19 February 2016 Ð Paris, France Copyright: Leo Novel (Photo:evening gowns)

In a bright and airy workshop on a quiet street in the south of Paris, a designer is working with delicate but precise movements to put the final touches to a linen jacket draped over a mannequin.

The scene could easily be found in any couture atelier in the French capital except that the jacket, which has two buttons on the front and two cherries painstakingly embroidered on a pocket, is being crafted for a two-year-old.

During the past few years, some of the world’s biggest names in high-end fashion have begun to see children’s clothes as a promising sideline with which to extract more value from their main business. Jean Paul Gaultier, Chloé and John Galliano have all launched children’s clothes lines. But for France’s Bonpoint, making kids’ clothing is the main business.

Since Bonpoint was founded 40 years ago by clothes store owner Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, children and babies have been at the centre of the brand’s development. Speaking at the atelier, Hugues de la Chevasnerie, Bonpoint’s smartly dress­ed new chief executive, and former CEO at Burberry Fragrances, says: “We are the only specialists.”

One of his strategic plans is to develop the online business of the luxury brand that has become synonymous with “Rive Gauche” chic. Bonpoint initiated its digital strategy in 2009 but online sales are still only 3.5 per cent of the total.

“Digital will soon be part of any purchase made anywhere in the world,” says Christopher Descours, head of France’s privately owned EPI holding company, which bought Bonpoint in 2007.

“It’s not so much about driving sales through the internet but rather using it to enhance the client’s ap­preciation and understanding of the brand.”

The brand also has a teenagers’ line called YAM, short for “Y’en a marre [a Bonpoint]”, a French expression meaning “I’m sick of it all!”. It has even developed a range of perfumes and creams.

Companies making children’s clothes typically take an average six-year-old as a sizing guide, and use mathematical formulas to arrive at sizes for all other age groups. But Bonpoint bases its sizing on distinct references for 10-year-olds, six-year-olds, four-year-olds and even younger.

For accuracy, Bonpoint’s mannequin for two-year-olds has slightly bent knees, forward-sloping shoulders and a decidedly protruding belly. “It may look un­usual to you but that is what the body of a two-year-old looks like,” says one of the design team. “We want to make beautiful clothes for real children.”

Beyond the fit, the brand’s success is rooted firmly in its status as a luxury brand. Mr Descours declines to reveal figures, but some estimates suggest an­nual sales are close to €100m, and Bonpoint has a network of 110 fully owned stores in 30 countries.

Bonpoint has a creative team of 10 people, headed by Christine In­na­morato, who joined from French luxury brand Cacharel in 2006. They are part of a broader team, complete with patternmakers and other skil­l­ed craftspeople, and use production methods that would not look out of place at any of the world’s leading couture houses.

Reinforcing the brand’s luxury credentials, the designers are also based in the French capital. “It is very important to have our creative team in Paris to continue capturing the ‘Rive Gauche’ spirit of the brand,” says Mr Descours. “There is a lot of complexity in the design because that is what makes the brand unique. For our customers, the care that we take is what makes our product so special.”

Bonpoint’s couture line ac­counts for about 10 per cent of total sales but takes up roughly 50 per cent of the design team’s time — a fact that leaves no doubt about its importance for the brand as a whole, which produces two full collections a year as well as two mini collections.

The luxury tag has helped Mr Descours price Bonpoint’s products ac­cordingly: a dress in the standard collections starts at €80 and can reach €465. Those non high-street prices help the brand fix margins in keeping with the rest of the luxury industry — although, when asked, Mr Descours says with a smile, “margins are not bad but there is certainly room for improvement”.

All of that has turned the company into the go-to brand for the rich and famous. On an official visit to Paris in 2009 with her husband, Michelle Obama made a stop at Bonpoint’s flagship store on Paris’s left bank. Céline Dion, Angelina Jolie and Kate Moss are among the celebrities who have helped cement the Bonpoint name as the leading luxury brand for children.

A second ingredient in Bonpoint’s ap­peal is its unmistakable style, which weaves together romance but also tradition, using lots of smocking, embroidery and cashmere knit. The result is contemporary designs that nevertheless give the impression of having been around forever. As Mr Descours says of the brand founded in 1975: “Everyone thinks that the Kennedys were brought up in Bonpoint clothes.”

There is also a dose of fun: the brand’s shows, which take place during Paris’s fashion weeks, are light-hearted events where the children of French and international celebrities often appear on the catwalk. It is a badly kept secret that Bonpoint shows are the only place in Paris where you are likely to see a model smiling.

For all the association with European luxury, the brand does not hide the fact that it outsources much of its manufacturing to north Africa, eastern Europe, India and China, among many other countries. But Mr Descours says the global approach is driven more by the quest for craftsmanship than cost-savings.

“We do smocks in Madagascar because there is more know-how there,” he says. “India still has people who have dressmaking skills that have been lost in France.” A finished garment can comprise design components made in several countries. Working with suppliers around the world allows Bonpoint to ensure that details such as embroidery and intricate smocking are done by hand.

To ensure quality control, the company sends the items that will make up a finished garment in packages whose contents are counted and checked bef­ore leaving France. Staff at the workshop in Paris say they even inc­lude the correct amount of thread that assemblers in China and elsewhere will use to stitch the garments.

Mr de la Chevasnerie says Bonpoint will continue to expand overseas, where sales have doubled since 2007; those from its 14 boutiques in China grew 45 per cent last year. Overall, revenue grew 21.5 per cent last year in euro terms, Bonpoint says.

But Mr de la Chevasnerie also says he is not looking for expansion at any cost. “We don’t want to be everywhere,” he says. “It’s not part of the philosophy.”Read more at:evening dresses online