In our Best of British series, we meet our favourite homegrown British childrenswear brands. This month, Mr Fox Editor Lydia Gard meets Eva Karayiannis, owner of Caramel Baby & Child to talk about family, life, work, and the inevitable juggle of it all. We also bring Mr Fox subscribers an exclusive offer below.
Eva glides around her new shop in Soho’s Ham Yard, adjusting the hangers and thumbing the various fabrics of the current collection as she talks me through the pieces. As the owner and designer of contemporary British childrenswear brand Caramel Baby & Child, her reputation in the kids fashion industry is stellar, and yet there is nothing grand about her. She is chic and elegant, but also comfortingly old school, and truly feminine in a way that so many women don’t know how to be these days.
Eva’s personal style translates directly into her collections. Classic but whimsical, the beautifully tailored clothing in autumnal colours of mustard, earthy brown and organic greens are cut in rich wool and soft cotton, sitting in perfect harmony with a carefully detailed new homeware range. Everything has the faint air of vintage, as though it might have been handed down a few generations.
Eva pulls out a pair of PJs. “I love classic things on boys. There’s something just so wonderful about little boys in piped pyjamas.” She says, wistfully. Eva’s son Ari is 5. We are comparing notes about the tenderness of a little boy’s love for his mother.
“Before you get married and you have a boyfriend that says ‘I have to call my mum’, you ask – oh dear, is he a bit strange? And then you have a boy, and you feel differently about the relationship that a boy or man has with his mother. When your husband says ‘I have to call my mum’, you say ‘of course, take your time’.”
Eva and her husband Akis also have two older daughters Chloe (20) and Kiki (19). With such an age gap I wonder how the girls feel about having such a young brother.
“My daughters are maternal towards him, but they are also going through a very formative time in their lives. They are at the age where you feel super powerful. You’re not a child anymore, you are becoming a woman, but that lack of experience makes you really strong and a bit tougher. They mother him definitely, but it’s tough love. They correct his manners and expect him to behave really well all the time. They adore him, but they are unforgiving.”
Did you want a boy? I ask, “We never had a preference. But the whole Oedipus thing has been really interesting – there is something very different for a woman in bringing up a boy. The lack of familiarity with the sex and their internal world creates some sort of distance, more mystery maybe. Daughters associate with their mum and they know each other instinctively. With a boy there is uncertainty. You idealise it more.”
Whatever the gender of your children, running a successful business and juggling a family is a constant balancing act. But Caramel Baby & Child was never meant to be an empire. It started in Eva’s front room (in the same house the family still share) in Chelsea. Eventually, in 1999, she opened a little shop near the Michelin Building hidden away at Brompton Cross. Then there was a shop in Notting Hill and concessions in Selfridges, Fenwick, then Japan, Singapore and Moscow. Last month it expanded into homeware, and opened in Ham Yard and a pop up space in East London. I can’t imagine how she manages it all, particularly when the needs and ages of her children are so varied.
“My husband and I spend equal time with them, we are lucky to be able to read Ari a story every night. Akis will play football or rugby or go to the park with him, whereas I spend time doing puzzles, playing games, or reading with him. For me, Grandparents are hugely important.”
“Ari’s grandfather is really old, he’s like the BFG. He creates a whole universe for him – little tents inside and dens outside – they spend time gardening together, it’s magical.”
There’s no doubt that children (and parents) benefit greatly from having other family members around, influencing their development and offering their time. “He never did it for his granddaughters.” She says, a little pensively, “I think it’s easier for a man to connect with boys, typically they are outdoorsy and practical. My daughters’ childhood was a world of dollies which, as a grandfather, was one he simply didn’t understand.”
It’s not hard to see how Ari’s imagination has been fostered. His bedroom is playful but sophisticated, dotted with globes, maps, dinosaurs and tin planes – it’s fit for an explorer. And his wardrobe is enviable. Full of classic, stylish pieces form the Caramel collection, it’s relaxed but modern.
Has Ari got your design gene? I ask, “He likes dressing up and playing characters. Boys have equal imagination to girls, yet people tend to expect less from them. But given the choice of what to do for an afternoon, if I’m honest, he would choose a computer game.” She says, laughing.
Exclusive Reader Offer: Mr Fox subscribers receive a free gift of a pure wool dotty scarf (worth £35), available in a range of autumnal colours, when they spend over £100 at Caramel Baby & Child. To get your code sign up to our newsletter in the footer below. Existing subscriber? Your code is in your inbox…
Through December 2014 while stocks last; online and at stand-alone London stores (Brompton, Ledbury Road, Ham Yard)
Do you know of a great British brand that you would like to know more about? Tell us in the comments below.