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CHAT ROOM | Florence Rolando

Meet Florence Rolando, the woman behind Pirouette Blog, Milk Magazine contributor and founder of Bubble Trade Shows, as she gives us small talk on how children’s wear has evolved beyond pink “frou frous” and baby blue, her early days at Milk, the best of S/S 11 trade shows and her current obsessions.

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How did you enter the children’s industry?
In 2003, I met Isis Colombe Combeas. She and her husband Karel Balas were working on the launch of Milk Magazine, a revolution in children’s fashion at that time. I was living in Milan and I started from the first issue–selling advertising (to Dolce Gabbana, Benetton, Simonetta) and writing articles. Before that I was in fashion and I had worked on a children’s collection for Reebok which was a small introduction to the children’s world. I was a mom already and that was a great way to understand the market.

In 2004, I moved to New York where my husband (who is American) got offered a job. I became the US correspondent for Milk. Visiting the existing children’s show in NY was really depressing with its alleys of hair clips, cheap polyester ceremony dresses and other badly designed made-in-China products. A few retailers shared the same feeling so I decided to work on a better platform for the nice brands. Mor mor rita, flora and henri, Albert, Kit + Lili, Winter Water Factory,  followed immediately, as well as other European brands who were looking for a place to exhibit that would fit their aesthetics.

How has the children’s industry evolved since the beginning of your career?
When Milk Magazine started in 2003, it was pretty much still a world of pink “froufrous,” blue, color blocks. It was about pieces and products with no real collection spirit. There were a couple of very amazing brands like Quincy from Belgium who had a real sense of fashion and silhouettes and other isolated brands with modern design. Dries Van Noten also had a small range for kids. Paris department store Le Bon Marche was doing a great job in bringing new players on the children’s floor. The arrival of Milk really led to a movement of a new generation of designers and retailers in Europe and in the United States.

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When I moved to New York in 2004, YoyaMart had just opened. After that it became crazy very quickly with amazing stuff all around: Pomme, Sons and Daughters, Kid O, Genius Jones, etc. Today there is an incredible number of very well-designed, well-managed independent children’s brands based in the United States, Europe, Japan and  Australia. Many of them are run by young talented people who worked in the fashion industry at senior positions before becoming parents. Finger in the Nose and Munster Kids are good examples. On the more corporate side, almost every fashion house has a children’s line (Chloe being my favorite). The big names in retail also have taken lessons from the independent designers : they offer great products at affordable prices. The first example to come to my mind is J Crew. Their store on Madison really looks like one of a hip European designer, not like the typical retail chain…it’s very cleverly done, it’s experimental, it plays with your emotions. Gap and Stella McCartney also do a great job.

So the children’s market is now very well-developed, it has its own system, codes and successes like adult’s fashion. People now look at the children’s industry as a source of inspiration. It’s not a surprise that photographer Bruce Weber has declared Kid’s Wear Magazine “the most beautiful magazine in the world.”

Bubble Trade Show was one of the first boutique concept trade shows for children’s wear, how did it come to pass?
The idea of Bubble came at the right time, at the right place and with the right formula. There was just the right critical amount of brands, retailers and media, all born more or less at the same time with an incredible craving for change and development. Bubble was the first kids’ trade show to bring a 360 degrees vision, a mix of products, events, exhibits and visual displays. It was an amazing adventure, like a family. We really started something new and strong and people keep that experience in mind as unique.

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Any other fun projects or collaborations on the horizon?
I am a consultant for children’s brands. I help them understand the different markets and to adapt their strategies, to identify the right shows for them (there are so many), to target the right distribution channels, to advertise in the right media, etc. And of course I am still a contributor of Milk Magazine, working mainly for Milk Styles, the Decor supplement.

But the very new and fun part for me now is my blog Pirouette which I launched at the end of 2009. I had run the blog Bubble News and Trends for over 2 years and I was missing writing on a daily base about children’s fashion and design. My next big project is a book with a selection of the best parent/child interviews which are so successful.

We ran into one another at a few S/S11 trade shows, which shows were your favorite?
Every show is different. Pitti is massive with a very large array of brands. It is great for networking and not to mention eating good pasta after the show! It is just a pity that the young designers are in a basement with no natural light. I would see them in a more stimulating environment, let’s say “Bubble’s way!” Kleine Fabriek (Amsterdam) and Playtime (Paris) are fun with nice exhibits/partnerships and a  good amount of very stylish/creative brands. But they are no longer creating a surprise or a big buzz anymore. In that respect, I thought that White for Kids in Milan was strong with a new way of showcasing collections. In terms of communication, Bubble London is the best. Their website, blog and newsletters are well-made and are very reactive and good at sending info about their show and their exhibitors to the press. This is a precious element for journalists.

Which brands were most exciting?
The brands I found particularly new and interesting at the shows this season were Minti, Little Ducklings, Pero by Aneeth Arora, Maurizio Griffoni.

Did you see anything you can’t wait to buy your kids for next spring?
For my children, I could have bought the whole Pepe collection; their shoes are to die for and such good quality. For clothing, all the Belgium brands Maan, Simple Kids, Bellerose, Essentiel, with accessories from April Showers by Polder and room decor by Zoe de las Cases.

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We enjoy your personal approach to Pirouette, what do you enjoy the most as its author?
I love being in touch with people who create and innovate, who believe in what they do and who are not obsessed with the unique purpose of making money. It is so important to show and teach good things to children from a young age–from innovative design (shapes, cuts) to intelligent fabrics/materials to rich illustrations and subtle color shades. I also absolutely love doing the parent/child interviews.

Where do you look online for inspiration? What are your current obsessions?
When it comes to inspiration, I love being in the real world very much. I spend quite a lot of time in front of the screen for Pirouette, so I try to look for ideas outside my office and in the real world as much as possible. It starts every morning, coming back from dropping the children in school. I pass by the windows of quite stimulating fashion stores (Balenciaga, Lanvin, Vivenne Westwood, Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, Wunderkind, Selfridges); I observe people and children in the streets. I also stay close to all the people in the industry, and more particularly the former Bubble exhibitors. I attend a fair amount of children’s trade shows, design and art events, galleries and museums. I go to exhibits showing the work of young graduates. I travel. I went to Shanghai last spring; it was an incredible source of inspiration. That said, when I dedicate time to surfing the net, I am always amazed by the creativity and quality I find out there. Blogs like Kickcan and Conkers, It’s oh…, Handmade Charlotte are incredibly rich. They are a real pleasure for the eyes and good food for thought.

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A long term obsession is photography. I am a (very modest) collector; vintage-wise I love the children’s portraits of Lewis Carroll and on a more modern note, I always have a look at the children’s photographers represented by Julie Seguinier. I wrote articles about photographers for Milk magazine: Julie Blackmon, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Edward Mapplethorpe, Martine Fougeron. I have to confess that when it comes to Pirouette if a brand has a beautiful collection but ugly or uninteresting images I pass! I recently discovered the work of Emily Ulmer and featured it on Pirouette. Emily has now started to work with many brands and children’s magazines.

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I have a current obsession with elderly people. A friend of mine is working on a blog related to the subject. The book Wisdom from Andrew Zuckerman was a revelation to me. So much to learn from the older generations like with children!chatroom7.jpg

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