My Mother’s Clothes: A Photographer/Writer Explores A Life Through Fashion

BY JEANNETTE MONTGOMERY BARRON

My Mother's Clothes

My Mother's Clothes

My mother Eleanor Morgan Montgomery Atuk had an undying love for clothes. She wore, loved, and befriended classic American and European designers. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and her memory began to fade, I decided to photograph her clothing as a way of both sparking my mother’s memories and coping with my own sense of loss.

With the publication of My Mother’s Clothes, I have attempted to create a portrait of my late mother through still life images of her cherished clothing, shoes, and personal possessions. The book became one part fashion diary, one part personal memoir, one part loving memory, and one part celebration.

As you can probably gather, my mother was widely acknowledged as a great dresser. She loved exquisite clothes, especially those by designers Bill Blass, Yves Saint Laurent, Halston, and Norman Norell – some of whom she even called friends. She was fearless when it came to fashion. I’ve come to call one favored piece, a curly white fur vest, “The Lenny Kravitz jacket.”

To say that my style differs from my mother’s is an understatement. I have a sort of uniform (as most people do). Mine typically consists of jeans, a T-shirt or a white shirt, and boots. In the summer, it changes to linen shirts, a skirt, and sandals. My mother (who truly believed in designer clothes for their quality and craftsmanship) often told me that Calvin Klein would be a phenomenal designer for me to wear – she recognized and understood my minimalist style (which is almost a dress code for photographers!).

My mother always said, “Never wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.” While today the rules have changed a bit, I take to heart the advice and passion my mother had for clothes every time I get dressed. In Rome, where I live for part of the year, I see white jeans being worn on the coldest day in the middle of January. I think it looks fantastic, refreshing. But I can’t help but wonder what my mother would say.

March 1, 2010