Fashion starts young

By Marriam N Mossalli


Kids know what they want; and now, thanks to luxury childrenswear designer, Bonnie Young, they can get it.
Preteens, unlike their older adolescent counterparts, are more comfortable being their unique selves. Their lives are not yet confused with the stresses of puberty and the need to fit in by assimilating and conforming to trends. On the contrary, they strive to set them.
“I began my company because I understood that children today are moving so quickly,” explained Young who was still the senior creative director for the Donna Karan Collection when she launched her eponymous line. “They have their individual tastes, they see more, they are more sophisticated and have a strong desire for the latest fashion trend.”
Donna Karan had given her colleague and friend 600 sq feet of the Donna Karan Collection boutique on Madison Ave to create a Bonnie Young shop-in-shop. However, by the end of 2007, investors saw the potential in Young’s bespoke designs and approached her to open her first freestanding store in Aspen, Colorado.
“At that point I left Donna Karan to focus solely on my brand. Donna was extremely supportive in the decision,” stated Young. Young admitted she probably would have never started her own clothing line if she hadn’t become a mother. “I never thought of designing for kids until I became a mother and felt there was a space in the market,” she confessed. “I couldn’t find what I wanted for my kids so I made it myself and then organically turned it into a business.”
She also admitted that working so closely with Donna Karan has influenced her both aesthetically and as an individual. “Not only did I work with her for almost 17 years, but we were family: we traveled for business as well as spent holidays together.”

Young stated that there has always been a strong synergy between the two designers; yet, she still approaches fashion quite differently and has a unique perspective in fashion — one that can easily be seen in her designs for Bonnie Young. “For sure, we are inspired by the same things yet our interpretation is different.”
The new major influences in Young’s life may not be recipients of a CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award, but they still seem to know what’s in vogue in the fashionable world of tweens. “My children are very opinionated and I see what they love and want to wear.”
Her studio is attached to her loft so her daughter and son are a very big part of what goes on every afternoon, admitted the designer. “Kids of today are growing up in an age of information: the Internet and computers allow them to no longer be just kids from the town where they live,” she explained. “They are citizens of the world and that is an enormous change from our generation.”
Young’s designs are bringing families together in that both parent and child can finally agree on something. During the period in childhood when truces are rare and battles over uneaten vegetables at the dinner table are commonplace, agreeing on the daily ritual of clothing is a welcome relief. Young’s use of comfortable, child-friendly fabrics and her obvious attention to detail, make both concerned parties happy.

“I generally tend to use natural fibers, but I do not restrict myself so long as the fabric is comfortable and does not itch,” said Young, sounding more like a mother than a designer. She quickly reaffirmed her fashion prowess with the mention of her love for Indian embroideries and rich materials. “I use luxurious fabrics. My knits are mostly made of cashmere or Alpaca and the wovens are often of cotton or silk.”
But Young’s clothes are not just for the mom who is frustrated over unheeded appeals for her children to wear those matching itchy wool sweaters for the annual family portrait. They also seem to strike a style cord with the fashionista mommy who doesn’t mind spending on designer brands for her children. “If a woman is in Chanel couture, she certainly wants her child wearing something equally as divine and that isn’t easy to find,” stated Young. “So, they come to me to create it for them.”
Since Young’s designs are almost already couture, she is often commissioned for weddings and special occasions, especially in the tween sizes. “It’s just really hard to find beautiful occasion clothes for kids and tweens.”
Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows how much the Middle East loves a wedding. So, it should be no surprise that most of Young’s loyal clientele hail from the Arab world. “They love to discover the latest designer. They appreciate rich fabrics, really love fashion and will spend the money to have a superior product,” she said, admitting that the Middle Eastern market differs greatly from its Western counterpart. “However, many of my clients in the West are actually from the Middle East.”

Young regards her Middle Eastern consumers as being the most fashion forward clients in the industry. Perhaps it was this love and praise of the Middle East’s fashion sense that brought the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar and Young together. Last year, she was commissioned to design an exclusive collection for the temporary exhibit, “A Journey into the World of the Ottomans.” She created 12 collectible jelabas cut out of rare antique Ottoman silk textiles, which were part of a wedding dowry she came across in Istanbul. She also designed limited edition necklaces that coordinate with the silks as they are made from 12th century Ottoman coins wrapped in 18k gold.
Young also included a series that was presented later on in December called Scriptures of Hope. “I was inspired in Istanbul by some Ottoman pieces with Quranic scripture,” said Young who initially wanted to directly interpret the scriptures onto the clothes, but discovered it wasn’t feasible for religious reasons.
Instead, Young recreated the aesthetic of the scriptures by commissioning an Islamic calligrapher to write messages of peace, hope and compassion in Arabic calligraphy. “Of course not understanding Arabic writing met with some great challenges,” she confessed. “It has been one of the most challenging projects so far.”
Although she admits the printmaking was a bit arduous, she had no problem with the actual design of the traditional garment. “I am very comfortable designing jelabas and kaftans. I have collected so many over the years and I love to wear them so I felt totally comfortable [when it came to designing].”
Her travels inspire who she is as well as what she creates every moment of her life, claims the designer whose inspiration for the styling of the lookbook of her Fall 2010 collection was a combination from George Lucas’ Star Wars and the incredible architecture and buildings in Qatar.
“I had never seen anything like it in my life: modern glass structures adorned with incredible metals in the middle of the desert. It was very futuristic indeed,” stated Young. “What I felt in Qatar reminded me of Star Wars and being that I have a five-year old son, I have seen every episode at least 10 times.”
Young can’t help but revert back to her kids as a source of inspiration. As a mother and designer, she admits children today are losing their fashion innocence at even earlier ages than ever before. “Our daughter knew who Dolce and Gabanna were at age three. She called them ‘chingabanna’ and wanted to wear ‘chingabanna’ shoes everyday,” she fondly recalled. “Our son is five and loves to wear Y3. He thinks it’s the coolest thing. His dad wears it so he wants to as well. It’s shocking that they have all this knowledge at such a young age.”

Kids are definitely more aware of what they like. Disney character adorned shirts are now being traded for demands of Baby Dior and Kenzo. And, if they see Bonnie Young’s latest collection, there’s no doubt about it: they’re probably going to demand that too!