After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Charlotte de Geyter worked in Simone Rocha’s design studio in London and could have headed to Milan, where a job at a prestigious label was on offer. Instead, she called her mum, Bernadette, a former buyer for Ralph Lauren and a vintage fashion obsessive, and suggested they start a brand together. “Which, of course, I was up for from the very first second,” says Bernadette. “This felt like the biggest dream, for a mother.” Their brand – called Bernadette – has had a hit first season on Net-a-Porter and will be expanding into Browns and Selfridges later this year.
Luisa Beccaria, whose graceful, dreamy dresses have been worn by Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman, was pregnant with the first of her five children when she opened her original boutique in Milan 30 years ago. That baby, Lucilla Bonaccorsi, grew up to join her mother in the design studio.
The mother and daughter duo as fashion’s new power couple is a global phenomenon. As well as Bernadette in Antwerp and Luisa Beccaria in Milan, there is childrenswear label Bella + Frank, based in Brighton and helmed by Lesley Goudman-Peachey and her daughter Hannah Peachey-Thacker. In California, the label House of Aama is “the spiritual expression of mother and daughter duo Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka in material form”, with an aesthetic that takes inspiration from the designers’ cultural heritage as African Americans. Meanwhile, in Hawarden, north Wales, Lettie Pattinson and her mum, Sally, a fashion lecturer, sell cult vegan bomber jackets from their joint label, TDS, from home.
The patriarchy is so last year; the matriarchy is way more chic. Women in the fashion industry increasingly identify as champions of female empowerment. This goes beyond feminist slogans on T-shirts into asserting the primacy of the matriarchal line as a counterweight to traditional patriarchal power structures. The role of fashion designer is one of anointed tastemaker – and it is a role that has historically been occupied mostly by men. Therefore, the position being held by more women suggests an assertion of the female point of view. The fact it is being held by combinations of women of different generations reflects the volume dial gradually being turned up on the voices of older women, who have long been overlooked in fashion.
Maria Grazia Chiuri, the designer of Christian Dior, has put feminism at the heart of the house since becoming its first female creative lead in 2016. She is very close to her twentysomething daughter Rachele, who is always to be found at her side on show day and whom she credits with expanding her horizons to see fashion in a political context. “For my generation, fashion was something playful”, Chiuri said in a recent interview. “I never thought about cultural appropriation or gender. My daughter has helped me understand all these arguments and that they are so important for the next generation.” Chiuri’s Dior show last month included T-shirts emblazoned with “Sisterhood Is Global”, in celebration of the international women’s movement anthology of that name by the author Robin Morgan. “I want Dior to be about collaborating with other women to support one another’s point of view,” Chiuri said.
These mother-and-daughters are increasingly power couples. As such, they find the assumption that they squabble over the kitchen table cliched and sexist. “Usually, one of the first questions we hear, strangely, is: ‘Do you fight a lot?’ Which isn’t the case,” says Charlotte de Geyter.
That is not to say it is easy. “Of course, a family business is difficult,” says Luisa Beccaria. “Patience and tolerance are needed between the generations. But it is a wonderful challenge – and an incredible experience to share the fear and stress of such a difficult job between a mother and daughter.” Her daughter describes their personalities as opposites – “My mother is direct, to the point and can be fierce. My way is more discreet” – but says that they “fight together for the same aims” much more than they disagree.
When they hear that she works with her mum, “sometimes people say: ‘That’s so cute!’ which really annoys me”, says Lettie Pattinson. “There’s nothing cute about grafting through the night! I am so proud that I get to work alongside my amazing mum. We have managed to turn our passions into a global brand based on our relationship and skill sets. I lost my dad at 16 and my mum has been my rock. I am really proud of how we both turned our grief into something truly wonderful for both of us.”
Not that their relationship brings immunity from workplace bugbears. “What really bugs me is tidiness,” says Sally Pattinson. “I am a very organised worker. I like to start each day in a clear and calm environment.” Lettie is “a lot more laid back” about the workspace, tending “to let the mess build up before I do an extreme clear up. So that’s something we don’t get on so well with!”
The generation gap can work in positive ways. House of Aama – named after one of Akua’s middle names, meaning “the benevolent one” – began when Akua developed an interest in upcycling her clothes in high school. “I had a sewing machine, so I could help,” says her mother, Rebecca Henry. This evolved into a fashion brand which draws on folklore, nostalgia and the experience and aesthetic of their ancestors in the postbellum US south. “Akua has a skill set that I do not have in regards to social media,” says Rebecca. “However, I am also a practising attorney and sometimes I use that for extra clout and credibility.”
When it comes to generational taste, stereotypes no longer apply. “We often have different views as creatives, but I don’t think there’s a real pattern to it,” says Hannah Peachey-Thacker of Bella + Frank. “We both like what we call ‘magpie culture’ and are more likely to be inspired by a 1920s wood-and-brass gramophone or a Victorian bell jar than anything ‘generational’.” In these duos, the senior partner is as likely to be the more flamboyant as the more sedate. Charlotte de Geyter favours a more minimal aesthetic – “I have days when I want a Carolyn Bessette moment, wearing a black oversized men’s coat with a white T-shirt and one of our black satin skirts” – whereas Bernadette loves “not taking anything too seriously – for instance, I would wear furry pink Miu Miu slippers with one of our ivory satin dresses with red flowers and big vintage earrings. I love some clash and challenge.”
The ideal of the stylish mother-and-daughter duo is not new. But where the old tropes of mini-me dressing are rooted in ideals of cookie-dough domesticity, these partnerships are as entrepreneurial as they are aesthetic, with the mother-daughter bond flexed as a power base from which to conquer the world. However, there is some old-fashioned kitchen-table support at work here, too. “When it comes to meetings with the accountant, I’m so thankful to have Mum at my side,” says Lettie Pattinson. “Anything maths-based, I turn to mum with a look and she knows to step in and take control.”