Victoria Leeds children’s partywear shop Bluebell Petite aims to make everyday dressing magical

Dressing up is an important part of childhood, but it can and should be for every day, not just special occasions, as Bluebell Petite founder Rebecca Connell tells Stephanie Smith.

If life is a party, we should dress for it. This is the philosophy behind Bluebell Petite childrenswear boutique in Leeds, where little ones can find a world of whimsy and wonder, with tutus, capes, crowns and wands just waiting to be tried on and played with.

The shop opened last November at Victoria Leeds, opposite Flannels, close to the Vicar Lane entrance of Victoria Gate - a perfect location, says founder and designer Rebecca Connell. “There is so much footfall,” she says. “We have lots of people coming to the window. We even have a few older ladies that just come to the door and say, ‘Can I just tell you how amazing this shop is’.”

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Bluebell Petite Boutique has already become a favourite not just for children but for grandparents and parents, who can revisit their own childhood as they shop with and for their offspring.

Rebecca Connell in her Bluebell Petite shop at Victoria Leeds. Picture by Rebecca Connell.Rebecca Connell in her Bluebell Petite shop at Victoria Leeds. Picture by Rebecca Connell.
Rebecca Connell in her Bluebell Petite shop at Victoria Leeds. Picture by Rebecca Connell.

It all came about in part because of Rebecca’s daughter. When she was little, Rebecca tried dressing her in everyday “normal” clothes, but Rose wanted to wear fairy costumes all the time.

“This is the feedback I get from all the parents that come in the shop,” Rebecca says. “They want to go to the supermarket, go everywhere, in these little tutus – and these clothes can be dressed up or down.”

For many children, dressing up plays an important role in their development as they explore their own identity, using their imagination to step into the shoes of characters or create their own character, developing communication and narrative skills, language, social and motor skills.

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Originally from Leeds, Rebecca lives at Boston Spa with her husband, Gareth, and their children Toby, 14, and Rose, now 11. Gareth is a property developer and is currently converting the building above the shop into flats.

Bluebell Petite chiffon dress in mint, £30. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.Bluebell Petite chiffon dress in mint, £30. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.
Bluebell Petite chiffon dress in mint, £30. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.

Rebecca was interested in design and art from an early age. “I really struggled with everything else,” she says. “I was always making things at home. From school, I went to Jacob Cramer and did an advanced course in Art & Design. I did a little bit of everything on that course, but the thing I swayed towards was fashion. I really like making my own clothes and little bags.”

She went to York College in 1997, where she studied Fashion Design for two years, and then set up her own craft stall in Leeds Corn Exchange, selling hand-made belts, customised T-shirts and denim skirts. She went on to open her own proper shop there - called Rebecca Murphy – which she ran for a couple of years before deciding to concentrate on her own label, designing full womenswear collections and selling to boutiques across the UK, making everything from scratch with the help of a small team of seamstresses.

She met Gareth and scaled down work when she had Toby, and became a full-time mum when she had Rose, but could not find the perfect outfits for her daughter. “I had this idea of doing a magical crown and wand collection and it just went on from there. I definitely think there was a gap in the market at that time,” she says.

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Rebecca Connell and her daughter Rose at a family festival.Rebecca Connell and her daughter Rose at a family festival.
Rebecca Connell and her daughter Rose at a family festival.

“When Rose got a little bit older, I found that I wanted to get stuck into something again. I’d had this idea since she was born and I thought, there’s a need for it.”

She started with market stalls and family festivals, with Rose in tow. “It was so lovely, the feedback, and both Rose and I absolutely loved doing it - it was so much fun. I thought, this is something a little bit special,” says Rebecca.

Rose helps Rebecca with the buying. “Her input is extremely valuable,” Rebecca says. “She’s been with me every step of the way. She’s is insanely creative and knows exactly what girls love.”

Although the clothes are aimed at little girls, there is no reason why little boys cannot also join in. Rebecca says: “A couple of parents have come in and said, ‘My son would love it in here’.”

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Bluebell Petite shorter cape, from a selection taken to festivals.Bluebell Petite shorter cape, from a selection taken to festivals.
Bluebell Petite shorter cape, from a selection taken to festivals.

In the main, Rebecca’s mini clients wear the tutus and tutu dresses for daywear (they can be dressed down with trainers, wellies etc), while the capes and wands sell well as Christmas and birthday presents.

The tutu skirts and dresses are made in China, and everything else is handmade in Yorkshire, mainly by Rebecca herself, using materials from local suppliers and also by upcycling the second-hand clothing she finds on Vinted (the customised denim jackets these are popular for children at festivals).

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“I always look for something that’s of a really nice quality,” Rebecca says, adding: “It’s got to be durable, and I like it to be soft, because children like soft textures on their skin. A lot of parents don’t like to buy if the capes are too stiff.” All items are washable, although it is advised to handwash some.

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There is a new website developed by Buttercrumble, which is brand guardian for the new boutique, sourcing sustainable packaging and retail merchandising. Now that she has the shop, Rebecca is working on a new collection to sell at trade shows and for wholesale. Visiting Premier Vision in Paris this month means she can source new fabrics and trimmings, as well as find more inspiration for more magical pieces that can turn ordinary days into extraordinary adventures for children.

“When I was a child I grew up living next to a wood full of bluebells. It was literally my back garden and such a magical setting for my imagination to run wild.

Bluebell Petite Chiffon dresses, £30, cape and flower crown set, £36. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.Bluebell Petite Chiffon dresses, £30, cape and flower crown set, £36. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.
Bluebell Petite Chiffon dresses, £30, cape and flower crown set, £36. Model: Belle Swales. Photography: Rebecca Hull Photography.

“I want to encourage children to embrace their uniqueness and express themselves through imaginative play, to be whatever they please and be proud of who they are. Life would be so dull if we were all the same, don’t you think?”

“When a child tries on one of our capes and their little face lights up – it is just priceless.”

Bluebell Petite is at Sidney Street at Victoria Leeds and bluebellpetite.co.uk

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