FASHION Invasion of the Vogue Bambini

Moms applaud as three Dallas women make Euro-style kidstuff their business.

THERE AREALOT OF SHOULDS ABOUT kids’ clothes. They should be comfortable, which means 100 percent cotton whenever possible. They should be functional, which means roomy and uncontrived for easy-on-and-off, jump-up-and-down purposes. And they should be easy-care, which means wash ’n’ dry, small-fry sportswear that still looks great after the playschool triathlon. Happily, more than one designer/manufacturer has come to the realization that moms are shopping with these traits in mind and will occasionally even pay more for clothing when all of the above can be taken for granted.

A big part of the American response has been children’s clothes that mimic what the big guys wear. Oshkosh b’Gosh’s overalls, Levi’s denim jackets, and Guess’s pricey collection of scaled-down adult sportswear all make the point beautifully. Judging by sales figures, these little-adult looks win the parental seal of approval.

But Euro-look sportswear, created just for kids, is carving out its own considerable niche in the U.S. kids’ market, too, and for obvious reasons-it’s different, it’s for kids only, and it looks great. In Europe and Japan, where practical considerations are givens, designers have taken a different tack, concentrating mainly on kidstyle.

Part of the Euro-appeal is its “I-can-do-anything-1-want-in-this,” oversized fit. Another is the outstanding fabrics: natural fibers, prints, graphics, and an adult color palette that proves that basic black looks good on kids, too.

The downside of the Euro-kids collections is an excruciatingly painful price tag. A saleswoman in Macy’s kids shop notices my angst over a pair of highly desirable French cotton trousers with suspenders. In size 2T, they’re on safe for $160. She tells me that a lot of grandmothers buy that line for the grandchildren. I may have bought a pair of Maud Frizon shoes on occasion-and paid handsomely for their chicness and their boat ride over here. But it’s difficult to rationalize spending $75 to $100 for a cotton romper, no matter how cute, no matter how Euro-chic.

But right here in Dallas, at least three women are giving the Europeans a run for their money. Fast-forwarding style and keeping the price tag within rationalization range, they’re making Euro-looks for Dallas kids their business.

Jocelyn Meintser’s favorite thing as a kid was to pretend she was an adult. When she began retailing her own line of children’s clothing a year ago from a small Oak Cliff studio/retail store she dubbed House of Monster, she made good use of adult fabrics and colors, among them a black-and-white menswear print and a bold black-and-white plaid, to push the point that kids don’t have to be in pastels or froufrou. She showcased a signature penchant for layers that can be peeled off or piled up: a calf-length pant in black cotton twill and lycra with its own attached apron is pulled on with a black-and-white floral print top and a black-and-white crop top. Her attention-to-detail trimmings-big buttons, giant rickrack, and quirky soft hats-became the perfect finish. This fall, her let’s-play-dress-up approach to kids’ sportswear and hand-finished tailoring continues. In sizes to fit XT through 6X for girls and boys, there are basic black pieces and a stellar group of cotton and lycra knits in brick and deep royal blue that borrow silhouette and attitude from a European carnival noir. Bendel, New York, and Fred Segal, L.A., have called to shop House of Monster for their holiday collections. In Dallas, you can shop House of Monster on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment by calling 946-8899. House of Monster, 408 N. Bishop, Suite 107, in Oak Cliff.

Gwen Watel and husband Damien own and operate Watel’s on McKinney, a bistro that for the past two and a half years has brought a bit of classic French cuisine to Dallas. This summer, Gwen debuted Mudd Pies, a small retail store that promises to be invaluable to moms tired of paying Euro-prices for the look. Mudd Pies’ raison d’etre goes something like this: Damien’s sister owned a childrenswear manufacturing business in France that went out of business. Gwen Watel bought the French patterns and the best of the European fabrics that remained and developed import/export relations with the most desirable European mills. Moving the manufacturing process to the USA, she is reproducing the European designs from the French fabrics. Voila! 100 percent cotton, fabulously French kidstuff: unisex jumpsuits, overalls, and traditional mid-calf-length dresses and separates. Mudd Pies stocks sizes from three months to 4T for girls and boys at prices that range from $15 for a simple bubble to $40 for something a bit more elaborate. We spotted a jumpsuit in heavily padded European denim that was a must-have, as well as spandex pants and a turtleneck that would be the talk of prekindergarten. Mudd Pies is at 4503 Travis, across from Travis Walk.

Pamela Schaefers grew up in the ParkCities, married a Frenchman (AntoineSchaefers, who is now chef at Laurel’s inDallas), then lived in New York and inFrance for a while. An art/architecture major, she’d always been drawn to Europeanand Japanese fashion design, but didn’t getinterested in children’s clothing until afterher daughter Sabine was born, and Pamelawas unable to find children’s clothing shedeemed suitable. Two years ago, she beganHot Tot, a Euro-style line she designs andmanufactures in a studio/warehouse inGarland, and it’s become a national successstory. Hot Tots are typically oversized andcomfy, like the clothes Schaefers liked inJapan and Europe, and they’re sewn infabric she has printed to her specificationsin New York or purchases in Europe. Pricesare reasonable: a jumpsuit is approximately $45. The clothes are available in infant-6Xfor girls, to 7 for boys. Hot Tots are sold atMailinh’s in Piano, Kids World at North-Park, Little Rebels in Las Colinas, Silhouettes in Snider Plaza, at Ann Hartley ForKids, Lindsay Place, For Children, andAnimal Crackers.

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