While dressing like your mum is not usually the done thing for teenagers, one label goes out of its way to unite mothers and daughters through fashion. The French brand Comptoir des Cotonniers has built its reputation on the mother/daughter theme, creating casual classics that in theory look as good on a teenager or twenty-something as they do on her mother. And the real twist in the fashion label's ad campaigns is that all the models are "real" mothers and daughters.
This week, the UAE's wannabe catwalk stars had their chance to shine at a casting call for the label's autumn/winter 2010 collection in Dubai Mall. Those who turned up not only enjoyed an exclusive photo shoot at the store but also the chance to feature in one of the brand's iconic ad campaigns in Paris. And there were few worries expressed about the dangers of their daughters entering modelling. "It's a great opportunity to spend some time with my daughter and share something we have in common, which is fashion," said Pushpa Sadhwani, a college lecturer and part-time fashion designer, from Malaysia who came with her 14-year-old daughter, Priyanka. "All we do in Dubai is go shopping, so going for a photo shoot is a different experience for us."
The pair were part of the crowd gathering around a makeshift studio on the edge of the womenswear section on Galeries Lafayette's first floor. Mothers with perfectly blow-dried hair and carefully applied make-up towered over their young offspring in killer heels. The daughters - some only just walking, others aged 18 - were also immaculately turned out. The younger girls wore cute dresses teamed with jewelled sandals, plastic bangles and bows in their hair, while the teenagers donned skinny jeans, caps and pumps.
A quick scan of the crowd revealed some pairs that were difficult to tell apart. "We're both lucky that no matter how much we eat, we have fairly slim figures," said Sadhwani. "A lot of people look at me and say: 'Oh, do you work out?', but I don't. I eat what I want and I still look very fit." As each duo took their turn to pose for the photographer Joseph Gareth, Gucci bags were laid on the floor and mothers and daughters cuddled up for the camera. For some first-timers the process was awkward; for others it came naturally. One young girl turned to the side and placed her hand on her hips to achieve the perfect stance without being prompted.
"She just loves being in front of the camera," said Veronique Cavalloni Syed, 49, from France, who brought her six-year-old daughter, Layla Anais. "She would like to be a model so that's why we came. I wouldn't like her to be a model but her father would love it." Comptoir des Cotonniers' latest casting call comes amid a growing trend among designers of recruiting the public to embody their brands.
Other followers of this philosophy include Baby Gap, Dove skincare and the French label The Kooples, which have all used "citizen models" in recent ad campaigns. Barbara Pommet, the department manager for women and kidswear at Galeries Lafayette, said: "The mother/daughter ads are a very famous aspect of this brand. There are no rules, no age, size or weight criteria - it is open to everybody, and the customer can identify with the models.
"There are over 100 castings in France. It is a famous event at Lafayette, and because we like to work in parallel with our Paris store, that's why we held a casting here too." Word about the event spread quickly around Dubai via e-mail, with around 100 mothers and daughters turning up for the shoot. Their portraits will be sent to the brand's head office in Paris, where the winners will be selected.
"One of my friends sent me an e-mail so we thought we'd come along," said the South African mum Estelle Grib, who was posing with her non-identical twin daughters Luné and Arné, 18. "I haven't modelled before but my daughters did when they were very small at a fashion show," she said. So do they want to be models now? "No," they said in unison "We've just come for a bit of fun." For others, the desire to grace the catwalk is more evident.
"If we won the campaign, I'd definitely look for an agent for my daughter," said the recruitment agent Haimanot Jorke, 36, who posed with her five-year-old daughter, Clare. "Clare likes to be in front of the camera and I'll support whatever she wants to do." Sadhwani agreed. "Priyanka is already on the books of a modelling agency in Dubai," she said. "And why not?" Priyanka added: "Going to Paris and seeing behind the scenes of a modelling shot would be great. I'd like to be a model for Chanel and Juicy Couture but my dream job is to be a doctor, so modelling would be on the side."
So does the mères et filles philosophy of creating lines that cross the age barriers really pay off? None of the mothers and daughters interviewed had ever bought anything from the Comptoir des Cotonniers range. "I've seen the brand and I've seen the ads but I don't shop there," said Grib. Whether the phenomenon really boosts sales is unclear, but the brand's determination to use real people certainly pleases shoppers.
"I prefer seeing real models in campaigns any day," said Jorke. "It makes me want to buy more."