It seems like only yesterday that parenting was perceived to be a lifestyle in which one ricocheted sleep deprived through life, multi-tasking in an un-ironed sweatshirt and baby food stained jeans, while muttering to yourself. The kids had baked bean residue for lipstick and home was a messy disaster zone, with washing up heaped by the kitchen sink and the washing machine seemingly on day and night, futilely trying to deal with all those children's clothes which go on, only to be dirtied approximately ten minutes later. In short, it was a realm one could safely characterise as style-free.
Lately, though, a welcome stylish overturning of such stereotypes has arrived in the form of a French-led invasion of children's wear brands, bespoke toy companies and children's fashion and family lifestyle magazines and blogs, who are all out to recast childhood and family life as a supremely stylish, elegant realm.
Take Milk magazine ("Le magazine de mode enfantine"), a beautifully styled, photographed and lavishly produced French quarterly, whose modus operandi, "the art of living with kids", as they see it, presents an opportunity for a family life where "every moment is an opportunity to be an aesthete". They aren't joking: flicking through their fashion spreads, you could easily think you're reading Paris Vogue or Vogue Italia - until it dawns on you that the models are four or seven or twelve years old and so on.
In every issue of Milk since Isis-Colombe Combris launched it in Paris in 2003, you'll see stunningly dressed parents who are unrelentingly beautiful, side by side with immaculately dressed cherubic children, living in jaw droppingly perfect homes that wouldn't look out of place in Dwell, The Selby or Elle Decoration. In short, Milk is the Sofia Coppola of children's fashion and family lifestyle magazines.
And it's now so popular, that it's managed to make pioneering children's fashion magazine, Vogue Bambini (which launched in 1973) look dated as well as inciting enough of a market niche that there are now two similar children's fashion magazines on the market (Naif launched in 2008; Doolittle, launched in 2009) as well as a mainstream title, Marie Claire Enfants (which launched in 2010).
Arguably, this very Parisian vision of French family life, where everything, including one's children are catalogue picture perfect, harks back to 1975, when Marie-France Cohen and her husband Bernard started what was then the first Parisian children's clothing house, Bonpoint. Quickly a success thanks to trend setting couple Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin becoming fans of the brand, Bonpoint offered a more luxurious, poetic vision for children's wear than Petit Bateau (founded in 1920) whose take on children's wear was more anchored in everyday basics and Catimini (which was founded in 1972 by Monique and Paul Salmon) whose children's wear was more trend-driven.
Today, Bonpoint is still a major player in the luxury children's wear market, despite stiff competition from the many big gun design houses like Gucci and Armani, who all now sell children's wear lines and smaller impeccably branded competitors such as the exquisite Petit Pan Paris (launched by husband and wife team Myriam de Loor and Pan Gang in Paris 2003), the elegant Caramel, Baby & Child (launched in London by Eva Karayiannis in 1998) and now French label A.P.C, who have just launched a typically cool children's collection (championed by Milk magazine, naturally).
Into this realm, a multitude of blogs, both French and international, have picked up Milk magazine's branded vision for a new idealised family life and run with it. The likes of Babyccino Kids, Bloesem Kids, Cool Mom Picks, Design Mom, Handmade Charlotte, Petite Planet, Pirouette, Kickcan and Conkers, Bozaround ("travel notes and inspiration for the modern family") and Papier Mache (an Australian blog which expanded into a bi annual print magazine in 2009), all espouse the same lifestyle message: that family life, from what everyone wears through to the cutlery they use to eat with, can and should be beautifully thought through. Family's a beautiful thing, they all seem to saying, so live it in a beautiful way.
Parents working to the same ethos are also launching their own design-conscious toy companies, which eschew eco values and imbibe children's toys with a winning nostalgia. Take Dents de Loup, a knitted toys company, launched by Argentinian mother, Paula, and named after the Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall song Dents de Lait, Dents de Loup, whose adorable bespoke knitted toys have struck a chord with bloggers, parents and children around the world. Or Petite Alma, a New York design company, focused on the baby and children's market, founded by former BabyGap/ Bonpoint designer Kirby Woodson, whose e-boutique sells gorgeous products like a Tooth Fairy Pillow or a Bird Notebook.
Then there are parent launched e-boutiques selling impeccably curated children's lifestyle products, such as Shakshuka, Niddle Noddle ("your childhood and theirs") and Funky Lama. Offline, Londoners wanting to shop the vision, head to Petit Aime in Notting Hill, a boutique which feels dreamily like an issue of Milk magazine come to life.
For many of us, kitting our children out in Bonpoint or Caramel Baby & Child is all but for the odd splurge here and there, unaffordable. But that doesn't mean family life has to be dowdy and drab. Milk magazine has a point: why shouldn't family life be as beautiful as we can make it? Why shouldn't we dress our children as best as we can, send them to sleep in gorgeous Petit Pan Paris pyjamas? And why have them play with headache inducing noisy plastic toys, when they could be playing with a Dents de Loup knitted toy? And as parents, we should strive for the best too. Like Milk magazine says, family life is all about "the art of living with kids". So let's live it.
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