Can We Blame Our Parents For Our Design Taste — This Editor Thinks So

From maximalist patterns to statement earrings, we gravitate toward what we know.

Designed by Briana Gagnier.

While "designing" my current apartment (for a twenty-something in San Francisco, that means figuring out how to make a dusty shoebox look cute), I caught myself doing the unthinkable: filling  shelves with color-coordinated books and small folk-art figurines. I paused in the act before realizing the suspected truth — I AM my mother.

For the record, taking after my mom is not the worst thing that could happen, considering her inexplicable youthful glow and a heart so enormous it makes me wonder why I threw all those teen-angst fits (cue "Mama" by Spice Girls). But, have I developed a soft spot for inanimate objects and a slight tendency toward book hoarding now, too? 

Curious to hear other stories of taking on the design preferences of our parents, I reached out to Man Repeller's Harling Ross. The fashion editor's sense of style is full of personality, patterns, and color, yet still sophisticated and cutting-edge. Her taste demonstrates a clear passion and knack for putting things together, and as it so happens, she got (some of it) from her mama. Read ahead for Harling's take on an upbringing's influence and whether or not design is a learned behavior. 

Man Repeller's Fashion Editor On An Upringing's Design Influence
Designed by Briana Gagnier.

Do you think there is an element of design or aesthetic preference that we inherit? 

I don't know about "inherit" in a DNA sense, but I absolutely think the environment in which we grow up and the people we spend the most time with during formative years (e.g. parents) can have a huge impact on the evolution of aesthetic preferences. It makes sense that in addition to picking up on language cues (figures of speech, accent, etc.) and social cues (how to interact and conduct ourselves), we would pick up on visual cues (how to see the world and the spaces we live in) as well.

Your mom is an interior designer. What role did her interest in design play in your interest in fashion?

My mom is a very visual person by nature and it's fascinating to watch her mind draw from different sources of inspiration — everything from the color of flower to the curve of an archway she saw on Pinterest is fodder for her creativity. I think the process of designing an interior space is a lot like the creative process of assembling an outfit in that all the various components are pieces of a puzzle, and once you figure out how to put it all together in a way that works, you have this moment where you're like, YES! That's when the whole vision comes to life.

Watching my mom experiment with color and patterns and shapes so fearlessly has absolutely shaped me into a diehard maximalist when it comes to my own style. More is more — always.

What's your earliest memory of taking an interest in or appreciating fashion or design?

Catalogs. I LOVED flipping through my mom's catalogs, specifically J.Crew, Hanna Anderson, and Lands End, and dog-earing pages with things I liked. By the time I have kids the word "catalog" will probably be extinct. Wild.

Are there things that your mom loves, or that were around your home growing up, that you now love and incorporate into your life, too?

My mom is obsessed with bookshelves. In my parents' apartment, she designed a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves painted bright blue and filled with beautiful hardcover books. My apartment only has room for a tiny bookshelf that doesn't stand more than three feet high, but my roommates and I keep it stacked it with all the books we've read recently or want to read, and I love how it looks.

Man Repeller's Fashion Editor On An Upringing's Design Influence
Design by Briana Gagnier.

How does your style overlap with your mom's?

We both aggressively mix and match patterns (picture the opposite of normcore and that's a pretty accurate representation of our taste). We also share a deep appreciation for enormous statement earrings. My mom always says they go well with big hair — another thing we have in common.

How do your tastes differ?

I would say my mom's style leans a little more hippie-ish than mine does at times, especially in the summer. She loves a floral dress and chunky necklace combo. Also, because of my job I'm more attuned to current trends, and I have fun incorporating those into the way I dress. I've been trying to convince my mom to ditch skinny jeans for awhile. Her denim collection is stuck in 2010.

Are there things your mom wears or uses in interior design, that are so not you?

Chunky beaded necklaces, paisley button downs, skinny jeans, and knee-length A-line dresses and skirts.

What’s your greatest take away from watching your mom style her outfit our design a room while growing up?

It's okay to be weird or different as long as you're having fun.

If you want more on the science of design or why things are the way they are, check out The Psychology Of What's Inside Your Home and The Real Explanation Behind The Modern Home.