Here’s hoping the matriarch prevails—or we’ll be the losers for it. Emphasis on prevail, because clearly she’s been a rising star of the fashion crowd, one not always so clearly defined yet her presence remains doubtless. Cult designer and famous returnee of 2023—Phoebe Philo herself—has intimated at this in her own way by including one very viral ‘Mum’ necklace in her eponymous label’s debut catalogue; one that sold out within all of 15 minutes after its virtual shelf was opened up to the whims of the Internet. It could be a coincidence, for one, but it’s one that welcomed speculation all the same.
“Was it more of a comment on her personal ‘return’ with the new label, balanced alongside the centrality of motherhood to her own life?” aptly ponders Dr Rosie Findlay, lecturer and feminist media scholar at City, University of London. It very well could have been, considering it is public knowledge that Philo’s taken time off to focus on her family in between her creative tenures at Chloé and Celine previously. Yet the resounding, wallet-opening response of her fashion devotees might be enough of an answer clad in steel: the mother—and whatever her connotations are—is someone well worth celebrating.
It’s hardly the first (or last) time the fashion crowd has lauded the matriarch in recent years. As if round one of fashionable pregnancy reveals in archival Chanel coats wasn’t enough, this time last year saw Rihanna cradling her superwoman bump on the Super Bowl LVII halftime stage—in no less than a crimson boiler suit, custom-made by Loewe for the pop star. Her first pregnancy reveal was one that commanded a magnitudinal shift in the sartorial scene on what maternity fashion can look like, but her second was a statement in the making: signalling the era of the multi-faceted woman.
Mother is mothering could not have rung truer in Riri’s case. But the original notion—one borrowed from drag culture—uses ‘mother’ to elevate any woman in her prime onto a pedestal. What is key to the conversation however, is to question our altered perceptions on who the matriarch is now. And why we’ve begun to use it to wield strength in femininity. Once associated with the domestic space, we’ve rebranded her to a very different image of the female. “She’s a powerful woman in the flush of her power and career, with charisma, style and commanding presence. There’s something so aspirational about that vision of an adult woman being ‘in her era’—no matter what is going on in her life,” adds Dr Findlay. In essence, we’ve reclaimed her.
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Recent luxury fashion campaigns—think Pamela Anderson for Proenza Schouler or Maggie Smith for Loewe—have carried a similar sentiment; one that shone the light on the glamorous dis-glamour of a woman in her ripest years (mother or not), spotlighting the counter-image of what fashion has always sought to conceal. These disparate phenomena—Phoebe Philo’s deliciously witty accessory entry, Rihanna’s entire maternity catalogue, Anderson’s renaissance—may very well be coincidental. Yet perhaps a vis-a-vis look at how the industry is responding as a whole might be equally necessary.
At its core, it’s clear we’ve begun to put a focus on the real, the messy and the tangled up versions of ourselves. On the runway, mum-core is a thing—only it’s unlike the glorified rich mum energy you see famous figures like Angelina Jolie emulating out on the streets. Instead, Miuccia Prada was a proponent for showing the other side, so she sent out her models at Miu Miu’s spring/summer 2024 show in greasy, frazzled-up tresses, wearing unconventional ensembles whilst hugging bags stuffed to the brim—exactly how you’d expect your mum friend to look while picking her kid from childcare.
That same sense of disarray and purposeful mess has been translated in kind on social media. Simply check your FYP for attempts at emulating forever-style icon (and mother of three) Jane Birkin, who used to stuff the luxury namesake to ruin (“Jane Birkin-ifying my bag” as the TikTok zeitgeist would call it). After all, it was a bag created because the style savant expressed that she couldn’t find a bag that could fit all her needs as a young mother. The woman had errands to run and a life to live—her wardrobe was just the means of living it out in notoriously better style than everyone else. “It’s a reflection of a kind of restlessness and desire that arose after the pandemic. Dressing for the new kinds of days we want to have. Dressing against the uncertainty and anxiety of the times in which we live. To get dressed up in a polished way; to look more ‘adult’ through styling and to develop a wacky, independent style of our own. And looking to stylish figures of the past to inform how we go about it,” informs Dr Findlay who attributes it all to an overall phenomenon of idiosyncratic dressing.
“The most stylish people always want to just look like themselves: to be true to their own vision. Designers have celebrated this over the years by sending models down the runway who are styled differently from one another,” she adds. It just so happens that one of the most ‘real’ characters one can design for happens to be the role of the mother—in all her sleepless nights and mismatched socks hours. And the best designers are finally properly empathising with that mood, by weaving it into their clothes.
At Loewe, the runway saw a development in silhouettes that indulged the female body and remained playful still—think extremely high-waisted pants that could be worn for effortless utility or those oversized, longline cable-knit sweaters any busy mother would love to shrug into. Nothing too perfect though, if we’re to recall how Jonathan Anderson sent out those coats somehow caught up in the models’s shoulder bags. Molly Goddard prioritised showing the inside-outs of her dresses, whilst also being playful about how they came across. The wool cardigans and washed-out fabrics sewn to incompleteness were all very grandma-core at first sight, yet desirable in its carefree, mussed-up spirit.
So the clothes may feel accidental, as do the instances. But what reigns true is how fashion’s finally begun to actually see every side of the woman, and make space for who she is. A mother she may be, but she’s also got a business to run, brunch plans with her crew, therapy sessions to attend and a girls’ night out when the clubs hit the deck with her favourite hits of the decade. And she’s doing it all in her own sartorial brand; whether it be a cosy sweater, a pair of kitten heels she’s chanced upon recently, or one not-so-subtle neck accessory. One thing’s for certain though: she shouldn’t need a power blazer to show for it. For she’s mother indeed—but so much more.