Lydia Slater on the beauty of sharing clothes across generations

a woman sitting on a chair next to another woman
The power of intergenerational fashionMatthew Eades

One of my earliest childhood memories is sneaking with my sister into our mother’s wardrobe, to help ourselves to its forbidden fruits. I remember the thrill of teetering around our parents’ bedroom in a pair of her ankle-breaking clogs, a Laura Ashley maxi-dress and a frilly mob cap, eyelids plastered with glittering shadow (this was the 1970s of course). There was a little nest of spidery fake lashes which we avoided with revulsion, but we had no reservations about dousing ourselves in her Vent Vert perfume.

As I recall, when we were discovered in this finery, Mum was more amused than furious; in fact several of the choicest items subsequently migrated to our dressing-up box. Once officially ours, of course they lost their adult glamour.

These days, it’s more often Mum who raids our wardrobes, taking full advantage of the fact that my sister and I both work in fashion. Over the past few years I’ve passed on endless dresses and trousers, now that Mum has shrunk into the sample size I used to be; and for Christmas a few years ago, I gave her her first designer handbag.

a woman sitting on a chair next to another woman
Lydia Slater with her daughter AsyaMatthew Eades

Meanwhile, my own two teenage daughters have started the process anew. I recently found myself in the attic unearthing a skirt covered in printed skulls that I bought at Kensington Market in the 1980s and wore to school, and seeing it get a new lease of life on my 18-year-old. And, as well as borrowing all of each other’s clothes, they also share with their grandmother, whose wardrobe remains a source of exotic entrancement, where glittery Biba flares and YSL faux-python jackets may be unearthed. I’m always surprised by how intensely connecting it feels seeing beloved garments reworn by a different generation, whether older or younger. To the item’s original owner, it communicates silent approval; to the new wearer, it feels like a hug passed down the years.

a couple of women in black dresses
Meera Syal & Milli Bhatia in Edeline Lee’s autumn/winter 2024 campaignMatthew Eades
two women in dresses
Helena Morrissey and Bea, her eldest daughterMatthew Eades

It was this feeling of intergenerational connection that the designer Edeline Lee sought to express with her A/W24 campaign. She recruited a total of 64 mothers and daughters – including the actress Meera Syal and Milli Bhatia, a director at the Royal Court; the businesswoman Helena Morrissey with Bea, youngest of her nine children; Mary Beard and her curator daughter Zoe Cormack; and me and my 19-year-old, Asya – to be photographed in the new collection. Asya and I were the first to be shot, dressed in shades of champagne – she had a ruffled miniskirt and top, I was in a fitted dress.

Normally I loathe having my picture taken, but this time, I forgot to feel embarrassed; my concern was all for Asya: was she comfortable, was she feeling shy, did she like her outfit? According to Lee herself, the idea stemmed from doing numerous studio fittings with mothers and daughters. “My clients often come in groups like that. And as soon as you have generations together looking at clothes, there’s this warmth that’s really rewarding for me as a designer. It’s so satisfying to be able to serve all the generations, and I think it’s real sustainability too.”

a woman sitting next to a man in a robe
Mary Beard and her daughter, Zoe CormackMatthew Eades
london, england february 18 edeline lee attends the edeline lee x glass magazines 10th anniversary party event during london fashion week february 2019 on february 18, 2019 in london, england photo by ian gavanbfcgetty images
Edeline LeeIan Gavan/BFC - Getty Images

As a teenager, she regularly invaded her mother’s wardrobe. “I destroyed it, actually,” she says. “I cut everything shorter, and that’s how I learned – she was very generous. The first clothes that I cared about were things of hers that I altered. I always think about how if your mother gives you an old piece of her clothing, you can feel her spirit when she was young.”

That genuine emotion, captured in the photographs, has been very well-received, she says. “I have heard from multiple clients already how much more attractive the clothes look on people they know or have heard of. Everyone looks great in the shoot, and my clients understand the clothes better.”

As a thank-you for participating, all the teenagers were allowed to pick a piece to take home. Helping Asya to choose her gift – a chic, ruffled LBD – I caught myself wondering if I might be borrowing it myself in a decade or so…

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