Ma, You Be Killin’ Em: Marlyse Henchoz

May 10, 2013

We have so much to thank our mothers for. In addition to birthing us, feeding us, and bathing us, they’ve also been our most influential style icons. As a small token of our affection, we’re counting down to Mother’s Day (this Sunday, heads up!) by celebrating our moms’ style, swagger and grace.

What did your mom like to wear? My mom moved all by herself from Lausanne, Switzerland to New York at the age of 22. Her first job was as an au pair to a wealthy family, but she landed a job at Swiss Bank Corporation (now UBS) a few years later after cold-calling down a list of Swiss companies in the phone book. Back in the ‘70s, she was buttoned up in formal business attire for most of the week, but my mom is the most stylish person I know, so I can imagine her wearing the hippest clothes of the time whenever she was off the clock. In this picture, she’s wearing an Apalca wool poncho that a coworker from Swiss Bank picked up for her during a trip to Peru. While not a hippy at heart, my mom seemed to love mixing and matching items from all over the world; a typical outfit from this era, she says, involved bell-bottoms, leather sandals, a South American or African basket-woven bag, tons of Native American, silver and turquoise jewelry, and going braless under a tank (damn girl!!!). On a cautionary note, she reminds me that back then women used to pluck their eyebrows very thin, often to the point where they never really grew back; to this day, she always gets strangely anxious whenever she sees me holding a pair of tweezers.

What music did she listen to? My mom grew up in a jazz musician's household, but ours was pretty much entirely a classical music one. My mom has been completely obsessed with French baroque music for as along as I can remember, so while my friends were getting schooled at home in the greatest hits of Elton John and Cindi Lauper, she was blasting viola da gamba music by really obscure, be-wigged court composers all the time—I mean, as loud as one would normally blast a rock record. Recently, we’ve been bonding a lot over classical music, but mostly in the context of watching old videos of New York City Ballet performances from the ‘70s, back when George Balanchine, alongside Woody Allen, was kind of the king of New York. The scores don’t usually get any more experimental than Stravinsky, but classical ballet-wise, Balanchine’s got a deconstructionist bent that leads me to believe that whatever part of me has gravitated to more radical ambitions in art and music probably comes from my mom. When my mom was in her thirties and completely obsessed with ballet, she would go out to Lincoln Center two or three times a week. I laughed a little when I heard that, because that’s about how often I go out to shows.

What would she say? Does she have a fave phrase or saying? I didn’t realize this until recently, but a lot of my mother’s stock phrases from when I was growing up were things that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney would say in the 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. When she got really angry about something, she’d make a sling-shot motion and go, “Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!,” in imitation of Jackie Gleason’s character Ralph Cramden, and as though to send the offending party into space. When she wanted to feign embarrassment, she’d go ahumanahumanahumanahumana, like Art Carney’s character Ed Norton did in any plot situation where he would get "caught redhanded." And when she wanted to make fun of the idea of a person being a little too boastful about something, she’d go, “it was a mere bag of shells, my dear,” like Ralph Cramden would say when he was feeling particularly grandiose. This was funny, because my mother has a French accent, so "mere" would always come out sounding like “mare." Love you mom.

Ma, You Be Killin’ Em: Marlyse Henchoz