Christina Innamorato has been passionate about clothes for as long as she can remember. As a child, she was endlessly fascinated by the world of fashion with a love for creating sketches inspired by Jane Birkin in "La Piscine," Catherine Deneuve in "Belle de Jour" and Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday." So, it seems only natural that today she finds herself at the helm of the world's leading luxury children's fashion brand as artistic director of Bonpoint.
Her early career started after studying fashion at ESMOD in Paris when she worked as a freelance designer in France, learning the ropes at different labels before landing at House of Cacharel. There, she spent eight "rich" years before heading to Bonpoint. Innamorato credits this as the place where she paid her fashion dues, first taking over the children's line and then the responsibility for women's wear.
Ahead of Bonpoint's spring/summer 2017 runway show, we traded emails with Innamorato to discuss her rise through the industry ranks, how she found her way into designing clothes for children and all the joys of dressing tiny, precious humans.
Did you always know you wanted to be in children’s fashion or did that happen organically?
I had no idea I would end up in children’s wear. My creative world drew almost exclusively from women’s fashion! It was Marie France Cohen, the founder of Bonpoint, who brought out this creative vein in me for children’s fashion, first of all by working with her on the Cacharel children’s line and then a few years later by offering me the chance to take over from her at Bonpoint. I already knew the house, of course; I dressed my daughter in clothes from Bonpoint and I loved the chic yet discreet world of the house. I also deeply admired Marie France Cohen. So I accepted her offer and was flattered to be invited to take part in writing a new chapter for the brand.
What are some challenges that a designer in the children’s market might face that others might not?
Coming from the world of women’s wear, I have always paid huge attention to the fit and cut. Creating clothes for children is an even more complex procedure, especially with a House as exacting as ours. Children’s comfort is above all the main reason for this attentiveness. They have such busy little lives. They have to be able to move, to run and feel good in their clothes. The main complexity comes with the constraints imposed by such a wide range of sizes.
It all starts with the conception of the garments, the choice of shapes and materials through my initials sketches. Then, all of our patterns in all of their sizes are made in our Parisian atelier. They are thought about specifically in accordance to every age. For the very little ones we think about the posture of the child who has yet to start walking, paying attention to the neck line which can never be too tight for example. Then as the children grow and their silhouette changes, they become longer and the clothes have to follow this dynamic. To ensure a perfect cut for all the sizes, our clothes are fitted several times on actual children.
How about staging a children’s fashion show? How is the process for casting models, fittings, making sure they walk the runway in order, and so forth, made more streamlined for kids?
Organizing a children’s runway show works along the same steps as a women’s wear show: the conception and installation of décor, the casting, the fittings and the rehearsals. For the casting, the selection criteria are a bit different though. We choose the children above all because of their faces, their spontaneity and what they radiate. We really work on instinct. That’s why we sometimes choose the children of friends of the house. I also make sure that the line-up is diverse. We establish the running order and do our best to ensure this is respected as well as we can. We have to always bear in mind they are children and by their very essence can be unpredictable! Sometimes some of them might do a little show, start running or joke around, but that is exactly what makes the event so charming, that freshness and spontaneity of children. And my job is to make that last!
What about the beauty portion? Are hair and makeup kept minimal and natural, or are the models all styled to look similar?
I do like hair and make-up to be natural; the goal isn’t to turn the children into mini adults. There will always be a very discreet common theme with the make-up and hair… Sometimes we chose little details in harmony with the themes of the collection that make everything gorgeous: pink cheeks, a dash of sparkle.
How much more consideration goes into creating the set and using fun props (including live animals) for a children’s show? Is there one set or prop that was particularly challenging for you?
I think of every runway show as its own little universe, a world apart inspired by the themes of the collection. For our 40th anniversary I wanted a world that was very fresh and bucolic, a little cabin lost in an enchanted garden. The winter 2016 show in January paid tribute to the world of the circus and Bartabas’ equestrian shows that I hold dear to my heart. The idea of the pony took a while to work out; at the beginning, I wanted a unicorn. Then I decided to keep the pony as itself, it was so pretty. Unfortunately not much else is that easy! The pony came with its own constraints. It had to be familiarized with the show, be prepared, and we needed assurance it would be in a good mood when the moment came! But all that just adds another touch of magical poetry!
Is there the added pressure of dealing with the young models’ parents? Do they get a say in what their child will wear?
I never work with a child who I feel is being pushed by their parents, and who doesn’t actually want to take part. It’s totally up to the child to decide! And their parents don’t have any say on what they wear on the day of the show! That’s simply unimaginable for me.
Have you seen a rise in interest regarding high-end children’s fashion since so many celebrity kids — North West, Blue Ivy, Harper Beckham — are always dressed in trends and designers similar to what their parents wear?
I think that parents pay more attention to everything related to their children these days and they naturally turn to the big houses. This trend is also amplified by the constant media presence of these famous children, with the rise of social networks and the Internet, but also because children are taking a greater role in purchasing decisions. They have clear tastes and don’t hesitate to let everyone know it!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.