Glis­ten with mother

The Sunday Telegraph - ST Kids - - CONTENTS -

Minia­turised cou­ture for lit­tle girls, from the cou­ple be­hind Preen

When the cou­ple be­hind the lux­ury fash­ion line Preen de­cided to scale down their own daugh­ters on non-itchy fab­rics and the ques­tion of pink, among other

Not long af­ter Justin Thorn­ton and Thea Bregazzi’s first daugh­ter, Fauve, was born, in 2008, the de­sign­ers be­hind the la­bel Preen (full brand name: Preen by Thorn­ton Bregazzi) started be­ing asked whether they had con­sid­ered de­sign­ing chil­drenswear. “It was a ques­tion I got a lot in in­ter­views,” Bregazzi says. “I thought it was a great idea be­cause I could never quite find the clothes I wanted to dress my daugh­ter in, but I didn’t think I had the time to design any my­self.”

When their sec­ond daugh­ter, Blythe, was born, in 2012, it was re­ported that the pair were about to launch a line for lit­tle girls. Although they were no more than vaguely think­ing about it, they re­ceived so many emails ask­ing when and where it would be avail­able that they de­cided to ask a pat­tern cut­ter to shrink down a few dresses from their main­line col­lec­tion to see how they trans­lated. “We sim­ply chose the pieces we thought would look cute smaller,” Bregazzi says.

They were pleased with the re­sults, and so for spring/sum­mer 2014 Preen Mini was launched. It has since been go­ing from strength to strength and now has 35 stock­ists in­ter­na­tion­ally, from the UK to China, America and the Mid­dle East.

“When I was a child in the late 1970s I used to wear a ‘mini-me’ look with my mum,” Bregazzi says. “She had tweed dresses and tubu­lar knit­ted dresses and the same in smaller sizes for me. She would wear brown leather knee-high boots with hers, and I had these chunky lit­tle fur-lined ones. I re­mem­ber feel­ing fan­tas­tic wear­ing the same thing as my mum. But of course I was al­ways yearn­ing for the high-heeled ver­sion.”

Thorn­ton and Bregazzi met at art school in their na­tive Isle of Man when they were 18, and launched Preen five years later, in 1996, from a tiny store in Por­to­bello, Lon­don, where they also lived and worked. They had a joint love of Vic­to­ri­ana and have grown the brand – blend­ing a de­con­structed ver­sion of a by­gone era with mod­ern, min­i­mal lines – from dress­ing friends go­ing club­bing to high-pro­file women in­clud­ing Diane Kruger, Kate Bos­worth, Bey­oncé and Michelle Obama. Preen has ex­panded slowly and re­mains en­tirely self-funded.

“We have al­ways been look­ing around at our friends and our peers and think­ing what do they need in their wardrobes,” Bregazzi says. “Now

its dis­tinc­tive blend of retro glam­our and min­i­mal­ist cool for the chil­dren’s mar­ket, they wel­comed in­put from vi­tal mat­ters. By Ge­or­gia Dehn

‘You can see when we shoot the col­lec­tion which pieces will be pop­u­lar from the kids’ point of view. The girls start fight­ing over the sparkly things’

they are hav­ing kids and need things for them. We launched Preen Mini by shrink­ing down some of the more ap­pro­pri­ate Preen items – so ob­vi­ously not the ban­dage dresses. From there it has de­vel­oped and although we might not do ex­actly the same print, we’ll al­ways take in­spi­ra­tion from the prints in our main col­lec­tions.”

Their de­signs are tried and tested by Fauve and Blythe be­fore be­ing fi­nalised for the col­lec­tion. “We bring the first sam­ples home for the girls to try on,” Bregazzi says. “If things are a bit tight or a bit scratchy, we al­ter them ac­cord­ingly.”

“If they can’t get both arms and their heads in straight away, then we know we have to think about the shape, per­haps make it much wider,” Thorn­ton says. “But once you have a shape that works, you can play with it in new prints and fab­rics and make it com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

En­ter­ing the chil­dren’s mar­ket has been a chal­lenge for the pair, as there are stricter reg­u­la­tions on man­u­fac­tur­ing and rig­or­ous test­ing. One thing they re­alised quite quickly was that the mar­ket re­sponded best to the more spe­cial pieces – “those items that are a lit­tle bit more dressy or suit­able for oc­ca­sions like birth­day par­ties or wed­dings,” Thorn­ton says. “You can get amaz­ing ba­sics al­ready on the high street.”

As for what lit­tle girls want most, it is usu­ally the pieces with some sparkle. “You can see when we shoot the col­lec­tion which pieces will be pop­u­lar from the kids’ point of view. The girls start fight­ing over the sparkly things,” Bregazzi says. There is a colour­ful se­quined dress in the cur­rent col­lec­tion that Fauve wore straight from the photo shoot to a birth­day party. “I think she is quite happy to have spe­cial ac­cess to some great clothes,” Bregazzi says. “She isn’t a show-off and doesn’t gloat, but qui­etly she is happy.”

Bregazzi is drawn to the vin­tage-look­ing pieces in the col­lec­tion. “I love the hand-smock­ing,” she says. The smock­ing is done in In­dia and makes each piece unique. Bold checks and em­broi­dered flow­ers also fea­ture. “Our daugh­ters both love the navy coat with em­broi­dered flow­ers on the shoul­ders,” she says. Made from bouclé wool with a gold thread wo­ven through it, it has a glit­tery ef­fect to ap­peal to lit­tle girls, while also at­tract­ing par­ents who want to dress their daugh­ters in a gor­geous up­date on a tra­di­tional woollen coat.

Bregazzi says that Fauve’s love of all things pink has rubbed off on her and in­formed the de­signs for Preen Mini. You wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect Thorn­ton and Bregazzi to in­clude girly-girl el­e­ments in their chil­dren’s de­signs, yet they are not afraid to. “When Fauve was a baby I was in­clined not to dress her in pink at all, but then she started hav­ing her own opin­ion, and she loved pink,” she says. “Lit­tle girls are at­tracted to it so we do in­clude it, and there are some lovely pinks out there any­way.”

Blythe, Bregazzi says, is the op­po­site and loves boy­ish things. “I can still just about get away with dress­ing her in the pretty hand-me-downs from Fauve, but if I ever put her in denim she tells me that she likes it more be­cause it has pock­ets.”

Thorn­ton and Bregazzi know only too well that lit­tle girls can be very opin­ion­ated, and it can be a chal­lenge for par­ents to get them to wear un­apolo­get­i­cally stylish out­fits. Bregazzi has a tech­nique with her own daugh­ters to give them their fix of what she calls “char­ac­ter clothes”.

“Mine can have py­ja­mas with any old char­ac­ter on,” she says. “I let them pick py­ja­mas them­selves, and Fauve will al­ways go for the fairy princess ones and Blythe goes for the su­per­heroes. I take them to a huge Mother­care on an in­dus­trial es­tate that we of­ten drive past and there is a whole wall of char­ac­ter py­ja­mas. I let them go mad – some­times they can have slip­pers too – be­cause no one is ever go­ing to see them in those.”

Above Thea Bregazzi and Justin Thorn­ton with their daugh­ters, Blythe (left) and Fauve, at the time of Preen Mini’s 2014 launch. Right Al­ber­tine dresses in two colour­ways, from £178

From top Olivia dress in two colour­ways, £402; Isla dress (right), from £170, Del­phine skirt,

from £117.50, Florence top, from £80, and Bella coats, from £260. All clothes ages 2-12, Preen

(preen­bythorn­ton­bregazzi.com)

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