute couture show at Dior. Growing up in the countryside of Neerpelt, Belgium – “in the middle of nowhere, a village between cows and sheep,” he told American Vogue – his parents have been a steadfast support system for Simons and the people around him. (She insists on cooking meals for his driver.)
Such was Simons’ admiration for his parents that for his S/S15 collection he pasted photographs, taken throughout their lives, onto the garments – a collection he deemed “a kind of memory wear”. “I was always thinking of the future for so many years and I was always anti-romanticising the past,” Simons told Jo-Ann Furniss in Another Man S/S15. “But I have to admit the past can be beautiful too. There has never been a collection with so much of me personally attached to it.”
3. Molly Goddard
Those who attended Molly Goddard’s A/W18 show might have spotted the designer’s mother on the runway – not as a model, though Goddard is known for her intimate approach to casting, but fixing a steaming bain-marie ready to boil over, part of the kitchen-themed set that ran the show space’s length. Few designers have embraced family into their day-to-day working life quite as Goddard – Sarah Edwards is responsible for her daughter’s playful, memorable sets, which have ranged from a bacchanalian dinner party to a bed large enough for an entire cast of models, while Molly’s sister, Alice Goddard, styles the show.
“I’ve worked closely with my mum on the set design since my first show, we know each other’s references and tastes and she is the greatest perfectionist I know,” she tells AnOther. “She knows how to make something look incredible with very little money or resources which I would say is her greatest talent, and comes in handy when you are working with a tight budget. There is no wishy-washy polite chat!”
4. Simon Porte Jacquemus
Simon Porte Jacquemus, of eponymously titled womenswear (and, as of later this year, menswear) brand, Jacquemus, has but a single regret of his rapid ascent to fashion prominence of the last few years: that his mother wasn’t there to see it. “When I was 19, studying at fashion school in Paris, I felt lost. I didn’t know what I was,” he told Susanna Lau in AnOther Magazine A/W15. “Then, one month later, my mother died. My brand would be named after my mother’s maiden name, Jacquemus, and designed for the girl my mother was.” It means that she lives on – in every stitch and drape, the designer recalls her memory.
His S/S18 show was perhaps his most intimate ode yet, recalling summers spent in sun-drenched Marseille. “I was looking at a photograph of my mother walking through the port one summer,” he said. “She had a scarf around her head, and these ceramic earrings – and a pareo tied around her. She was always smiling and happy. People still stop me in the village and say, ‘Your mother? She was so beautiful!’” Earlier that year, he had staged an exhibition Marseille, je t’aime in the region, one that he continues to maintain a dialogue with in much of his work and life, with frequent trips taken southward. “I realised everything can stop tomorrow,” he said. “I told myself, ‘You need to live your life.’ Now I can be happy about it. I’m never sad. I’m not obsessed with being the best or the biggest. I just want to stay free.”
5. Matty Bovan
If people discuss Matty Bovan’s decision to move out of London post-Central Saint Martins MA to his native Yorkshire as a kind of self-imposed exile, in reality, it was anything but. Transporting his studio to a garage at the bottom of his parent’s garden made perfect sense, not least for the money he could save, ready to invest back into his collections. But it was the proximity to his parents – particularly his mother Plum Bovan, whose colourful outfits are documented via Instagram selfies – that lent new life to his clothing. The pleasure in his clothes, the sqiggles of yarn, of gathered objects, find its roots in the eccentricities of his upbringing. Now, Plum lends a hand to the shows themselves, creating the memorable jewellery; for A/W18 it was squashed clay faces, daubed with colour and dotted with pearls.
“My parents are highly influential in my early life and design inspirations,” he tells AnOther. “My dad grew up in Bradford and I used to go and see my grandma there, I remember going to all the amazing Indian fabric shops and buying all the scrap bags. My mum is always dressed expressively and creatively and more importantly for herself – which was a massive influence... I’m very lucky my parents have been always so supportive in me and my dreams.”
The full interview with Alessandro Michele originally featured in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of AnOther Magazine, which is on sale now.