Meet a girl's guide

By Jessica Elgot, August 27, 2010
Jersey dress £110, David Charles

Jersey dress £110, David Charles

In the 40 years that Susan Graff has been designing dresses for the high-end girlswear brand David Charles, she has seen fashions come, go and come back again. But it's the girls themselves who have changed the most in four decades.

They are "more assertive, more demanding and achingly fashionable", but that should not mean parents should give in to their daughters' desire to look like mini versions of Paris Hilton or Lady Gaga, insists Graff.

With a youthful, laid-back elegance contrived with a daytime uniform of Majestic T-shirts (bought in Paris), J Crew cardis, French Sole ballerinas, skinny jeans and a lovingly cared-for Birkin on her arm, Graff - mother of three and grandmother of three - says: "When my daughter was little I never took her shopping, I would bring dresses home for her. It wasn't a question of going into the shop and saying 'Darling which one do you prefer?' But that's all changed now. Children are absolutely aware of everything that's fashionable through magazines and pop videos.

"Young girls come under a lot of pressure to wear sexy dresses and I totally disapprove of it. They don't need to look tarty. I hate to see little girls in the breast-shaping, corset dresses. It's horrible."

Graff began her career designing womenswear for her father's firm, Coronel. Then in 1970, she and her husband David set up David Charles, having spotted a gap in the market for stylish, chic dresses for girls.

Pink dress £199, by David Charles

Pink dress £199, by David Charles

It was the first line to give young girls dresses that were fashionable rather than babyish, and "what their mummies liked". When they launched, recalls Graff, department stores "went berserk and ordered thousands".

Graff's great strength is in knowing how to adapt and rework the season's trends to be suitable for young girls.

For girls with a batmitzvah coming up, she says: "Think soft, fun and girly. Wear something short, feminine and strappy. Go for a really special fabric, chiffon with embossing, or maybe some sequins. And if you're shy about being too bare, you can have a little matching bolero made to go on top.

"In terms of colours, we are seeing lots of peach, nude and cream, but also brights, including fuschia, blue, tangerine and purple."

Many of their dresses are perfectly appropriate for synagogue or for a Rosh Hashanah dinner, and Graff is accustomed to adapting dresses for girls of the religious community.

"We have added 6in to the hem of a dress, put on long sleeves and made a long-sleeved T-shirt to go underneath. The girls still look cute and modern, but respectable and modest, too."

As well as selling through top stores such as Harrods and Selfridges, and specialist outlets such as Ruth of Whetstone (a customer for most of the 40 years Graff has been designing) and Plum and Mon Ami in Manchester, another change in fashion - shopping on the internet - led them to launch a website.

"I realised that my daughter and daughter-in law buy all their children's clothes - as well as toys, and even food - online because they don't have time to go to the shops.

"An online presence means we can cater for those who are time poor or who live outside big cities."

Last updated: 11:36am, August 27 2010