Posted on October 15 2015
Working The Style Juggle by Dolly Jones
AFTER 12 years at Vogue I was nervous that pregnancy might signal a career nosedive - eight weeks in and feeling gigantically sick, I couldn't hide it any longer - but Alexandra Shulman's positive reaction was my first experience of the "club": of fashion's working mothers and their merry-go-round of split personalities: wardrobes (mortgage-worthy heels vs whatever's nearest the pram); eating habits (salmon and avocado arrangements for breakfast; leftover fishfingers for supper), socialising and thinking habits.
Feeling judged for your choices - if you're lucky enough to be able to choose - is inevitable whether you work full time, part time or never again; whether you wait before having a child or not; even whether you have more than one. It's a mighty challenge; one that many millennial women are considering earlier in their careers. and the fashion industry, with its associated rigorous glamour, strange international calendar and competitive workforce, might be as difficult an environment as any for it.
But plenty of families thrive. "Happy mother equals happy child," says Charlotte Dellal, whose business, Charlotte Olympia, has grown globally over the six years she has produced three sons. "Doing it concurrently worked because I knew no different - I always wanted both." It takes, she says, "being as organised as you can but remembering eventually to embrace chaos."
For Margherita Missoni, motherhood inspired a change of pace. Her son Otto arrived when her "hands were as full as they could possibly be" as head of accessories at Missoni. So she left the family business and "Missoni Childrenswear was born", convincing her that being a parent should ease stress levels. "Go with the flow and you'll learn to navigate your life," she advises. Julia Restoin Roitfeld, fellow fashion pure-blood and mother of three-year-old Romy, agrees: "I've accepted that guilt will be part of my life but you have to learn not be hard on yourself."
Guilt, says Dellal, is the biggest problem. "It wastes time - you feel bad if you're working, and bad if you're not. I try to enjoy time with my children and enjoy work too. My trick is to keep having more," she jokes. "It's easier for everyone when they have each other."
Alexandra's career advice to me was clear: sort childcare early. She hadn't, she said, and it made the return more difficult. Three years and two children later it's still key. I joke occasionally that I'd rather my husband left me than our nanny, Gemma, did (#notactuallyjoking).
There are all sorts of helpful secrets. The Charlotte Olympia office boasts a drawer full of treats and first aid kits everywhere - "not just for my children - you never know who might bring one in". Lulu Kennedy, whose daughter Rainbow was born in 2014, swears by an early bedtime because "being tired makes it stressful." Having found her nanny moonlighting on Richard Nicoll's design team, Kennedy has learned to accept help from the right people, too: "Flexibility is key."
Some compensate with extra weekend ice cream - or teach children to associate treats with childcare to avoid early morning tears. For Emilia Wickstead, whose daughter arrived to coincide with her first London Fashion Week show two-and-a-half years ago, followed by her son directly after the autumn/winter collections in February, exercise plays a big part: "It's so hard to find time but it's good for everything: motherhood, marriage, work. Your mind needs it most of all."
Once the guilt battle is won, work can even aid parenting. "It's a great outlet for 'me' time - using your brain in a different way," says Sabine Brunner, CEO of Bonpoint. With tolerance levels high at the end of the day, the 'witching hour' of bath and bedtime can be release from a difficult day in the office. And occasionally forfeiting routine for a jigsaw puzzle session sorts everybody's head out.
Conversely, many associate parenting with career success. 'If you want something done, ask someone busy', certainly applies to working mothers - and for some it adds perspective. "Big problems don't seem as mountainous any more; my approach is more level headed," says Sophia Webster, whose daughter Bibi Blossom was born last September. "Fashion Week was shortly after the birth so I just bought a baby carrier and made it work. I would moan and say it's tough juggling everything but then I remind myself that I design shoes for a living and that's pretty much the dream for me."
New-found confidence, too, can be game-changing. "I've tried to take a positive attitude to work but always lacked confidence," says model Erin O'Connor, whose son was born last year. "Now I'm determined on behalf of someone else." And it's a catalyst for entrepreneurship. From the Netmums millions to Katie Massie-Taylor and Sarah Hesz's Mush (think Tinder-meets-NCT), post-parental success stories are everywhere: Alice Rothschild's Dotty Dungarees; her cousin Natasha Ascott's Muddy Puddles; former Tatler fashion director Anna Bromilow's Little Circle; Restoin Roitfeld's babywear range launching this summer; Dellal's Incy for Girls will be followed shortly by the boy's version. Stella, Roksanda and Webster all did it - apparently babies make good business sense.
Second time around, I read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In; tales of her uncomfortable pregnancies providing comfort as my body ballooned painfully. Leaning in as far as I could without rolling over meant a promotion to work for a new, male, childless boss. Thrilled and intimidated - not unlike being pregnant in fact - I wondered what could fall short. My children's happiness? (not an option - in case anyone was raising an eyebrow); my marriage? (ditto). And a half-hearted approach to work would make it pointless. If it was going to do it, I was going to do it hard (thanks Sheryl).
Mark Zuckerberg's "done is better than perfect" applied liberally makes life easier. When guilt does kick in, I ask "Are the children safe? Happy? Loved?" Yes. Breathe.
It's hard sometimes. "Travelling is the worst," says Dellal. "But I wouldn't be me without work. I'm a mother but that doesn't mean I don't have to work. I'm also a homemaker but I couldn't be that 100% of the time either."
"I'm passionate about both roles," says Wickstead, "There's no reason you can't be."
Some women campaign for workplace crèches; for others the worlds don't collide. I've never taken my children to a fashion show - an ostensibly childfree environment doesn't feel right to me. My son tells people I go to work to get money to buy cake and I like the idea that in his head I spend all day searching out treats for him. Which I sort of do.
For Browns founder Joan Burstein - who married in 1946 - a career "wasn't even a consideration", while motherhood was a given. "But as I got involved in the business, being a mother made me work harder to give my children the things I wanted to," she says. "I have never resented working, ever."
"I was lucky to realise both aspirations. My advice to working mothers today? No regrets."
"Fashion is no different to any other field when it comes to working and parenting," says Shulman. "You have to accept that you can't have perfection in every aspect. It demands compromises and it's vital to remember that, so long as they enjoy the company of who is there instead of you, they don't really mind you not being present providing that when you are, you focus on them. A mother who is constantly checking Instagram is very annoying to children. They want your undivided attention and I felt that since so much of my time I wasn't there, I was happy to give it when I was."
Above all, remember to enjoy it. The sound of my key in the lock prompts a little human to bomb towards the front door, followed by a speedy crawling version - both searching out cake, probably. Any marathon is worth running if that's the finish line - we end up "talking about our day" - a pre-bedtime chat through the details: from how many Shreddies were eaten to the colour of my train home. We may not have spent the day together but we share every minute of it.
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