Among certain fashionable 5-year-olds, the Lola et Moi store in Beverly Hills is the place to pick up chic little things you can be sure everybody else will not be wearing … yet. The line is known for its structured, sophisticated look. “It reminds a lot of people of Marc Jacobs or Marni,” says the store’s thin, impeccably dressed owner, Sherine Taher, examining a green raincoat with red mushrooms. “A lot also say, ‘Can’t you make that in my size?’”
The clothes are happy, girlie and young. They accomplish a seeming impossibility these days: that is, to make little girls look like little girls. There was a trend for a while to make the girl look exactly like the mom. And the ubiquitous and alarming “tweeny” look of making the girl appear older than she really is. Lola et Moi rejects both of these fashion paradigms.
“Our clients really care what their kids look like. We do ages 2 to 6. That is our world,” Taher says. “There is always a whimsical adornment, an overriding sweetness.”
Lola et Moi was started by a young Lebanese woman, Rania Tohme, who began hand-sewing clothes after she became dissatisfied with the unexciting offerings in baby couture.
“For me, it’s like the ’50s in Paris,” says Mirela, one of Taher’s clients, who comes in twice a season, spends a couple of hours and buys everything her daughter needs, often in one sitting. “I usually buy four dresses, two to three skirts, six to eight T-shirts. …” She turns to Taher. “Am I right on that one?”
Taher holds up a tiny cashmere dress in aqua, with a matching tiny cashmere bolero.
“It’s always the exact shade, so your wardrobe works together.”
“Everything works with everything,” Mirela says.
“Exactly. You want things that go with everything, and things that are more special.”
Things that are more special might include a $400 pink Gypsy coat: “It has the wow factor,” Taher says. Or a $300 hand-embroidered fuchsia silk dress: “Appropriate for baby’s first picture.” Or a $145 wool-brocade A-line retro shift with pink buttons: “I call this Jackie O.”
“The couture style is alive and well here,” Taher continues, carefully folding an heirloom-quality “baby bubble,” a cocoon of 100 percent pure silk. “The ‘style leader’ moms are the ones who buy us. We introduced some new silhouettes, like the folk skirt. And Easter dresses,” she says, rolling her eyes, “we’re known for that.
“It’s overwhelming. The people who come in for the first time usually make it to about here,” Taher says, indicating the middle of the store near the jumpers. “Boys’ moms are just not that invested in boys. The boys’ clothes don’t make your heart go pitter-patter.”
Talk of boys sparks a conversation between Taher and Mirela about what style Mirela’s daughter Lena might grow into. “I’m scared!” Mirela says. Lena, who is 5, has already gone through several fashion phases. There was the phase where she wouldn’t wear anything but skirts. Then the pink-only phase, which softened into only pink and purple.
One of the saleswomen comes over with a tiny silk handbag and says, “It just completes the look.” Her daughter has one just like it.
What do little girls put in their little purses? “Oh, she has a juice and a snack.”
A few weeks later, Lena takes time out of her busy kindergarten schedule to accompany her mother to the Lola et Moi shop. Like her mother, Lena is slim, pretty, leggy and blonde. She wears her hair in a little bob and has blue eyes. Lena also has some Burberry in her wardrobe, but this particular designer line has thus far not inspired the intense peer adoration as has the Lola stuff: When she wore a pink, fuzzy Lola jacket to school, her classmates engulfed her in a petting frenzy.
“You can choose anything you like,” says her mom. Lena gravitates toward the same striped dress they bought the last time they were in.
“Do you want to see one of my favorite outfits?” Taher asks. “This halter top with the cherry shorts. So cute. I would wear that. I’m gonna pull your size in this one.”
Lena tries on a purple halter dress with butterflies cascading down her back. “So pretty,” Taher says. “Can you imagine her with a bit of a tan in the summer?”
Next, Lena tries on cotton overalls. “It looks like a snowsuit,” she says dubiously.
“This is called a jumper suit,” says her mom, smoothing the pants.
“A jumper suit. Why? Do you jump in it?”
“Super, supercute,” says Taher, peeping into the dressing room. “And Mirela, you know they all come with the sweater.”
Lena shimmies in the jumper. “Hey, wiggly,” says her mother. “This is a winner.”
“Sometimes you put it on, that perfect piece, and it’s for you,” Taher says. “No doubt.”
Lena allows herself to be squeezed into a pair of scrunchy pink shorts with ribbon details. Her mother stares at it for a long time. “It’s cute.”
In the baby-couture industry, there is a great need for different words to describe the many fine gradations of cute, the way Eskimos are said to have 100 different words for snow.
“Do you wear shorts or dresses, Lena?” Mirela asks her daughter.
“I don’t know. Which one do you think will be better?”
“What do you like?”
“Mama, I don’t know. Which one is better?”
Taher interrupts. “Can you see yourself wearing that dress to a birthday party?” she asks Lena, then says to me, “Whimsical adornments, I tell you. The girls attach. Whether it’s a fish or a bird or an owl.”
For the moment, Lena is attached to a shirt with a big, scribbly heart on it. “She wants the heart because she’s just learned about it in school,” her mother explains. “How to name heart. How to draw heart.”
More and more things are brought over: beach dresses, a cashmere slip, a bird shirt, a balloon blouse.
“This top is too short. The bellybutton is showing,” Mirela notes. Taher grimaces.
“We don’t want to go for that look.”
When another saleswoman brings over a pair of shorts, Mirela examines it critically. “Hmmm. I don’t know. It’s short. You know that scraped-knee thing.”
Other people come into the store: a dad, a mom, several little girls dressed in school uniforms. They beeline for the sale rack.
“Oh, she just robbed a bank,” says Mirela of Lena, on her cell phone to her husband. She hands Taher a credit card. The total comes to $352, which isn’t bad, considering that one time they walked out with $1,300 worth of clothing. The economy may be down in the dumps, but the upbeat, uptown world of baby couture is doing just fine.
And as for Lena, she’s wearing a different outfit from when she came in, a new teal-blue forest-print dress.
She declares, “It’s the prettiest dress I’ve ever seen! Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”
“It reminds me of Sardinia or something,” Taher says with a sigh. A dreamy look passes over her face. Lena continues to twirl.
“I think somebody likes it,” says Mom.
“Who?” Lena asks.
Lola et Moi: 238 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, (310) 276-5652. Open Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.