LONDON, United Kingdom — It’s a beautiful morning in London and I’m on my way to meet Susan Graff and Gail Ingam, head designers from acclaimed children’s wear luxury brand, David Charles, for a late breakfast.
David Charles is a dreamy, designer party dress brand for little girls and teenagers founded in 1970, by husband and wife, David and Susan Graff, and a few years later Gail joined them and has been part of the team ever since. While the tea is being poured Susan recalls: “We are not only co-workers and friends, but we also have a family history because our parents were friends”. Their friendship and collaboration is admirable as working together for 40 years has not only enable them to grow professionally but has also developed a unique chemistry between the two, one which perfectly compliments their work and vision.
Gail, who attended the London College of Fashion, is the designer of David Charles dresses for girls between 2 and 12 years old while Susan, who trained in fashion design at the prestigious Lucy Clayton School, is in charge of the party dresses for older girls and teenagers, from 6 to 16 years old. Each one of their creations feature unique materials and designs, combining bows and voluminous tulle skirts with touches of glitter, floral prints, jewelled waistbands and collars that are sure to make little girls and teens feel like princesses.
Together but not the same
Susan and Gail have found the perfect balance between their own creative thinking and the teamwork they need to create their beautiful party dress collections that complement each other. “We sit next to each other in a little room. Our ranges need to mirror one another,” states Susan as she starts to explain their creative process. They choose together the fabrics, the patterns and the colours that they like for each collection. They explain that when the fabrics arrive from China, France, Italy and Spain, that’s when they start their design process. “The fabric leads the design,” says Gail while Susan adds: “The fabric is the difficult bit, the inspiration seems to be easier.” “Sometimes Susan would choose colours that are more sophisticated than what I would automatically choose on my range,” adds Gail with a smile.
The duo have just completed their upcoming Autumn/Winter 2016 collection inspired by the vibrant colours, prints and flowers featured in Dolce & Gabbana’s collection. “The trick is not to produce too many dark dresses,” says Susan. “We thought we would give that a go and use these prints and flowers in our party dresses instead of plain shades.” With an exchange of looks, Gail adds: “A handful of customers have seen the collection and the response has been fantastic.”
This collection will have around 70 dresses for little girls and another 70 dresses for teenagers, not including the extra colours available on various designs. During our conversation these talented ladies also tell me that for a year now, they have been making less expensive dresses, more of a day theme, with the hope that this new move will open different markets. In case you are not ready to spend £300 on a “Gold Label” party dress for your daughter, you may still be able to get hold of their “Black Label” range of day dresses, which you could match with their own jewellery, headbands, shoes and bags from David Charles.
Style with class at a young age
Susan’s creative process is based on the conviction that a teenager’s party dress should be age appropriate. “It is really important that the girl and the mother love it.” These are classy dresses, which avoid too much exposure while they still look on vogue. “Many dresses out there have busts but many of these girls don’t have breasts yet, so they may look tarty,” observes Susan. “Those dresses lack class” exclaims Gail who also adds: “There are plenty of dresses out there with nasty fabrics with an element of trashiness.” While Susan remarks:
” Our dresses are elegant. Girls can always wear our designs with boots or some other combinations to make them trendier, but at the end of the day, they are wearing a beautiful elegant dress.”
The teens range that Susan designs fully embraces the fact that these girls want to feel sophisticated and grown up and not look like little girls. “Girls might think: ‘I don’t want to wear a child’s label. I prefer to go to Top Shop’. But when they put on my dresses, they are still very happy and satisfied.” While Gail recalls that the younger girls have a wonderful sensory experience spinning around in the dresses and feeling the softness of the fabrics.
When and where to get your party dress
David Charles Autumn/Winter 2016 collection will be available to the public in June. And what great timing as one of their most important markets, the Middle East will be preparing for Ramadan. As Susan points out: “Our dresses are bought quite often for religious celebrations. We sell for Ramadan, Confirmation, Communion, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, weddings, etc.” While Gail confirms: “This is our market, a celebratory dress.”
David Charles collections are sold worldwide, but their main markets are Russia, the United States and more recently, the Middle East. Their party dresses are present in Harrods in London, Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue in the United States, Tsum in Moscow, Harvey Nichols Riyadh and also David Charles Boutique at Kids Palace and Stockmann Mall, Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg, David Charles Boutique Hong Kong Plaza Shanghai, David Charles in Isetan Shanghai and David Charles in Sogo Suzhou City China. Not to mention their presence in the most important childrenswear fairs like Pitti Bimbo in Florence.
Susan also tells me about the enormous boost David Charles is experiencing from its online presence: “Our business has changed enormously in the past three years with our online presence. We now have online customers like the Childrensalon and other similar online stores.” Then Gail adds: This is giving the brand huge exposure, particularly in the United States. Online is changing everything in our business!” It is the ladder, which will be keeping Susan and Gail busy in the near future as they want to refine David Charles own website and get more clients through this avenue to spread their brand and name even further.
As we stand up from breakfast, I thank them for sharing their story and giving me a sneak peak of the upcoming collection. Immediately I start to check my diary for the next celebration involving my little girl, so that I can have the perfect excuse to get hold of one of David Charles’ party dresses.
Published By FG Magazine – Elizabeth Deheza – Tuesday 8th March 2016
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