From artists such as Paul Cézanne and Andy Warhol to fashion greats including Yves Saint Laurent and Virgil Abloh, the mothers – and mother figures – of many of the world’s most prominent creative types often play the role of muse. For example, fashion designer Michael Kors, an only child who was raised by a gaggle of stylish women, credits an aunt with opening his eyes to the power of the colour camel.
In honour of Mother’s Day on May 9, five Canadians who design in fashion and interiors share how these women influence their work.
Kirk Pickersgill translated his mother Lois’s fashion sense into one of 2021′s most iconic dresses
“My perception of style and beauty has almost exclusively been informed by my mother,” Kirk Pickersgill says. The designer, who’s the Constantine (his grandfather’s name) in Toronto-based fashion label Greta Constantine, says watching his mother, Lois, in the 1970s left a particular impression. It was the era when disco, actor Diahann Carroll, designer Bob Mackie and Ebony magazine were at their height. More importantly, he says, “women were independent, they were strong and they were free.”
“Glamour was as much as what you were wearing as it was how you carried yourself,” he says. One particular silhouette he remembers his mother wearing regularly was her “Saturday best,” a look featuring an empire-waist and A-line skirt that hit the floor. When work began on the Greta Constantine spring 2021 collection, Toronto was heading into a pandemic lockdown and Pickersgill says the team was looking to create clothes that would offer hope. “The first thing that came to mind was that dress,” he says. Sleeves were adapted and a spirited citron silk faille fabric was selected, but the idea and the emotion it evoked remained unchanged.
Lois’s “Saturday best” would go on to be worn by the poet Amanda Gorman when she appeared on the cover of Time magazine following her address at the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden in January. “I felt like the countless smiles that marked my Saturday mornings could now be shared with the world,” Pickersgill says. Needless to say, Lois was proud. Her first words when she saw the cover and honed in on the dress, Pickersgill recalls, were, “I gave birth to him!”
Daej Hamilton’s mother, Simone, taught her how furniture can reinvent a space
Daej Hamilton’s sleek furniture and domestic objects are meticulously crafted by hand. They’re evocative of mid-century design but clearly made with modern life in mind. Hamilton inherited her eye for design from her mother, Simone, who she says fell in love with interiors via magazines while growing up in Etobicoke, Ont. For young Simone, arranging spaces quickly became a way of “playing dress-up.” While Simone would later study interior design, unforeseen circumstances left her no choice but to drop out.
As a child, Hamilton remembers noticing that the furniture in her home was often slightly rearranged, something that even at an early age had her thinking about design and how furniture should be used in a spaces. But Hamilton admits that when it comes to aesthetics, mother and daughter do differ. “When we do agree, it has to do with colour,” she says.
Among Simone’s greatest words of advice, is “your price is your price,” Hamilton says. ”She would ensure that I knew my worth and that what I’m doing is important. She recognized my value before I did.” Today, Simone, who is a certified home stager, is completing that interior design degree.
Mother Yvonne, aunt Carol and cousin Joanne each contributed to Calgary interior designer Louis Duncan-He’s eye for detail
Louis Duncan-He credits a trio of women with helping him develop his creative perspective. Duncan-He and his mother, Yvonne, arrived in Canada from Shanghai in 1989. In Vancouver to greet them was his mother’s sister, Carol. “She was undoubtedly the matriarch of our entire family,” Duncan-He says. Also in the home was an older cousin, Joanne, a stylish fashion major who would become central in his introduction to the world of design. “Joanne opened my eyes to a new creative world of possibility, one which broke from the stereotypical expectations associated with Asian culture.”
When he came out as a teenager, his mother had a difficult time, Duncan-He says. “She didn’t really understand what it meant to be gay.” Yvonne, he reports, has gone from being less than thrilled about his creative career and queer identity to being one of his biggest fans.
Like the great room arrangers before him, Duncan-He has an eye for detail. He describes the outfits and rooms that he remembers these women inhabiting as if it were just yesterday. He even recalls an early fascination with his aunt Carol’s glittering engagement ring, a piece of jewellery that would inspire the one that his now husband gave to him when they tied the knot.
A globetrotting spirit connects fashion designer Lesley Hampton and her mother, Louise
The fashion designer Lesley Hampton, a member of Temagami First Nation in Northern Ontario, identifies as a “Third Culture Kid” after having spent her early years moving from one spot to the next. “If you ask anyone in my immediate family, ‘Where are you from?’ We have extreme difficulty answering,” she says. Her father’s work had the family of four relocating regularly. “We are global citizens, living in a third culture that is between and all encompassing of our indigeneity, our international experiences and our family values.”
Hampton characterizes her mother Louise’s life as “a pursuit of adventure,” an outlook that she has gladly inherited. “My mom taught me to explore,” she says. Hampton’s first interaction with a sewing machine was thanks to her mother too. “There was always a space allocated for creativity,” she says. The pair also share a passion for textiles. Fabric shopping is something they do together wherever they are in the world. “For us, it’s always an exploration for local craft, art and design.”
When asked how her mother would describe her daughter’s work, Hampton says she would first refer to her as a Toronto fashion designer. “But she would elaborate and say that I am so much more than that: That I take all the places I’ve grown up in, that developed my sense of inclusivity and diversity, and include those pillars in my fashion design every single day.”
Dayle Sheehan’s mom, Dani, and aunt Heather taught her how to build a business – and a beautiful home
Although Dayle Sheehan, an in-demand interior designer in Calgary, says her predilection for minimal, ordered spaces came from her mother, Dani, and aunt Heather, you quickly get the sense that the greatest gift these two women passed on was their entrepreneurial spirit. “Natural leadership skills, her kind presence and her deep understanding of business,” says Sheehan, who confirms her mother was successful in everything she set her mind to.
Heather is currently a strategy coach for entrepreneurs and came to the profession after starting a number of successful businesses herself. But she also has a passion for interiors. “I have utilized her throughout the years and we have a ton of fun working together,” Sheehan says.
She recalls her mom’s attention detail when it came to running her family’s home, something that has affected the way Sheehan designs the houses of her clients. “You have to ensure the homeowner’s daily flow is taken into consideration,” she says. “Your home needs to make sense for your life.” When doing one of her speaking engagements, Sheehan, who lost her mobility as a teenager and speaks about accessibility in design, often talks about the importance of designing the happiest home, something she clearly experienced first-hand.