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The Fashion Inside Scoop: Laura Ashley girlswear

We caught up with Helen Balkham, Head of Design at Laura Ashley, to chat about being unashamedly girly, the joy of dressing up and her hot fashion tips for winter 2013

Posted: 24 July 2013
by Catherine Hudson

Laura Ashley girlswear summer 2013
Helen as a child - pretty as a picture
Laura Ashley girlswear summer 2013
Helen, with some of her designs
Laura Ashley girlswear summer 2013

Why did you decide to work in childrenswear?

My role as Head of Design for fashion at Laura Ashley encompasses all areas of our fashion offerings, including childrenswear. Our label has a rich history of designing for children, as well as women, and in 2011 we relaunched girlswear. Being able to work on these collections is an absolute dream as it allows for a great deal of fun and creative freedom in design.

What are your earliest fashion memories?

Dressing up in my mother's clothes is a vivid childhood memory. I remember so desperately wanting to be a grown up so I could wear exactly what my mum was wearing; I thought she was the most stylish person I’d ever seen. My own style was unforgivingly girly. I loved dresses and refused to wearing anything that leaned towards androgyny.

When you think of your childrenswear label, what words spring to mind?

Colour, print and pattern are the three words that automatically spring to mind. These design elements are the cornerstones of our seasonal collections for girlswear and we build on these with every collection to really tell a story for the season.

What were your inspirations for the childrenswear SS13 collection?

For this season, I began with a real passion for the little things in life girls traditionally love and relate to. From bright flowers in a neighbour’s garden to colourful sweets in a jar on a shelf they can’t quite reach, and a vibrant curiosity for the exotic which captures the imagination. These inspirations grew into our three main stories for the season: Candy Shop, Floral Burst and Fruit Punch.

What are your top three tips for dressing children this Spring-Summer?

My first tip would be to have fun. Childhood is a time to play dress up and really enjoy what’s worn, so it’s important for a seasonal wardrobe to have a sense of frivolity.

Secondly, invest in seasonal seperates: a summer tunic purchased this season will work just as well in winter if teamed with jeans and cute cardigan.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the best tip for successfully dressing children is to listen to their choices. What your daughter loves may not be your taste, but sometimes letting her choose that pink flamingo dress she’s got her eye on will make you her hero.

Do you have any set style rules when designing for children?

My rules for designing when it comes to childrenswear lie in quality. Quality in fabric, in cut and in design, while patterns and colours capture the child’s heart: it’s the quality that will convince parents.

What are your top three must have pieces from the SS13 collection?

Candy Shop pleated dress – A classic dress design that is made contemporary with sorbet colours and a playful pattern of candies, sweets, lollipops and biscuits.

Picnic floral Printed shorts – These are a really fun riot of colour, finished with an adorable pink ribbon for a belt.

Colour block band dress – Colour blocking is still a huge trend in childrenswear and this design beautifully marries together sumptuous shades of purple, pink and orange.

Can you give us your hot tip for autumn winter 2013 childrenswear?

Berry colours and accents of metallic will be key for the season, I’m also looking forward to introducing new textural points of interest through fabric such as tweed and lace – although I shouldn’t give too much away!

Do you have a muse when you design your collections?

When I design our womenswear collections, I have in mind a woman whose wardrobe is a reflection of her contemporary lifestyle: the bus, yet effortless, professional, the chic and stylish mother, the fun loving friend... in short, a multifaceted woman. My childrenswear designs are an extension of her: I’m designing for her daughter, her niece, her best friend’s children. 

How does it feel when you see a child in one of your designs?

'Joyful', would be the word. The design process is a long journey and seeing a dress worn, that started life a sketch on a pad or a word in my notebook, is a truly uplifting experience and a great reminder of why I do what I do.

Shop the summer Laura Ashley girlswear collection online now, and look out for the winter collection arriving soon...


Don't miss... The Junior Meets hub of exclusive interviews, inside scoop interviews and quirky Q&As, with exciting interviewees including: Tommy HilfigerSir Paul SmithStella McCartney and lots of other influential fashion designers, authors and illustrators including Quentin Blake and Jeff Kinney, great business minds including Lord Alan Sugar and, everyone's favourite fashionable frog, Kermit.

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