Where do we get our sense of style?
Is it something inherited? Passed down between generations?
To explore the origins of style, we meet three creative women
and the women whose genes they share.
T H E D E S I G N E R S
There’s an understated elegance that has defined Rachel Gilbert’s designs and it’s been there since she launched her eponymous brand 10 years ago in 2007. It may be the result of years training at Melbourne’s Whitehouse Institute of Design, then years working in Sydney and then New York, but upon meeting her mother, Ann Gilbert, it’s apparent that genetics may have also played its part in the process.
“My mother has always been incredibly stylish,” Rachel says. “She is an interior designer, [so] we are constantly bouncing fashion, lifestyle and home style ideas together.”
“Casual classic with a quirky twist” is how Ann defines her own style. “I have always liked to personalise my look, using timeless pieces as a base.” She would be the first to point to her daughter’s natural talent. “I am amazed at Rachel’s instinctive style,” she says.
“It’s a joy to watch her creativity flourish.”
Rachel and Ann do their Christmas shopping together every year at David Jones in Elizabeth St, Sydney. “It’s become a tradition,” says Rachel. “We meet at the champagne bar in the morning and celebrate the year that was, before the busy end of year festivities begin.” Sounds like these ladies know what they’re doing.
RACHEL: Figure out what silhouettes and fabrics suit your body shape and build a base wardrobe of essentials with that in mind.
ANN: Dress for your body shape, and don’t follow trends blindly. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it. Trust your instincts.
RACHEL: Carine Roitfeld and Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert.
T H E A C T R E S S & T H E M A T R I A R C H S
While actress Adelaide Clemens doesn’t always live in the same
country she is always considered when it comes to getting dressed.
“Location always dictates what I wear,” she says. “Even my outfits in New York versus my outfits in London – while they are both urban and cool cities, they have a different energy and vibe.”
Overall, though, Adelaide gravitates towards directional clothing. “Growing up I probably idealised my cousins on my dad’s side. They always wore black and very geometric clothing, and chunky jewellery.” She also cites her granny, Beth Gutteridge, as having an impact on her style. “She wore a lot of geometric pieces and detailed clothes,” Adelaide says. Both she and her grandmother are tall – definitely a genetic trait – and consequently prefer flflat shoes. When Adelaide visits her gran, she raids her wardrobe for slides and accessories rather than her mum’s collections.
That’s not to say her mum, Janea Clemens, isn’t stylish. In fact, Janea once won best dressed at a polo event (even though she got ready in just 10 minutes) beating entrants who make careers out of their track-side ensembles. “I love her style on her,” Adelaide says. “She likes feminine details.”
Janea says her mum, Adelaide’s grandmother Beth, was a style queen in her day, always in the newspaper as Brisbane’s best dressed. But for Janea it was during the years she spent living in Cognac, France during her mid to late 20s that she developed her own look and learnt some lifelong lessons about style.
“My French friends would save up and buy one Chanel jacket a season,” she says. “I learnt a lot from them. The French wear the most beautiful white shirt or T-shirt. Boots that are to die for. Their blow-dries are immaculate and they wear minimal make-up.” She did inherit some lessons in style from her parents, though.
“Walk out of the house like you’re going for a job interview,” Janea’s dad would tell her. “Always look the best you can.” And even now her mum has certain rules. “Always have immaculate nails – don’t worry about your dress but make sure your shoes are beautiful,” she says.
Social conventions defined much of Beth’s style over the years. She grew up in a time when her father didn’t believe that girls needed a university education. “He just thought you had to read books and travel,” she says. And so she did.
Beth lived in London for a year and worked at Australia House for about six months, travelling around the country attending trade fairs. When she returned to Brisbane, she married a prominent doctor and lived in a historic home where they hosted a lot of charity functions. Her husband was also president of the Queensland Art Gallery. “In those days it was more at night that we dressed up a lot,” she says. “Long terrace dresses and all that sort of thing.”
“Whenever I come back home I head to David Jones with mum and granny,” Adelaide says. “For mum’s birthday I got her this incredible Ellery dress. David Jones comes in handy when it comes to buying gifts internationally.”
ADELAIDE: I’ve never worn jeans. I literally don’t own a pair. The proportions just don’t work on me. I have narrow hips and they don’t stay on.
JANEA: I wear a lot of high-waisted pants, which suit my body type, and high heels as my whole family is tall. My friends would say I sleep in high heels! I wear very unadorned clothes, usually in black or white, whereas mum and Addie like geometric patterns.
BETH: I have always told my daughters they should have good shoes, a good watch and accessories. As for me, I do like wearing pants and pant suits. And I love jewellery.
ADELAIDE: David Bowie always springs to mind. I love how much he changed his style throughout his career. And I love Tilda Swinton – she’s got such a strong image.
JANEA: Kate Hudson.
BETH: Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.
T H E S T Y L I S T & B E A U T Y Q U E E N
“My mum had this amazing wardrobe,” says stylist Nicole Bonython-Hines. “She didn’t work, she just looked fabulous and went to fab parties.” Having grown up among high society (her father, a prolific entrepreneur, was given a state funeral when he died in 2011, and her mum was once crowned Miss South Australia) it’s no wonder Nicole ended up working in fashion.
“It was inevitable,” she admits, though she has walked a somewhat quieter path than that of her socialite parents. “If you are in the arena of style, you don’t dress up to become a focal point,” Nicole says. “It’s not about you but what you’re doing and what you’re working on. It’s not about you being the star.”
When Nicole first started working as a stylist, the industry was shifting from old to new guard. Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons were bursting onto the scene. “It was so exciting and I wanted to be a part of it,” Nicole says. “I wanted to show everybody how fabulous this new world was.”
Nicole’s personal style is a far cry from the way her mother used to dress her. She recalls a photo from when she was around nine. “I was hurdling in lizard-skin cropped pants and turtleneck,” she laughs, adding that her mother would ask as she’d walk out the door: “Darling, why don’t you have a face on?” And, while Nicole has never been one for a full face of make-up, her daughter, Ava Matthews, works in product development at a leading make-up company in Melbourne, proving that some traits really do just skip a generation.
“I think I am much more like my mum’s mum,” Ava says. “I am the complete opposite of my mother.” Nicole veers towards androgynous layering and Ava prefers lace, pearls and embellishment. The only pants Ava owns are for the gym, while trousers are part of her mum’s day-today uniform. And, of course, Ava loves wearing make-up. “But my mum thinks I wear too much,” she says. Typical.
“[We] would get dressed up for it,” says Nicole. “We would spend hours there while my mum was trying things on. I also remember going on my own when I was about 14 with all my savings to buy pointed-toe shoes. Mum gave me a naughty day off school and we went to the movies and then to David Jones’ Estée Lauder counter – it was so beautiful and felt so special.”
Ava recalls similar trips with her mum and grandmother when she was younger. “I was about 10 when Clueless came out. There was a pair of white high-heeled clogs. Mum wouldn’t buy them – she said they were hideous. But when mum wasn’t there my grandma handed over the credit card.”
NICOLE: I like working with colour, but I have to keep that for work and not myself ... I tend to wear a lot of basics because of that – black, white, cream, navy, grey, khaki. I never wear anything loud.
AVA: Always err on the side of being overdressed as opposed to underdressed. Print helps you disguise a lot of ‘flaws’. Be very self-aware about what actually looks good on you.
NICOLE: Phoebe Philo always looks like how I would like to look. A pair of sneakers with pants. That’s pretty much how I dress.
AVA: Miss Piggy, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren.
Words by Natalie Walton
Photography by Duncan Killick
Styling by Nicole Bonython-Hines