Laura Fantacci was an early digital adopter, starting her blog Wearing It Today back in 2009. With a background in fashion editorial, she built her community while working as Shopping Editor at Red magazine. Seeking more balance after she had her first child, Laura set up Wardrobe ICONS, a multi-faceted digital magazine focused on finding perfect staples, with co-founder Petro Stofberg. Known for her sophisticated, aspirational aesthetic, here she reveals the struggles she’s weathered as a mother, daughter and as the target of the darker side of the web.
I come from a really loving Italian family—but like every family it’s not without its complications. My mother worked full-time throughout my childhood as a lingerie designer creating collections for Dior and other labels. All I can remember is that I didn’t see much of her and her absence has really affected my way of being a mother. She was always incredibly loving, but she just couldn’t be there for the mundane moments from pick ups to dance classes. We had au pairs who would get us dressed in the morning, take to school and take care of all the logistics and it was still fun—but I definitely missed my mum.
I thought that feeling of disappointment in her might resolve itself when I became a mother myself, but it hasn’t really—it’s always there in the background and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully understand some of the choices she made. Funnily enough I have a younger sister who is 18 months my junior and her perception of the situation is completely different. She was completely unaffected and never felt a sense of absence—it just goes to show it depends on what kind of person your child is.
I had always been wary of motherhood as I was always worried about making mistakes. But I think a lot of women feel a sense of pressure. It’s just what you’re expected to do: get married and have kids. In truth, while I’d always wanted a family in the abstract, I was very scared of having children and it wasn’t something that felt completely natural to me. I got pregnant very quickly and I just thought, ‘what have I done?’ Now of course I feel incredibly privileged to have children and they have enhanced my life in a way I can’t put into words. But I was never one of those instantly maternal women. Breast-feeding horrified me—I found the whole thing slightly disgusting. My youngest is now ten months and I’m still breast-feeding her, so it goes to shows how motherhood changes you.
For me, the fear was that I wasn’t going to be a good mum. The hormones took over and I started to have these awful thoughts. What if I’m the worst possible mother? I didn’t have family in the country and I had no idea what I was doing. As soon as I gave birth I hated the lack of control I had over everything. When you have your first you don’t know you’re going to lose your independence in the way that you do. Everyone tells you of course. They say you’ll never sleep again, they tell you your life will never be the same. But I remember thinking: I’m super-organised, I’ll be fine. For the first few months as a new mum, you’re not able to do much more than look after the baby and desperately try and catch up with sleep. If all you’ve ever wanted was to be a mother, your hormones are fine and you do well without sleep for six months, then you can have a better experience. But I lived through it the worst way possible because I didn’t have any of those things. I don’t want to hide behind the ‘this is the best moment of your life,’ message because for me the experience was overwhelming and definitely not entirely positive.
At times, I felt scared to be alone with the baby. Life had suddenly stopped having a rhythm designated by day and night and had just become an existence on a loop. I was so sleep-deprived and deeply drained—I found out later that I was celiac, so that compounded the exhaustion. I remember my husband leaving in the morning and I was just counting the seconds until he came home. Everything was magnified because of my expectation of what it would be like. I had pictured the whole thing to be this glowy, serene, happy time. So, there was a huge element of disillusionment. It was disappointment in myself, in how I handled it and how poorly I’d coped. It was also a disappointment in the reality of motherhood.
“The hormones took over and I started to have these awful thoughts. What if I’m the worst possible mother?”
Throughout that time I felt incredibly low. I personally think I was deeply depressed, though I was never diagnosed with PND. My sister had a baby three months before me and she was finding it super-easy and I remember the comparison was impossibly hard to deal with. Her summer baby was breast-feeding by the pool while I was in London in the winter, practically confined to the house for six months. I’ve never felt so alone. For about five months I hated it desperately. Luckily Petro [Ed’s note: Petro Stofberg, a close friend and co-founder of Wardrobe Icons, see below] then had a baby and went through a similar experience and there was a certain sense of camaraderie in talking to someone else who was finding it tough. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to be open with about my experiences. Because the real problem happens when you feel that you’re the only one—the odd one—and that you can’t find your way back.
Gradually things got easier: you start to realise that it is do-able and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When it came to the second time around it was just a joke how much easier it was. I think having children—especially having Greta—has made me a better person in terms of being able to let go. The biggest change in who I am now is accepting that I can’t have it all in control. One of my biggest issues was that I thought everything could still be perfect. I got hugely frustrated that the house was in a mess and that I didn’t have the time to do things like write thank you notes or have a tea with a friend. But you just have to give in. A lot of being a mum is learning which battles to fight. Whatever fear, whatever plan, whatever fixation – you have to be able to say it’s alright if it doesn’t happen. I’m definitely a more flexible person now I’ve got kids.
The Fashion Fit
When it comes to fashion, I truly believe there is a gene and I definitely inherited it from my mum. I can remember going into her office and just being transfixed by the beads and silks as a 5-year old and looking forward to Sundays when mum would lie in and dad would let us wear what we wanted—I’ve always loved getting dressed up.
My career in fashion was almost a non-starter. I’d left home at 16 and moved to an English boarding school. It was one of the best decisions of my life—Florence where I grew up is beautiful, but if I hadn’t left, I think I would have probably lost myself a little bit. After school, I decided that I wanted to be a fashion designer, so I tried to get a place at St Martins, but the tutor told me I didn’t look like a fashion designer and I didn’t get in. I ended up on a course at London College of Fashion in fashion design and technology. It was terrible because there wasn’t one part of it I liked but during my studies I was photographed by YOU magazine and someone mentioned doing an internship there. I went on to work at Vogue, Tatler and then Instyle then gradually gathered that there was this amazing job in fashion editorial. That’s when the penny dropped– Fashion Editor: this job is perfect for me. And it still fits me like a glove.
Images: Laura Fantacci @witblog
I set up Wearing It Today because I was in a precarious situation professionally. I was acting shopping editor at Red magazine and I didn’t know what was going to happen with role. I’d been through a redundancy when Happy magazine folded and I’d become incredibly unhappy. It was a really tough time—I was just starting out, 20-something with a mortgage and we all got made redundant. I needed something that felt all mine. The idea was a one year project. I’d take pictures every day of what I was wearing—the good, the bad and the ugly. It wasn’t supposed to be overly aspirational and if you go back you can see how raw it was. I was lucky because I was already working at a magazine so I had some credentials and soon brands wanted to collaborate, but a few people in the industry were really judgemental and there was a sense that there was something hugely vain about it. But really it wasn’t an ego boost—it was an excuse to get up in the morning, make an effort with getting dressed and create something for myself because the job I loved didn’t seem to have a future (though in the end it did become a permanent role).
The problems started when I came back from maternity leave. Hearst our publisher, was being super vigilant about anyone working on the side and I felt everyone was breathing down my neck to divide the things I was doing on the site and the things I was doing for the magazine. There was zero idea that it could be advantageous to the publication to have someone with their own profile working there, though I was asked to hashtag Red magazine on every single image posted to my own account. When I decided to hand in my resignation it felt completely right.
Wardrobe ICONS chronicles the style of some of the world’s most soignée women. Images: Wardrobe Icons
During my maternity leave Petro and I had talked around a concept that I’d been germinating for a few years. What I’d learned from WIT and through meeting the women that formed its community, is that is wasn’t the hot new Gucci blouse that was driving most women to shop—it was how to find those ultimate staples which make your wardrobe work long-term. At first I had called my idea for a site ‘Capsule Wardrobe’, but after about six month of brainstorming incessantly, we decided to launch an online magazine focused entirely on wardrobe staples under the name Wardrobe ICONS.
Wearing Many Hats
At the moment Petro and I both contribute equally to the site and the magazine. For me the key to working for myself was all about flexibility. My week is made of windows and I have a very clearly defined calendar that spells out when I do and when I don’t work. I may have a day where I don’t have time with my kids, but the next day I’ll be doing pick ups or going to a music class. Everything from time for phone calls or emails to the school run is all kind of slotted. The past year has been tricky as Petro and I both had babies and when I came back to work with two kids it was much tougher than I expected. To juggle trying to be a “good mum” and still producing and contributing to my business isn’t easy.
The hard bit is that you’re putting on two very different hats throughout the whole day. As opposed to women working in an office between 9 and 5.30 who then they go home and they’re mums again. Working from home is also hard because I don’t want to say to my kids that they can’t come into my office. I don’t want them to think there’s a door they cannot cross and I’m pretty flexible with Greta if she wants to come in to speak to me. But that can be very distracting. I don’t always feel like I’ve done a good job here or there and I would never say I’ve got it figured out—but the set up that I’m running with now means I’m doing the very best I can. I think there are days where I think I’m nailing it and days where I question it, but at the end of the day being present and being around is what makes me happy.
I’ve also got to be honest: I get really bored just doing kid things. I’m not afraid to admit that. There are things I like doing and things I don’t like doing with them and that’s just the way it is. I couldn’t be with them all day every day without anything for myself. I would find it mind-numbingly boring. For the sake of my own persona, I need to something that I’m interested in that is not solely kid-related. Weekends are for them–I’m literally a kid slave. But during the week there has to be a balance. So, I don’t feel guilty that I’m working and it’s ok that I don’t do it for them. Whether it will inspire them or not one day, who knows. But I have to do it for my own sake.
I have definitely felt the judgement of other women in a pretty full-on way. I basically decided to close WIT because I just couldn’t handle the criticism any more. It had got to a point where I felt I was constantly doing or saying something wrong and I was just sick and tired of all the negativity—I just didn’t want it in my life anymore. A friend had sent me a Mumsnet thread about me – which started innocently enough and then very quickly got vile. So vile I couldn’t finish reading it. I just had to block it out of my mind and not think about it at all for a few days. Whenever I have to Google my own name–the thread comes up and it literally repels me. I am no celebrity, so just imagine what real stars have to deal with every day. My God, you’d have to either be completely detached or so thick-skinned. For me, it was just too much to bear.
Images: Laura Fantacci @witblog
Now I’m fully focused on Wardrobe Icons and I’m no longer the face of my project but an editor again, I think the perimeters of success have shifted too. I often ask myself what that means to me today. Is it making money? Making me rich so that I can buy a bigger house? Is it growing the community we have and having a bigger reach? Or is it simply continuing to have the work/kids balance and the freedom to be the mother that I want to be? In the now, as long as I’m able to still do things with my girls as well as feeling that my day has a purpose professionally, then I feel pretty successful.
“It had got to a point where I felt I was constantly doing or saying something wrong and I was just sick and tired of all the negativity—I just didn’t want it in my life anymore.”
However, there are moments when I compare myself to peers or people that have achieved different types of success and it makes me doubt myself. Maybe I should be doing more of this, or that? I can definitely lose my direction and get a little lost. In this day and age you consume such a barrage of information about other people and it can feel impossible not to compare yourself to them. It’s very hard to feel happy in your present in a digital world. You’re constantly reminded that other bloggers or influencers are being invited to dinners or on press trips. The shows they’re going to, where they’ve been featured. It’s human nature to wonder why you weren’t included. And you can feel a little bit disappointed in yourself. It’s not easy to tune out the noise. But I’m very lucky to have real friends who I can turn to for a reality check and an amazing, supportive husband who is the most genuine person I know. They are never short of great advice and I’m so grateful for that.
I do think the tide is changing and people are talking much more about the reality of their lives and the pressures that they feel. I’d say I’m guilty through my own social media of making life look pretty and flawless, but the truth is that it’s totally a normal life with all the pros and cons, good days and bad days that everyone else deals with too. Aesthetically for what I’m doing professionally, showcasing the chaos of real home life wouldn’t feel right, but whenever I have a voice, I’m not shy about saying that life isn’t always picture-perfect. Ultimately I want to continue to inspire other women with my content, while being honest about how hard it can be to be a working mum. And admit that there are so many things that I’m still struggling with too.