When we think of Petra Barkhof we see colour. A prominent figure in kids fashion land with an extensive career in art direction and fashion styling, Petra is a walking mood board in herself. Sporting a white bob with blue tips and invariably dressed in something bright and bold, statement jewellery and pearls of laughter, you notice. She makes you curious.
Like a compelling character from a story book, Petra was born to reside in a kid’s world. She is perpetually intrigued and bewitched by the world in which kids habit that it comes as no surprise, that in addition to her role as Deputy Editor & Digital Director of Kid's wear Magazine and her freelance styling projects for high profile brands (exhausted already?!), she created a new magazine.
Scimparello Magazine (taking its name from the animal character her grandson drew), is an online kids' magazine. And very much her new baby. Now on issue 4 (it’s bi-annual), a trip through its compelling pages of fashion, interviews and shopping, always to a theme, is an evocative dance of what it feels like to be in a kid’s world. And we love how illustration is a constant in each issue.
No stranger to the whirl of a fashion magazine, Petra cut her teeth at Conde Nast Italia in advertising and then later in styling womenswear for Elle Germany, but it was kids fashion which was to become her calling.
Petra and I share a few notable things. We are both middle daughters, we both left home at 17 (not for a uni), and we both spent some years in Ibiza. And of course we both ended up in kids fashion. However I sense we share more than that. I asked of her zodiac sign, hoping that she’d be a fellow Virgo (to add to our-things-in-common), but she is a Sagittarian. Like Ric, and both my parents.
Later I read somewhere that she had had “a thousand jobs”. (Me too). And that the name of her aforementioned grandson is the same as my son. Does that count as another?
We invited Petra to be a part of our ‘Meet & Greet’ long before the Coronavirus. But by the time we came to ‘talk’ we were both in lock down. Petra in Milan and us here in London. So our first few questions to her focus on this. As someone who has been in the kids fashion business for over two decades we are sure you will be as interested as we are to hear her view.
What do you think will be the impact of the Coronavirus on the Kids fashion industry?
I think we’ll all buy more ethical. Sustainability has become our priority and I hope in these two months of lockdown the message will finally have reached the entire population of the world. We must support those who strive to produce in their countries and care about the environment. If we don’t do that, most of the small craft enterprises - or the big companies that care about quality - won’t survive and this will be a missed opportunity for everyone, because they are our true wealth.
Can you summarise for us the biggest positive and the biggest negative of Covid-19
We have all had to spend more time with our family, which is not always easy but in so many ways something we really need to do. I personally reconnected with people I haven’t seen or talked to for a long time, both personally and professionally, and this has been extremely satisfying.
I have also been amazed by how quickly nature has reclaimed space, even in big cities. Here in Milan a hawk nested on the roof of the skyscraper of the Region building, hares and rabbits roam through the squares, the ducks slowly cross the streets followed by their little ones. I really hope we can make it stay this way!
But on the other side, listening to the reports of deaths and the infected every day was, and still is, heart breaking. To not be free to go out and see my beloved ones and to imagine how this will all impact on the economy … so many dark thoughts have passed my mind. I have tried to stay focused on my job, to stay busy and healthy, to find comfort in the little daily joys that I used to take for granted. And to respect the rules, as I still am.
Do you think there are too many kids brands in the market? And will the impact of the Coronavirus re-set this?
Creativity is never too much. As long as you work with passion and you make beautiful things you have your place in the business and the business needs you. However, I think that the little brands will suffer more than the big brands, and those who had just started their businesses will struggle. Some may not make it. We’ll try to help as much as we can.
What inspired you to create Scimparello?
I felt I need to do something that reflected my vision of the kid’s fashion world. Something different from everything I knew and saw before. My only sorrow is that Scimparello is only an online magazine for now. I would like to make a paper edition because I really go mad for paper! But I need time because I have a very ambitious project. I would like to create not a normal magazine that you throw away after reading it, but a true collector’s one. An object, more like a book to show on the side table next to the sofa.
What do you see as Scimparello’s point of difference to other kids publications?
I’m not an advertising slave. I don’t have to please anyone because my clients trust me. I run a successful magazine because I am free to choose what I want to publish. I believe if you do something successful everybody will gain from this success . If I give up on these principles I would certainly betray myself but also those that believe in my approach. So I stay authentic. I try to make a joyful magazine not only for parents but for the kid’s themselves. We publish their pictures, their points of view, pages to colour, things to play with…
Tell us how you came to be a part of kid's wear Magazine?
I was the advertising agent for all the Italian Condé Nast Magazines on the German speaking market. I was based in Milano and worked together with the editorial offices. At that time my daughter used to pose for some kids' fashion brands so I knew the market. But I never thought I could work in this field until I saw kids' wear Magazine and the artistic pictures that were published in it. I was fascinated and captured.
What made you step away from women wear into kids?
I think I was bored. I needed a fresh start. I found out that working with kids not only brought out a lot more of my creativity but it also made me happy. I felt free to express myself in a different way. Plus I am a much better stylist for kids' fashion than for women.
Where are you happiest?
When the shooting is over and I look at the pictures we have taken. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy searching for the perfect location, thinking about the theme, choosing the looks and styling with accessories, being on set, entertaining the children… but when the job has finished and I come home quite tired, I am glad that my kids are adults now. Often months later when the magazine is ready, I see that I had anticipated a trend. I feel so proud that sometimes I believe I have super-powers. I then come back down to earth and realize that it is only the fruits of my experience.
What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
That I studied to be a gym teacher, and now I hate working out. And that in the 80’s I was a flight assistant, and now I hate flying.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Free time? When? Where? How? I don’t have any... :-)
How did you come to be in Ibiza, and what kept you there?
I came to Ibiza alone for vacation. I fell for a beautiful guy and I stayed there for love. And for the sun, and the sea, and the beach, and the freedom, and the hippy lifestyle.
What are you coming back to do in your next life?
Until some years ago I thought I wanted to be re-born as a man because they had more power. Now I realize that women are so much smarter, and wiser, and stronger and that they will soon conquer the world. I will be a web designer. I can only imagine how much I could do with a fresh new brain!
In this next life, where would you choose to live? And why?
Anywhere I can see the sea from my window. And the weather is nice.
Last thing that made you laugh a lot?
Yesterday, meditating. I follow an Ah guided meditation for manifesting afirmations and it requires one to emit a very deep sound of ‘Ah’. I was with my daughter and we started laughing so much and for so long that I had tears in my eyes.
What is the one thing that you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I knew how to become an actress. This is what I would have really wanted to do. There were for sure schools and classes that I could take, but I didn’t know where to look or how to access. Yet no internet, unfortunately.
Best advice you have been given?
Find a job you really like. I keep saying this to my kids and their kids.
What’s on your bedside table?
Share some of your daily rituals?
I do meditation every morning and yoga once a week. I wish I could do it more often but I can’t.
What quotes do you live by?
Live and let live