Glisten with mother
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)