Back in January, Paris-based Bonpoint held a fashion show to present its fall 2013 collection to the press, retailers and their clients, most of whom were sitting on their parents' laps. The label – for those who aren't familiar with its double-cherry logo – is one of Europe's most venerable lifestyle brands for kids. Since the first store's debut in 1975, the clothing has maintained a consistent look, comprised largely of pretty smock dresses for girls, mini blazers for boys and soft knitwear for all.
But since joining Bonpoint in 2006, artistic director Christine Innamorato has been taking subtle steps to update the brand's aesthetic. Conscious of the need to preserve Bonpoint's sweetness while injecting a bit of cool, she dressed one pint-sized model at the show in a leather jacket, a pleated skirt and Dr. Martens boots. Another wore a tartan blazer, a pinstripe shirt and a bowtie, while a young girl reminiscent of Marion Cotillard accessorized a polished cashmere and broadcloth coat with a faux ponyskin bag.
Bonpoint's fall collection, like other children's brands, is just now arriving in stores worldwide, timed to back-to-school shopping. But as Innamorato said in a recent e-mail interview, "the 'beautiful' clothes" of the past are having "more and more difficulty finding their place. This represents a capital challenge for Bonpoint: to reinforce the house's roots and values in this 'chic' universe."
It only takes a quick glance at publications such as Milk (the Paris-based kids'-fashion magazine aimed at savvy parents) or highly stylized mommy blogs like Romy and the Bunnies (the brainchild of new mother Julia Restoin Roitfeld, daughter of former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld) and The Glow (started by a fashion editor and a photo director in New York) to realize that children today are stepping up their fashion game, trading smocks for peplums and mini blazers for skinny jeans.
In part, this movement toward edgier, more mature kid style can be attributed to the many forays into children's wear by designer lines of late. Armani Junior, Baby Dior and Moncler Enfant were among the first. They have been joined more recently by Stella McCartney, Chloé and Lanvin.
But if the trends embraced by these brands inevitably trickle down to the kids' lines, the latter, says Nicole Yee, the children's editor at Stylesight, a trend-forecasting agency, aren't necessarily carbon copies. "Brands are being inspired by ready-to-wear, but they're not just shrinking silhouettes down to a kid's size. So much is about comfort and tweaking these clothes for kids."
This season, for instance, chambray shirts are big in children's wear, from Joe Fresh to Burberry. The bondage trend? Not so much (and rightly so).
Innamorato, in particular, isn't enamoured of the idea of pulling directly from grownup fashion. "I am not delighted to see that this process happens a bit too much," she says. Instead, she still draws on words like "gentleness," "tenderness" and "tradition" to describe her designs, adding that the goal is to punctuate them with just a little "sass."
In many instances, though, parents are now applying the same principles employed by street-style darlings and magazine editorials – mixing high fashion with high street, formal with fun – to how they dress their broods. They will invest, for instance, in a Sonia Rykiel piece but supplement it with Old Navy. Likewise, a tulle tutu dress might be paired with a grey sweatshirt and desert boots instead of the usual sparkly slippers.
According to Emily and Elizabeth Dyer, co-owners of the Toronto children's boutique Advice from a Caterpillar, practicality still rules when it comes to buying for kids in North America, but there is nonetheless a growing interest in what they refer to as "culty" brands such as Bonpoint, Bon Ton, Bobo Choses, Album di Famiglia and the chuckle-worthy Finger in the Nose. When selling these brands, they must often, they say, justify the higher prices for European labels and do so by highlighting their craftsmanship.
"Instead of buying so much, you buy your favourite pieces and keep your child in them all the time," Elizabeth says she tells clients. She adds, jokingly, that a Bonpoint dress will wear well – it just might get shorter.