There is a picture taken of my parents around 1976 on the first night of their cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II. It was their only proper vacation in years. My father wears a pink ruffled shirt that would have embarrassed Liberace and a grim expression that says, "I can't believe no one told me the first night was formal dress and I had to buy this ridiculous costume in the ship's boutique." My mother is all 1970s glamour in a long sea-foam skirt (it was probably called "aqua" in those days) and her signature lipstick, red as a London bus.
My mom, who still wears that shade today, would shudder at the idea of a nice neutral peach. I'm not sure that I have ever seen her without crimson lips. First thing in the morning, she's got Rita Hayworth's mouth. Same with last thing at night. Other people sleepwalk; I think that she sleep-applies-lipstick.
All mothers seem impossibly glamorous to their little girls. Mine certainly did. Even though she had four children and a full-time job as a nurse in a busy Toronto hospital, there was always time to throw on a gold chain and a dash of White Shoulders (she carried a jug of it in her purse and frequently used it to disinfect our minor cuts and scrapes over our screams of protest.)
Although I will never be her equal, I like to think that I have learned important lessons from my mother: A head held high and a great pair of sunglasses beats designer labels any day. And why on earth would you buy the beige trench coat when there's a red one hanging right next to it?
What an intriguing triangle it makes, mothers and daughters and style. Some women grow up to be adoring replicas of their mothers, sneaking in at night to steal vintage cashmere sweaters, while others run screaming from the closet, shedding tailored suits in favour of ripped jeans and Dr. Martens.
Style is a ribbon that ties generations, a mutual respect that flows both ways: Just look at Gwyneth Paltrow, Blythe Danner and their sun-kissed Smith College glow or Liza Minnelli and Judy Garland singing Hooray for Love together, united not only by the glory of their voices but their sleek white capris and bat-wing lashes.
In some cases, the stylish collaboration becomes professional. Designer Carolina Herrera's daughters, Patricia and Carolina, work for her as creative consultants, and it can only be a matter of time before Harper Beckham learns to tuck and pin at mother Victoria's side (she has to learn to walk first, of course).
Imagine being a normal teenager, annoyed by your mom and her dire fashion sense. Then imagine that your mother wore cone bras in public and published a book called Sex . The horror! Yet somehow Lourdes Leon, budding style maven, rose above teenage angst to team with her mother Madonna on Material Girl, a line of girls' and young women's clothing.
According to Madonna, Lourdes is the real creative force behind the label. As the singer said in an interview in 2010, "I just stand in the background and go, 'That's cool. That's not cool.' "
In Montreal, another mother-daughter team is also embarking on a fashion experiment. Designer Marisa Minicucci and her 26-year-old daughter, Anissa Marcanio, have launched a new line of women's jackets called Minicucci X Marcanio. Here are two generations linked by style: Minicucci has been a designer for 30 years and her daughter is a graduate of the fashion program at LaSalle College. Marcanio remembers her mother making her a pair of reversible shorts when she was a girl; later her mother took her to fashion shows. "I didn't think she was glamorous because she was just my mom," Marcanio says. "Until I saw the other kids' moms."
On this team, one is tailored, the other a bit more rock 'n' roll. Marcanio's teenaged rebellion involved diving headfirst into goth culture. "I said to her, 'I don't mind as long as you do it right,' " says her mother. "You've got to have a look. Don't go half way." Marcanio walked around in giant boots with six-inch platforms.
More recently, she bought her mother a pair of white Converse high-tops, which Minicucci wears everywhere. One generation influences the other, in its own clothing choices and in the designs of their jackets. Marcanio scolds Minicucci when her mother wears anything too matronly: "She doesn't act like a grandma. Why should she dress like one? She's really beautiful and I always want her to feel that way."
It's a refreshing twist on the old stereotype of a daughter worrying that her mother is dressing too young. And it reminds me, when I get off the phone with the designers, that it's time to visit my own mother. We've got some lipstick to buy.