French brand puts kids on the catwalk as children's wear market booms
Haute couture week in Paris is considered the most exclusive event on the calendar as the world's major fashion houses showcase their most exquisite creations.
In July, however, editors were treated to a surprise when French brand Bonpoint became the first luxury children's label to host a runway show alongside such big guns as Christian Dior and Chanel.
While most luxury brands are experiencing a slowdown in sales across most segments, the children's wear market is booming. According to Global Industry Analysts, the world market for children's wear is expected to reach US$173 billion by 2017. In the past few years, brands such as Dior, Gucci, Lanvin, Stella McCartney and Burberry have taken note and launched or extended their offerings, while speciality boutiques for children's wear have sprouted up in cities worldwide.
Bonpoint is considered the pinnacle of luxury children's wear and is favoured by style icons such as Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Victoria Beckham.
A pioneer in the industry, it was founded in 1975 by Marie-France Cohen and quickly became the go-to brand for chic French mothers looking for modern yet luxe creations for children aged up to 12 for girls and 14 for boys.
In 2005, Cohen handed the reins to Esmod graduate and former Cacharel creative director Christine Innamorato, who has since taken the brand international. Today it has 10 stores on the mainland, three in Hong Kong and multiple outlets in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
"When I started with the brand 10 years ago, it was a small family business, but we have grown it in many ways. Today the collection is huge [300 models per season], and we now have more than 100 stores in 27 countries," Innamorato said on a recent visit to Hong Kong.
"For me the secret is injecting a bit of fantasy into the collections. Children like to dream, and I believe we must keep these fantasy roots in our designs."
Her design heroes, shesays, include Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo.
A look at any of Bonpoint's collections will attest to this philosophy. Each season you will find bestsellers including Liberty prints, peacoats, duchesse silk dresses and intricately embroidered tunics. The difference is in the execution and details, which are always injected with dashes of humour.
Contrasting prints or unexpected combinations such as a T-shirt paired with a chic crystal necklace or dresses matched with chunky masculine boots are to be expected. The look is always chic with a Boho vibe thrown in.
For spring-summer 2015, for example, Liberty prints are being paired with raw denim jeans, while Mexican-style embroidered skirts are partnered with Peter Pan collar sweaters. Cotton poplin and wool twill dresses are matched with wide-brim hats.
Innamorato's design approach takes its cues from the world of women's wear.
"I start off by creating a mood board with a theme, and then I look at colours and materials. I don't like to repeat myself from one season to another," she says.
While the clothes look great on the catwalk, Innamorato is equally obsessed with the fit, with many styles made in the brand's own atelier by a team of pattern makers.
"Comfort is key. Children have very hectic lives. They must be able to run, jump and play," she says. "That's actually the main difference in designing for children versus women: the cut must allow movement for a child. Each model of clothing will have different patterns based on the size; a dress is not cut the same way for a child aged two as aged four. This is also the reason we try the clothing on real children."
While clothing remains the focus at Bonpoint, the brand's aesthetic has lent itself easily to other lifestyle segments over the years including accessories, skincare and fragrance.
Aside from collaborations with popular brands and designers including Dr Martens and French jeweller Aurelie Bidermann, Innamorato says that she would love to create lines of furniture and homewares.
"I am not interested in creating a revolution at Bonpoint," she says. "I see the brand as a lifestyle house, a reference in French art de vivre and savoir faire.
"My goal is to keep the founding values of Bonpoint, yet allow it to expand and conquer new territories."