The phrase “petit chou” is French for “little cabbage.” “My shop name is a bit of a kerfuffle,” Erin Duane laughed. “I wanted something sweet and childlike, that reflected the handmade and slow-fashion aspect to my shop. ‘Mon petit chou’ is a super cute French term of endearment and I love the evocation of ‘couture,’ so I stuck the two together. However, I stuck an ‘e’ at the end of ‘petit,’ so it’s now spelled incorrectly in my business name. But, I didn’t figure that out until a few years later and by then I had a fabulous customer base and domain name, so I just let it ride.”
Duane is the apparel designer behind boho-inspired Petite Chou Couture, known for its custom dresses and tops for trendsetting tots. “The pieces I love the most to create are the ones where I incorporate quilting or applique of some kind, or the pieces that utilize vintage fabrics, trims and patterns. I have always been drawn to vintage and antique objects and there’s something about taking old fabric and putting a modern spin on it that is really exciting to me as a creator,” she said. “Plus, I love to make one-of-a-kind garments and vintage fabric often ensures that the piece cannot be replicated. I’m mostly adverse to replication because once I complete something, I am ready for a new challenge.” Duane, a self-professed fabric addict, started the shop in 2012 with encouragement from a friend familiar with the vibrant small shop community. “I learned to sew when I was a kid, but had only sewn for myself. I sewed a few sample pieces for my friend’s daughter to wear and model, she promoted my work to some of her boutique shopping friends and Facebook groups, and my business took off. At the time, I was really just looking for a fun way to channel my creative energy and maybe recover some of the expenses related to my fabric buying addiction,” she recalled. I was initially drawn to Duane’s use of Rainbow Brite sheets and apparently I was in good company. “I have found that anytime I make something with a rainbow element, like vintage sheets or contemporary textiles, I get the most positive feedback from the community.”
From the outset, Petite Chou Couture found its focus in vintage materials and patterns. “The fabric itself, most often, is the inspiration for my designs. My process almost always starts with the fabric. The style and shape of the garment will reveal itself to me later,” Duane shared. “And, vintage fabric just speaks to me: although it’s painful to cut into sometimes, I often just look at a vintage print and see the completed garment in my head immediately. I am a huge fan of fashion history so that is always a source of inspiration, as well.” Duane’s background in quilting may also draw her to vintage bedding. “I’m super addicted to quilting, but because I have a full time job during the day as a librarian and teacher, plus two small children, I have to pick and choose my creative endeavors with the free time I have,” she explained. “Huge quilts take too long to complete, but a bodice or jacket is small enough that I can get a little taste of quilting in and still do all the other things I need to do.” And Duane has plenty to do. “I am looking to branch into (small scale) home decor with it. You can see some of my pillows and quilting on my Instagram feed.”
Beyond her love of quilting and discovering vintage wares, Duane has found a passion for this small shop community through Petite Chou Couture. “The handmade clothing world is full of excitement and passionate shoppers and brand reps. I adore seeing kids explore their own personalities by developing their sense of style and identity in the way they dress themselves,” she exclaimed. “Each day, we make choices in how we present ourselves to the world, through our words, (inter)actions, and appearance. The idea that my design becomes part of a child’s choice in how they present themselves to the world wows me.” Oui oui!