Reclaiming Motherhood On The Runway

Reclaiming Motherhood On The Runway

Elena Velez fall 2022Photo: Isidore Montag / Courtesy of Elena Velez

On the runways this season, the most unusual thing wasn’t the water-balloon gloves at Botter, nor was it the model that wore a mirrored sphere as a dress at J.W. Anderson. It wasn’t even the fact that Alessandro Michele found 68 pairs of twins, or identical-looking models, to walk down the runway at Gucci—though that was close! But no, it was the various collections whose designers seemed to have family on their minds and featured their clothes on pregnant models, or otherwise paired them with children in mommy-and-me (or daddy-and-me) looks.

Wiederhoeft spring 2023 Photo: Daniele Oberrauch /
Di Petsa spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Di Petsa
Cormio spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Cormio

It started in New York, where a pregnant model, dressed in a gold satin cropped top and miniskirt adorned with bows, a golden spiral covering her belly, walked Wiederhoeft’s show. It was an unexpected vision in Jackson Wiederhoeft’s fantastic world. In London, Dimitra Petsa showed Grecian-style draped gowns on pregnant models, as well as a mother and daughter in matching swimsuits.

Are mothers having a moment? I half-joked with my colleague. (I had a baby in early January so the topic is top of mind.) Then at Cormio’s show in Milan, a ringer T-shirt with an image of a mother duck and a duckling in a pond read “Motherhood: The only place you can experience heaven and hell at the same time. Excuse the mess…the children are making memories.” Three’s a trend, I reminded myself. But by the time the Paris shows rolled around and Demna sent out young men wearing baby carriers (with animatronic babies inside), as they traipsed through the mud at Balenciaga, it was undeniable that something new was afoot.

Cormio spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Cormio
Marine Serre spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Marine Serre
Marine Serre spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Marine Serre

Not that this came out of nowhere. The designer Marine Serre, known for a futuristic vision that leans both utopian and eerily apocalyptic (she sent out logo-ed purifying air masks at her February 2020 show in Paris), makes a habit of showing different versions of families on her runways. “For me, a fashion show should make you feel a similar experience to sitting on a park bench where you watch snippets of life happen,” she explained via email. “Families, children, and dogs are a part of everyday life, and I always want to incorporate that sense of relatability in my shows.” Her spring 2023 collection featured matching pink jacquard moon and diamond patterned looks for the whole family. Elena Velez, who just won Emerging Designer of the Year at the CFDA Awards, often invokes motherhood as a starting point for her collections. At her fall 2022 show, the closing look was a long black semi-sheer dress with a teardrop-shaped rip that ran from the breasts to right underneath the belly button; its model carried a baby wrapped in gathered black fabric on one arm. Her spring 2023 collection featured her signature corsetry details, cutouts that exposed the stomach, and breasts caged underneath buckles and straps. There were no pregnant bodies or babies on the runway (though Julia Fox sat in the audience with her young son), but The Mother was certainly present. “My collections are chronicles of womanhood as I experience it in the world,” she said via email this week.

Balenciaga spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Balenciaga

What’s most interesting is the fact that the designers engaging these subjects are often young, and their work exists outside the status quo, with a point of view that explores more decidedly unconventional aesthetics. That these designers should be seen as embracing “traditional family values,” is the last thing expected of them, but that’s exactly why it makes perfect sense for them to explore. Few things read as historically uncool as being a mom or a dad, and if this generation has reclaimed and recontextualized the notions of good and bad taste, made dad sneakers and mom jeans cool, why not the concept of motherhood itself?

“At the risk of sounding ‘conservative’ or ‘trad,’ I feel like society today makes motherhood and focus towards family out to be some sort of undesirable and unambitious default for having failed at your plan A,” Velez told me. “I think we’re slowly but surely coming out of a really toxic zeitgeist around what motherhood and family is and isn’t.” Jezabelle Cormio felt similarly after she got pregnant, “At first I thought I was gonna be ‘that girl who could have had potential, but then she had a baby’,” she tells me laughing, “I knew that it was an unfair thing to even fathom, but I knew I was gonna have to fight that concept for a long time. I didn’t think [motherhood] was going to inspire me, but I do take a lot of inspiration from frustration or anger or friction. So it’s not a surprise to me that I was inspired by it.” Cormio’s show featured an array of both men and women in revealing clothes—wrap miniskirts with cutouts at the hip, a jacket with a velvet ribbon tie at the neck exposing a lacy bra, clingy knits, lots of lingerie-inspired details. “What I wanted to capture in the collection is that you don’t fundamentally change. You don’t ever go to a club again, you are allowed to go out and have a sexuality and be a dynamic person. You just have to negotiate [your time around it.]”

Di Petsa spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Di Petsa
Jean Paul Gaultier Couture by Olivier Rousteing fall 2022 Photo: Isidore Montag /

Petsa agrees. “You don’t have to ‘lose yourself,’ or your eroticism when you create a family,” she explained. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why her sensuous Grecian-style draped gowns have become the defacto dress for celebrity pregnancy photoshoots as seen on Gigi Hadid’s and Nicki Minaj’s Instagram posts. “For me also the idea of maternity is very expansive—we can be maternal in the love we give to others and to ourselves,” she added. “I think there is an urge to reclaim and rewrite the idea and image of motherhood and to see it from the point of embodiment and physical connection.”

Creating connection and fostering communities are certainly characteristics of the new generation of designers, whose work is made for and revolves around a specific group of individuals that they’d be likely to call ‘their chosen family.’ In New York, Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour has long emphasized familial ties with the unconventional casting of her shows.

Marques’Almeida spring 2023 Photo: Courtesy of Marques’Almeida
Collina Strada spring 2023 Photo: Daniele Oberrauch /

With things threatening to fall apart around us, human connection becomes more important — all we have is each other. Designers exploring their identity and honestly portraying the world as they move through it is making for more diversity in fashion, and yet I never expected to see my own experience as a new mother reflected on the runways. Choosing to be a parent at this time often feels a little crazy, but oh, how electrifying to see these designers building a new language around family and community.

This article was originally published on Vogue.

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