Since the tender age of five, I could recall my mother’s sense of style.
It was 1975. Back then, I was the quintessential 70’s child – full of curiosity and adventure. The daughter of a hotel executive – living in an old classic hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. An exciting kind of place - where I’d spend days swimming in the pool, stealing maraschino cherries from the restaurant bar, running around playfully, and making sandcastles on the beach. And in between my busy child-like activities, out of the corner of my eye - I’d always catch a glimpse of my mother playing Bingo and languishing by the pool – laughing with the locals and fellow guests in a floral maxi dress, platform sandals and floppy sunhat.
The very picture of joie de vivre.
Yet, my mother’s love for the good things in life - as well as her love of fashion - wasn’t born by chance; or by trying to follow the bells and whistles of fashion society. For she believed that style was more about self-assurance. An inner je ne sais quoi. An air of confidence and resilience that was cultivated by her own mother- a Holocaust survivor - that influenced my mother’s sense of self very early on. To understand my mother, and what she has tried to teach me in my lifetime – you only have to look at the history of where she came from, and how she learnt to be proud of who she was – by watching her own mother and father carve out a new life for themselves after the harshness of World War 2.
Mum’s life began on the 18th of September 1946 in Frankfurt, Germany at 2:20pm. The family remained in Zeilsheim, Germany for 2 years, then immigrated to Israel in 1948 (which had just gained independence) for 4 years as they sought to rebuild their lives again in a country with a support system that would welcome them.
Then in 1952, when Sarah was 6 years old, they migrated to Paris, as Sarah’s uncle Motel, auntie Henia and cousin Marcel were already living there. My grandmother Pola learnt a trade in sewing blouses and my grandfather Moniek learnt a trade in knitting. They lived in a walk-up apartment (one room with a kitchen) on44 Rue Chapeau, Paris,and tried to settle into the city of Paris whilst working hard to make a living with little Sarah in tow.
Although my grandmother tried her very best to dress mum in the popular French fashion of that time, life was still very hard in the City of Lights with children after the war. So, the family decided to immigrate this time to Melbourne, Australia, as my grandfather had another brother who lived there called Zysman, who had settled in Carlton with wife Jadja and daughter Chantal, and who had encouraged Moniek to settle in Melbourne, Australia instead, as it was full of European charme.
When Mum arrived at the age of 8 in Melbourne, she spoke little English, only able to speak Yiddish and French. But after settling in Carlton in 1955 and with my grandmother Pola’s ongoing encouragement, Mum enrolled at Princess Hill Primary School where she learnt English. She also enjoyed mingling with her cousins and the other little girls in her neighborhood – as well as welcoming a new baby sister Ruth, born four years later in 1959.
Then, in 1962, my grandparents bought a house at 15 Spencer Street, St. Kilda and opened a fruit shop in 123 Acland Street. It was a busy time. Mum went to Elwood High School for 2 years before she left school and went to Dacomb Business College for 2 years, graduating as Secretarial Services.
Sarah loved going to St. Kilda Beach where all the young people her own age would socialise. At the age of 15, she met and became friends with a young man named Dennis. They enjoyed each other’s company but just remained friends. Then 4 years later, at the age of 19, they reconnected again at the beach. By this time, Dennis was studying hotel management at William Angliss, and they began dating. After 18 months, at the age of 20, they got engaged; and a year later, got married at Kimberley Gardens in St. Kilda.
The Hotel ‘Married life’
Instead of settling in Melbourne and having a family, destiny had other ideas. Instead of a honeymoon, Dennis decided to bite the bullet and take Sarah off to Hong Kong for an extended working holiday. At the time, Hyatt hotels were expanding all over the world, and hearing that Hyatt were recruiting, my Dad wanted to be part of this exciting period. Luckily, shortly after arriving in Hong Kong, Dennis got a job as a project manager working for Hyatt, and he and mum lived there happily for two years until his job got transferred to Singapore, where I, their daughter Nicole, was born.
For two years, life in Singapore was good. My parents and I were living in an apartment behind the Singapore Hyatt which was still being built and then when the hotel was finished, we moved into the hotel. But as luck would have it, Dennis’ career continued to flourish. The next assignment was in Los Angeles, USA, where he was sent to study architectural drafting for 6 months, and where we lived in Hollywood near Melrose Ave.
When that assignment was completed, we were transferred to San Juan, Puerto Rico to live at the La Concha hotel - which was being refurbished to become a Hyatt, where we lived for 3 years, and where my brother Jay was born (in 1973).
So, with my baby brother to dote upon, and permanent tropical weather to run round in, my 3-year-old self delighted in room service and dining freely in the hotel’s restaurants. And as my brother got older, we both spent afternoons learning to swim, playing shuffleboard and roaming in and out of the kid’s club whenever we needed more stimulation. And – where I started to notice my mother flourishing as a proud fashion icon - in her 70’s pool-side glamour – with matching flower-power pram.
Then in 1976, came Dennis’ next assignment in Montreal, Canada – where a new hotel was being built. A place that we, the Salinger family, would call home for the next 16 years, and where Dennis would successfully pivot his career - in supplying his own unique range of tableware products including silverware & chinaware directly to hotels all over the world. When it came time for me to leave home to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music, and my brother at an Ivy league school, is when my parents decided to start travelling again to enjoy what life had in store for them.
But aside from Mum’s life travelling and living in many different countries (count Helsinki, London, Cairns and Palm Desert, California as some of her favourites) one thing is for sure – that in fact, Mum always retained her strong sense of style throughout every decade.
She simply loved dressing up – and believed that the moment you left the house to go about your day – you’d better look your best.
Looking through her photos, it’s obvious that fashion was instilled in her from a young age, as her mum, Pola was a seamstress. And a strong woman at that - who was ahead of her time, walking proudly on the streets of Paris – and teaching my mum to always stand proudly and stylishly in her best clothes too. Whether as a toddler in Israel in a peacoat and pair of jodhpurs; or as a young girl in the Jardins de Paris, looking picture-perfect in her accessoires du jour – in a half-up hairdo tied with a bow, teaming a white top and socks with a pleated skirt, leather handbag and Mary Jane shoes. Clearly ahead of the game in the fashion stakes.
By the time the 1960’s rolled around, mum was well and truly rolling with the times. Her look? A dash of Audrey Hepburn elegance mixed with bougie French swagger. In the way she looked at or away from the camera. In the nonchalante way she danced with my father with a hint of French mystère. In the 60’s cat-eye liner she so effortlessly wore. In the way her wore her bouffant hairdo – elegant yet striking. Commanding attention without so much as a glance forward.
As the 70’s came - and disco, bell-bottoms and platform sandals were all the rage, mum still stayed true to her stylish roots. Though she loved a good fashion trend, she was now a mum of a toddler and a wife to a budding hotel executive, so she had to look the part. Cue the crochet cap and matching coral dress in a café in Disneyland. Cue the teased-up hair and flower-power shirtdress teamed with platform sandals. For mum never feared – that the 70’s were here.
While the eighties brought us the décadence of taffeta, roller skates, Lacrosse and Polo Ralph Lauren, there was only one look my Mum favoured greatly in Ville Montréal (our second French city of fashion), which was briefly passed onto me: in the form of big hair, thick eyebrows, loud sweaters and shoulder pads.
What have I learnt about my mother all these years? Is that in the words of Maya Angelou, “A mother’s love liberates”. That through fashion and a joie de vivre – it’s always possible for a woman to shine. That my 18 year old daughter Sofia should always stand up and be proud of who she is - through a style all her own too. And finally, that when faced with challenges - a woman is more than capable of rebuilding her life, just like my grandmother did so resiliently all those years ago in 1950’s Paris.
Merci pout tout, maman.
(Nicole Rozen is fashion/editorial copywriter at Blue Illusion and lives a life of joie with her husband and family in Melbourne, Australia.)
Looking for inspiration on what to wear to Mother's Day celebration? Our wonderful team of staff share pearls of wisdom they received from their own mothers about fashion in our latest log post.
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