Since its launch in 1999, Caramel has continued to push the boundaries of childrenswear with its handcrafted pieces. Danielle Wilkins meets the designer behind the name
Even as a child, Caramel founder and director Eva Karayiannis always had a penchant for design. “I was often doodling and creating clothes for my dolls,” she admits. But it wasn’t until after she left Athens, where she grew up and studied, worked as a lawyer in London and had her own two children that she decided to embark on a whole new career path. Spotting a gap in the market while shopping for her daughters, Chloe and Kiki, now 22 and 21, back in 1999, Eva decided to launch her own children’s brand.
“It was an exciting time for fashion in London, and having my own children obviously helped,” Eva says. “You’re more in tune with what your customers want. Having children also forces you to not live in a bubble and do something that you’re proud of. It’s liberating – they keep me on my toes,” she smiles.
Caramel began as a stockist of kids’ clothes from small, independent, artisan designers from London, the Cotswolds and even as far as Peru, and Eva reveals she would spend months tracking down the perfect pieces for her online shop. The designer ran the company from her living room and kitchen, before eventually opening a bricks-and-mortar store in Brompton Cross.
“It was great to have the opportunity to open a store in London – but it’s not easy in a big city where you’re competing with a lot of companies who want that same location,” recalls Eva. “Location is really important when establishing a brand – your building needs to have some personality too and that’s not always easy to find.
“At the beginning, I didn’t put too much pressure on myself to succeed, so that allowed me to be more creative and daring. I took risks with what I put in the shop and was able to push boundaries.”
But demand was growing, and it didn’t take long for Eva to realise that her sources couldn’t keep up with the range of sizes and styles that her customers wanted, so she took the step to design the clothes herself.
“There’s something about the proportions and detail of children’s clothing that I’m very drawn to, and I’ve always been attracted by that nostalgic English feel. The fabrics I pick are raw, honest, robust – but at the same time there’s a frivolity about them,” she says.
And it’s those raw, robust fabrics that Caramel has since become synonymous with. With an emphasis on pieces that are both beautiful and tough-wearing, Eva only uses the finest cottons, linens, leather, lambswool and, of course, that incredible cashmere that makes those tiny baby knits. The prints she uses are charming and offbeat (think Liberty-print florals and nautical stripes in strong, seasonal colourways) while the attention to detail – the delicate embroidery, the crafted collars and cuffs – is second to none.
So what goes into the making of Caramel’s collections? The design process begins with sourcing those all-important fabrics.
“You can’t cook amazing dishes without amazing ingredients, and the same applies here,” says Eva. “I think about the shape of a piece and how the fabrics react, then I consider colour – which is always a strong element of our collections – and what feels right for the season.
“We have an exciting archive of designs which is constantly evolving, and which we refer back to a lot. I also have an amazing collection of vintage pieces in our studio –
I love to add to these whenever I have the spare time.
“I am also fortunate enough to work with some extremely talented print designers, many of whom are based here in the capital,” she adds.
Eva is now a mother of three – her son, Ari, is seven – who lives in Chelsea, a place she has called home for more than 25 years. And its not just her family that has grown, but the business too. Today Caramel also offers homeware and womenswear, all of which boast a similar vintage aesthetic to the label’s childrenswear, as well as four stores in London, and additional concessions in Selfridges and Harrods. “It’s exciting,” smiles Eva. “To know we have a brand that is constantly evolving – that’s what drives me.”
Want more? We go behind the brand with Rachel Riley