Moomah the Magazine
Get to Know: Les Petits Chapelais

Get to Know: Les Petits Chapelais

- Rachel Filler

There once was a small boutique children's clothing store on a quiet street in SoHo that always drew my attention. Though I never ventured inside, the windows always made me stop and stare as they were filled with sweet stuffed toys, adorable outfits for young boys and girls, and French inspired pillows that I would use to decorate my own home. One day, I walked past to see that the store had closed and was instantly sad to see it go. That sweet little store with so many beautiful finds - I figured that the rough and tough New York market had gotten to it and made it no longer able to survive.

Thankfully, I was wrong! A few weeks later, I was walking down Sullivan street, only a few blocks away from the stores original location, and was amazed to see a big, new, bright orange store had just opened with the same beautiful stock in the windows. Les Petits Chapelais had survived. I decided that it was time to go inside for the very first time to check it out. I fell in love with all of the French and New York themed stock – the miniature knitting set for kids, the Eiffel Tower pillow, and the Charlie Chaplin t-shirt for boys, modeled on a mannequin with adorable suspenders to match. The delicate lace tutu skirts for girls and the amazing sparkling shoe-shelf – this place was adorable.

I must have spent a while inside as eventually the owner of the store, Dominique Simonneaux, came over to chat.  I explained to her my disappointment when I had thought the store went out of business, and how glad I was to see they had survived and were doing better than ever. Dominique began to tell me a little bit about herself; born and raised in Brittany, a north western region of France; moved to NYC to train in contemporary dance; and opened Les Petits Chapelais on the morning of September 11, 2001, "a day no one can forget."

So how did Dominique transition from being a contemporary dancer to the owner of a boutique children’s clothing store in SoHo?

“It started in a roundabout way,” Dominique explains. “In my family we were always about creating and making our own clothing, while also involved in the arts.  I collected fabrics from around the world. When I was expecting my first daughter, the birth was high risk and I was summoned to stay home and do a lot of painting. My sister Nathalie, a designer in Paris at the time, came to visit towards the end of my pregnancy and we started to sew for the baby, mixing fabrics, patterns, colors and shapes from vintage baby clothing our mother had kept.  It was lots of fun and made me feel happy about the baby arriving.

 

“Strolling with my new born baby, Heloise, in the streets of New York, the constant wonder and appreciation of people about her outfits brought the idea of designing a children clothing line. My sister, Nathalie, became very busy with the idea of creating Les Petits Chapelais line for children, and I started to present some items in a few boutiques in New York.  The feedback was immediately positive. The owner of one of these boutiques, the Stork Club, was moving to the West Coast and proposed that I sublet his boutique and start selling my clothing line. And so, Les Petits Chapelais was born.”

However, being the owner of any store in downtown Manhattan is not easy. Dominique admits to the struggle: “Many retailers are forced to change their selection when purchasing a collection, to take less risk. The result is less committed to originality, or engaging with interesting/original designers.  Rather it becomes mass-produced collections with less quality.”

While the push for more mass-produced collections and stores in the city is definitely plaguing, Dominique refuses to give up the aesthetic in her store and the beautiful, individual collections from designers she has formed relationships with. Instead, she prides herself on owning and running a store that gathers collections from all over the world, and pays personal attention and contact to clients.

“The store is a reflection of how I feel about my children and how I grasp life. I was raised with lots of love, and it filters through the choices of the items at the boutique, which are far from being commercial. The store is inspired by both our own line and the unique collections from independent designers, but kids are always the main inspiration. Nature, arts and somewhat the sacredness of family play a role, too. The collections I sell reflect a desire to offer children clothing that corresponds to their way of grasping life, that allows them to move freely, to spin, to run, to jump, to breathe, to dance, to flow through with a beautiful aesthetic, without constraints or bad compromises. I am attached to the quality of workmanship and I also like to work with designers who are not mainstream, whose clothes reflect love and respect for children and the enchantment of childhood. All children can wear our clothing.

"We take a lot of care in picking garments, not just based on how they look and feel, but also how they are made and where they are made. Many of our products are hand-made and fair trade. As for the brands that are not, we try our hardest not to buy garments made in countries where the labor laws or practices are unclear. There is actually one toy that we used to carry but no longer do (even though it was a best seller) because we heard that the production practices were not what they claimed to be."

 

When entering the store for the first time, you automatically know that it is special and unique. You can sense the love and the originality in the pieces, but you can also feel the passion put into each piece that is displayed – either from an original designer’s collection, or designed and made by Dominique and her sisters themselves.

“My sisters and I started conceiving lines in the attic of a beautiful farm house in Brittany in a sort of cocoon when we were much younger. One day, I invited a high-end designer from a famous French company to give us some feedback. She was very silent when she saw the display on the long oak table in the attic she made me nervous. Finally, she asked me where we buy our ideas? I was completely confused by her question, and when she realized that we just created them from our thoughts, she told me it was gold!”

 

But that attention from high-end designers doesn’t seem to get her rattled anymore. Dominique has had some very impressive customers visit Les Petits Chapelais, complimenting her on the designs and products, only to be told afterwards who the person was that was handing out such praise – Rachel Zoe and Donna Karan amongst some of the raving customers.

Dominique puts it all down to family in the end. “My sisters and I were always close with one another and still are. Each one of us having our own uniqueness and strengths, and mutual respect for one another, has allowed us to work together and compliment each other. Nathalie possesses most of the technique and runs the company as owner/designer in France, Marie Edith is the fashion eye from Paris, and I, the extravagance from New York, but we all chip in with unique ideas. Our grandparents instilled in us the love for family and close ties very early on.”

  

And has the passion for fashion and family been passed on to Dominique’s own kids? “They have an eye for it but are not obsessed with their look, nor brands. My son, who is into basketball, loves his shoes! They are into books, drawing, writing and making things by hand.  Ah, and of course music and dance, as are their friends and cousins. It is past time to have control over what they wear and what they love - two of them are already teenagers! The youngest one is very strong in her likings and if I choose her outfit I respect her nature.  I think that they inherited a sense for quality and that they are composing their own aesthetic with poise.”

Les Petits Chapelais is one of the nicest and most genuinely original children’s stores today. Dominique’s nature and the story behind it only makes it more loveable. She has had dads come into the store and exclaim that it “smells like love,” while another couple confessed that simply being in there is motivation enough to start thinking of having their own baby: “the wife turned around and exclaimed that she was ready to try, and the husband said ‘let’s go home and do it!’ so there must be something special in the air.”

CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE OF LES PETITS CHAPELAIS ONLINE >>

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