What I Did on My (European) Vacation

If some of you were wondering why you didn't see me wandering around the August ENK Children's Club, here's the reason: I was lucky enough to take a long vacation to France and Italy in late July through August. My husband Bob, a sculptor, was awarded an artist's residency in Vallauris, France, the charming town where Picasso made his famous ceramic work. Bob spent three weeks living in an apartment in the heart of the village, and working in his nearby studio. When the weather become too hot to concentrate, he walked a mile to the nearest town where he swam in the Riviera (poor guy). I joined him at the end of July, just in time to see his exhibition and meet some of the local artists.

Yes, my time in Vallauris was every bit as idyllic as it sounds, made even better by Lou Pichinet, a bistro three steps from Bob's place, where we enjoyed one of the most delicious, and longest lunches of our trip. A two-hour meal in France is nothing, especially when you're lingering over a perfectly grilled dorade and sharing a crème brulee with berries so big and sweet you can still taste the sunshine on the fruit.

All of that was lovely, but there was work to be done. During my excursion, I faithfully photographed the window displays of as many children's boutiques as I could find before the shops' proprietors chased me away. Just like in windows of kids' shops here, mannequins were displayed wearing heavily layered and accessorized outfits: it's the easiest way for a shop owner to offer buyers a fast glimpse of the store's merchandise while enticing them to enter.

As you know, many children's wear manufacturers in this country take their design cues from domestic color and trend forecasting companies whose principals shop Europe. Some line planners forgo style-seers altogether, and travel to Europe themselves where they rely on their observant eye to glean all sorts of emerging fashions. While abroad they note how people accessorize their outfits, put colors together, and even what makeup tones are appealing and how they're being applied. (Remember the perfectly groomed eyebrow of a few seasons back? Black was hot then in simple, modern shapes.)


European children and teenagers, dress just like American youth. Little boys in France and Italy wore T-shirts over loose, mid-calf shorts with big cargo pockets; toddler girls favored sundresses, halter-tops and T-shirts over pretty, flouncy skirts. I noticed tweens to juniors working the same belly-baring tank tops and very low-rise jeans as the kids wear here.

Just like domestic collections, European manufacturers are still strong on denim. What was different in upcoming fall lines, and being worn by teenagers this summer, was a new jeans silhouette. While some American collections are showing pants with the waist bands somewhat higher than in past seasons, the new jeans shape sat below the hip bones, fit snugly around the rear, then descended into baggy, straight or slightly bootcut legs, making everyone who wears them look ridiculously long-waisted and stubby-legged. Not a flattering cut by any means.


There were very few surprises here. My earlier Fall 2005 trend report mentioned green as an important color, and it was HUGE in Italy and France. Olive - especially a grayed, khakish cast - was consistent in collections of all age groups. The stony, earthy cast is sophisticated, but the hue doesn't really flatter anyone. For children, especially, khaki can look dour. Europeans couple the color with a light, dusty mauve - again, not the most cheerful combination. More commercial lines went less gray on the olive and cleaner on the mauve for a lighter mood, or deepened the khaki to rich olive and mauve to deep rose for more drama.


Important solids:

-Chocolate, light cocoa, dusty cream

-Mauve, pink

-Khaki, olive, leaf

-Teal, turquoise

-Silver, charcoal

-Neon orange

-Washed yet dark denim

Important combinations:

-Deep olive with a yellowish cast paired with dark chocolate

-A mix of yellow-cast olive and teal

-Khaki and deep olive with an accent of neon orange

-Mauve or soft pink with charcoal or silver

-Mauve or soft pink with chocolate

-Chocolate and dark rose/Bright leaf green and deep rose

Olive and rose combinations were seen in adult and children's collections.

In Nice, France, I noticed Sonia Rykiel's happy, gypsy-inspired children's collection that featured black sportswear appliquéd with bright flowers, but she was the only designer I spotted working in such clean, vibrant tones.


Important solids:

-Khaki, olive, dusty leaf

-Chocolate, light grayish taupe

-Bright orange

-Charcoal, silver

-Dark, rich rust and lighter more subdued tones of the color

-Washed yet dark denim

Important combinations:

-Olive with a yellowish cast worn with deep cocoa and teamed with dark rust

-Dark grayish khaki paired with deep red and sometimes black.

-Charcoal and bright orange

-Black mixed with hot yellow and cream.


Skirt: Whether it's teamed with a short-waisted jacket, a T-shirt or wrap-around sweater, the skirt is the "it" item in European boutiques. I noticed some below-the-knee styles in a tiered, prairie style, but straight minis or slightly above-the-knee shapes, with tiers, gathered at the waistband into a dirndl or those sporting chunky pleats are the most prevalent. The poof skirt with the turned under hem was shown in the highest price points only.

Pants: Low-waisted jeans are everywhere in tight fitting or baggy-legged styles. The bottom line in pants though, is the culotte. Designers showed it wide cut or narrower, cuffed or not, and most often in tweedy plaid.

Coats: A beautiful coat is the key to chic European dressing for children. Pastel-toned faux-fur was the rage.


Certain things in Europe are cheap. You can pick up a bottle of good wine for about $3; cocktails were never over $5 (not counting the Bellinis we sipped at Harry's Bar in Venice); and we stayed in truly elegant bed and breakfasts for under $100 that would have cost us three times as much in the States. Children's clothing, though, is another story. Better kids' designer wear is on a par with New York boutique prices, and in high-ticket areas - such as the chandeliered boutique in Venice that faced the Plaza San Marco - astronomical. Yes, it's probably the costliest area to shop anywhere in the world, but, still, only rock stars can lay out $270 for a toddler's skirt, even if it was an exquisite design from I Pinco Pallino.


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