SMILE by Julien Macdonald launches in Mothercare
Angela Buttolph chats to Julien Macdonald and gets the inside scoop on his cute new label
The mother of his godchildren had been bending fashion designer Julien Macdonald’s ear. ‘She was saying, “I can’t afford to shop at Harrods or Selfridges for childrenswear, or blow loads of money on their clothes.”’ It made him realise there was a gap in the market. ‘I really wanted to make some affordable, fashionable children’s clothes. So I approached Mothercare and said let’s make it fun, fashionable and accessible!’
SMILE by Julien Macdonald is all of those things. Currently for newborns to age two, the daywear is all about animals. He claims he’s been to the zoo ‘thousands of times this year. I love animals anyway, and the kids love it – I love getting interactive with them.’
For boys, there’s Tommy the Tiger – ‘My grandfather’s nickname’ – and for girls, Bella the Bunny, named after a childhood pet. There’s a Tiger onesie with one eye revealed behind a zip (junior would play with that for hours). A leopard-print pink dress comes with a rabbit headband and black leggings that have kitten faces on the knees. It’s all very cute and very colourful. ‘Don’t come to me if you want your baby to blend in!’ he laughs.
Of course, he describes the daywear pieces as ‘ready-to-wear’, although I do actually guffaw when he describes the party outfits as ‘eveningwear’ – so fashion, darling. But then
I see them. And my goodness, he’s right. The dresses are stunning: exquisitely detailed, with a sweet yet sophisticated feel. There’s a frothy white ballet dress with sequinned waistband and a crystal pleated bodice, and a baby pink dress with tiny white flowers outlined in even tinier sequins that looks like it must have been sewn by bluebirds in a Disney movie.
Offering me the soft silky fabric to stroke, he explains, ‘You only find that quality of fabric in high-end designer brands – you won’t get that touchy feel anywhere else on the high street.’ The Smile dress, a signature piece in pink and white striped satin with a tulle over-layer featuring a handwritten ‘smile’ print, will cost £30 – a new high in price points for Mothercare childrenswear.
But, he says, ‘I did my research and a dress like that is £2,500 in Harrods. £2,500!‘ SMILE by Julien is, he insists, designed for real life. ‘Look, it’ll be rolled around in on the floor – kids will do that. But these clothes can get dirty and then go in a washing machine.’
For the boys’ eveningwear, it’s all ‘biker, and rock and roll’. There’s a sleek black £30 biker jacket all-in-one baby grow and a trad tuxedo onesie. Oh, and a teeny red-carpet-ready pleated white shirt with dress trousers (featuring a bow-tie with eyes on).
We discuss how white-hot French fashion house Balmain is the latest designer label to launch childrenswear. ‘I’m friends with Olivier (Rousteing, Balmain’s creative director) and it’s so funny that his collection is also biker-themed, but it’ll be thousands of pounds for a piece. That’s so niche; really unobtainable.’
So how does the designer who dresses the likes of red-carpet goddesses Nicole Richie (at this years Golden Globes), Eva Longoria (at the SAG awards) and all the Kardashians, switch to the proportions of round-tummied toddlers and gorgeously chubby babies?
‘Well mine was just the design, not the technical part,’ he says with the humility he’s well known for in the industry. ‘Mothercare has interpreted it and done the fit for me; that’s such a specialist area.’ Sounds like the best of both worlds. SMILE isn’t actually Julien’s first foray into children’s fashion. Earlier this year he flew to Los Angeles for a very special meeting. Having bumped into Kim Kardashian backstage at a Beyoncé concert – as you do – he received a last-minute summons from martriarch Kris Jenner to the Kardashian homestead ‘to talk fashion with Kim’, who is a big fan of Julien’s body-con couture. ‘I didn’t want to go empty-handed,’ he says, ‘but Kim was pregnant so I thought, I need to make something for North.’
Overnight his team produced a miniature Julien Macdonald creation: ‘It was beautiful, actually; a white dress full of Swarovski crystals and lace – a princess dress.’ And while North ‘let out a big gasp’ it was daddy Kanye who was most excited. ‘He said, “We have to save it for something super-special! It’ll be super-cool, we can put it with biker boots.” He was styling the whole outfit!’
Already there is the promise of another SMILE by Julien Macdonald collection for autumn/winter 2016, featuring clothes for a wider age range (phew!). He’s majorly excited about the possibility of designing mini coats and, of course, there’s the Christmas party season, with the designer promising, ‘Party will be very full-on, it’s my favourite time of year, when everyone glams up’.
And why the name SMILE? ‘Well, it’s the first thing you do when you see babies and kids!’ he beams, soppily. ‘Having children in your life... it’s fun, it makes you smile, it’s a happy thing.’ And with that he’s off, back to work on his autumn/winter 2016 ready-to-wear collection for London Fashion Week. Although he admits, ‘My day job is not as much fun after this...’
Smile by Julien Macdonald is available in 64 Mothercare stores and on mothercare.com.