More sequins in your craft supplies than your wardrobe? Designer and mother Kelly Coe shares her tips for maintaining a sense of style and climbing out of the wardrobe rut we mums can find ourselves in.
Kelly Coe once kicked around in her sports gear with aspirations of becoming a Silver Fern, her favourite dress a netball uniform. These days she still loves to exercise and plays netball in winter, but her wardrobe has undoubtedly stepped up a notch. Which is understandable, given that Kelly is now a familiar face in the New Zealand fashion scene as designer and director of women’s clothing brands Augustine and Charlo.
Her interest in fashion really began to emerge in her teenage years, and after working at Nike head office and then High Society, Kelly combined her knowledge of the industry with her natural eye for colour and design and launched her own label.
“Augustine began because I saw a gap in the market for special occasion and luxe daywear garments at an accessible price point for women mid-twenties to mid-forties. There was nothing out there that was colourful, sparkly and fun – yet didn’t break the bank! My husband and I started the label eight years ago in our garage, doing absolutely everything ourselves. We now have three of our own stores, 70 stockists around New Zealand, and an office full of staff to help us run the company."
Kelly’s other label, Charlo, may never have made it to the racks had Kelly not become a mum. “I found that with Augustine I had the perfect special occasion wardrobe but I didn’t have that ‘casual mum’ look sorted” explains Kelly. Two years later, Charlo is as big as Augustine. It is casual yet still stylish, sophisticated and practical. “You can wear it to watch Saturday sport but you could then go to lunch with friends and still look dressy enough. It’s the practical side of me, the side that doesn’t always have to be in sequins.”
In the land of the long white cloud, where the All Blacks are our most famous ambassadors, we Kiwi women tend to dress from a fairly limited colour palette. Kelly is passionate about injecting a rainbow into our wardrobes. Too much black in our outfits is a problem for women in general, but mothers have sticky little hands and trainsets to build under the dining table as added wardrobe challenges. Kelly’s not one for excuses though. “We don’t dress up enough. If I wear heels and a sequin skirt with a nice top to school pick-up, I am the total odd-one-out. I believe in putting in an effort every day and not just saving your best outfits for the one time a month you may go on a date with your husband. Rock out the glam on a daily basis."
Easier said than done? Is ‘mother glam’ really an achievable style option for those of us responsible for tiny humans?
“For those first few months with a newborn I just say forget it – just survive and hope you manage to shower each day. I remember when my eldest was 18 months old and my youngest was three weeks, I had to go out to a meeting and I was wearing jeans, heels and a blazer – but I still had on the T-shirt under my blazer that I had worn to bed the night before!” recalls Kelly.
"I think the problem is many women stop putting in an effort to look after themselves when they have a baby, but then never get out of that rut. I think it is important to do your hair, a bit of make-up and put some effort into your outfit – not just because you are going out into the world, but because of how much better it makes you feel from the inside out.”
How we care for ourselves also sends a strong message to our children. "A lot of women think as long as you've got the kids sorted then it doesn't matter what you look like. We forget that our children are sponges and see the effort we put in. Obviously we need to be real – my kids see me in gym gear with no make-up, and in the evenings I look casual – but each morning they see me get up, put on a nice outfit, and do my hair and make-up. They see that mummy believes she should care about herself. Clothes and make-up aren’t the only way to feel good about yourself, of course. My kids see me working hard, exercising and eating healthily, all of which make me happy, but they also see my self-confidence and know that I didn’t give up on my appearance just because I had kids.”
Making it work
OHbaby!: How do you juggle the demands of a hectic work and family life?
Kelly: Nathan and I have never had a nanny, as we both work on the business so we make sure one of us is home for the kids after kindy and school, and we can work around our daughters’ activities. I never wanted to have our own business at the expense of the kids. We are very fortunate that we can now work our own hours. It does mean we work a lot at night, but that’s not a chore as I am usually designing or approving samples and I still find that as fun as I did back at my first collection. It helps that the other company director is sitting across the lounge from me in the evenings, so we can go through ideas for the business together once the girls are in bed.
We make sure that weekends are family time, and we get a babysitter every couple of weeks so Nathan and I can have date nights.
OHbaby!: What does a typical weekday look like?
Kelly: The day usually starts at 6am when Demi wakes. She comes into our bed and chats to us for half an hour before Indiana wakes up. I love that time in the mornings, when the girls are so warm and snuggly and we are not interrupted by life.
We then all get up and into the general morning madness. Indiana hates her uniform so that is a daily battle. She puts it on at the very last minute before we leave. Demi is a fashionista and has chosen her own outfits since she was 18 months old. I leave her to it and look forward to seeing what she has put together for kindy.
We also do Indiana’s homework in the morning, as it is a disaster trying to do it in the evenings after school and an after-school activity.
We're out the door for drop-offs at 8.30am – a few tears from at least one child – and then we’re at work just after 9am. I usually check my emails in bed in the morning so I can get to work with a clear inbox.
Every day is different in the office. I may be designing new ranges, at photoshoots for new collections or in meetings with staff. We drop a new collection every month, so there are always photoshoots, Facebook posts, production ordering and sample checking. It is always, always busy, but I love it like that.
I work in the office till about 2.30pm, and then head off to pick up the girls. Three days a week we have after-school activities, so we race around and get home in time for the kids’ dinner. Once they are in bed, Nathan and I cook our dinner and sit with a glass of wine and watch some crappy television before getting some more work done.
OHbaby!: How does your passion influence your lifestyle?
Kelly: I love what I do, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I love seeing my clothes on ladies and hearing how my clothes make them feel. I get so excited when the samples for a new collection arrive. Until that excitement wears off, I will continue to do what I do. I think if you love the product you work with, then you’ll love your job. And I think that then transpires into other parts of your life – if you are happy at work then you bring that home with you. I love the balance I have with work and home. I love being a mum, but I take my hat off to those who can do it full time as I find my sanity in my work and that time away from the kids as well. I love watching the girls grow up into little ladies. It’s a beautiful colourful world and I look forward to every day I go to work, and every afternoon I do kindy and school pick-up. Nothing beats walking into kindy and having your daughter sprint across the room and leap into your arms – that’s what life is all about.
MUM, À LA MODE
Practical and stylish can co-exist. Kelly explains how:
‘Mother glam’ wardrobe staples
■ A great pair of jeans that fit you well are vital in a mum's wardrobe.
■ Next, an array of pretty and colourful (yet practical) tops to wear with jeans. Choose some bright prints in easy-wash fabrics that brighten up your outfit, instead of just wearing black.
■ A great colourful cardi that you can throw over any outfit to give it a boost and lift the plainer layers you have underneath.
■ A few casual dresses. Look for flattering lengths in easy-care fabrics. Stretch fabrics are ideal, as they are practical to wear as a mum, but still create a good shape and style.
■ A couple of great dressier pieces that can be your go-to when you don’t have the kids hanging off you. Make the most of any child-free time to get out of ‘mum mode’. I have a lot of sequin skirts that I team with loose chiffon tops. I can wear them casual with sneakers during the day, then dress them up with heels if I am going out at night. They are also great during pregnancy as they have a stretchy waistband.
■ For winter, I have a lot of long cardies and jackets that I throw over dresses, meaning I can wear my dresses all year round. I add a denim jacket and a bright necklace over a short-sleeved stripe dress and then it can take me into cooler months too. It’s so handy to have trans-seasonal pieces and a lot of stores offer
these now. Gone are the days when you needed a summer and winter wardrobe – they can blend into one now with the right layering pieces.
Maternity wardrobe support
Kelly Coe, 19 weeks pregnant at the time of our interview, has some stylish tips for maternity-wear too. Her Augustine sequin skirts, with elastic waistbands, are perfect for the changing waistline of maternity and can be worn with loose chiffon tops and a bomber jacket, or a long cardi that doesn’t need doing up.
Kelly wears dresses from her labels throughout her pregnancies, especially the ones in stretch or looser chiffon styles. “If they are too loose, I wear a fitted belt under my bump to give some shape. I actually find it easier to dress a bump than to dress straight after giving birth when you have jelly belly!” laughs Kelly.
Photography: Sam Mothersole, sammothersole.co.nz