Don’t be too hard on yourself. That is the gentle mantra of London-based Spanish businesswoman Celia Munoz, founder of the luxury kids brand La Coqueta - and a mother of five.
Donald Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’ concept, which centres around the principle that children benefit more from experiencing life’s minor frustrations rather than your undivided attention, is more her parenting model.
“My father is a psychologist, and I very much grew up with this in mind,” Celia explains (she too is a trained psychologist). “We all love each other, and we focus on trying to give the best we can. Not every day is perfect, but some are, and those days make up for the less than perfect ones.”
What a welcome perspective. Isn’t it freeing to know that even the super-mums – the immaculate-home, thriving-business-with-five-beautiful-children-under-11-style-super-mums – are not afraid to cut themselves some slack.
In fact, there’s a lot we can all try from Celia’s approach to parenting.
She spends an hour putting Flavia 11, Lucas, 10, Sienna, nine, Bosco, eight, and Hugo, seven, individually to bed, but come morning she allows her two sons and two daughters to walk to school together alone (at least part of the way) while she drops her youngest off at school.
As a family, they think nothing of exploring the most far-flung corners of the earth en masse – her latest trips were to Japan and Ethiopia (the key, apparently, is one carry-on bag each – the stress-saver when it comes to travelling with children).
Her own idyllic childhood in Southern Spain (her mother and grandmother are French) married with her wanderlust and curiosity has formed one of the most sought-after childrenswear brands on the market.
Sold globally with stores in London’s Notting Hill and Hampstead, as well as an online boutique and partnership with Liberty London, the brand offers an irresistible mix of sweet nostalgia, grounded with just the right measure of modernity (all modelled on quite possibly the most beautiful children).
So much of the collection transports you back in time; the hand-smocked dresses are reminiscent of what Celia herself wore sat on the lap of her beloved grandfather as they watched the local townspeople on their way to church.
“In Spain there is a total adoration and devotion for children and, in a way, this feeling manifests itself through their clothes, through the way their parents dress them,” Celia explains. “I grew up in a place where most children would be dressed impeccably, even when going to the playground and this has definitely had an effect on me.”
And her label is growing all the time – a newborn range, occasionwear and a newly launched cashmere collection have just hit the rails.
We first spoke to Celia back in 2016 where she talked about her plans for the brand and views on motherhood but connecting again, we were fascinated to learn how her parenting has changed as her children have grown, especially how she sparks their imagination – as well as discovering the lessons learnt in building a brand from scratch and ensuring its relevance.
Even second time around, Celia had so much to share. Enjoy!
How has La Coqueta evolved since its launch in 2013?
La Coqueta has grown not only in terms of the offering but also in size and has become a brand sold over the world due to its global customer base. The original idea was to have a local corner shop next to my home where I could sell beautifully made Spanish product and promote Spanish craftsmanship. Our first shop in Hampstead was designed to have my five children in there (they were all under five!) playing with the little kitchenette in the playroom while I would work in the shop. I worked in our Hampstead store for the first two years and this was extremely helpful in order to get a sense of who our customers were and what they were looking for. They also got the chance to meet me and get to know the story behind our clothes – who made them and how they were fitted on my children who were then the perfect demographic. La Coqueta has now expanded into two beautiful shops, a partnership with Liberty London as well as a very busy online business selling clothes all over the world.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt along the way?
There are so many… Amongst all, that you cannot grow a successful business without a really good team who feels as passionate about it as you do, and to listen to your customers in order to bring them a product that they need and want to see. Lastly, to chill in stressful situations… my MD often says a retail business is not “open heart surgery” and I find this very useful.
Why do you think in such a saturated market that La Coqueta has endured?
It has had a very distinctive, well-defined aesthetic from the very beginning, and our customers have been able to really value and appreciate this. La Coqueta is authentic, classic, has a beautiful story behind it that is hundreds of years old but still has very a modern twist, which allows us to appeal to a broader pool of people. La Coqueta keeps evolving in terms of ideas and offering. Children’s retail is a very competitive market but there are few innovators and I think we always manage to stay ahead of the curve. Clothes can easily be copied and replicated a season after but imagination and creativity cannot and this is key.
How do you think your training in psychology has helped you in your career?
The main skill I learned from my studies was to listen to my customers as a psychologist would listen to their patients and this is key when you are in a retail business. You can only sell what your customer wants.
What do you love most about having your own business?
The fact that we can choose who to work with and create everything I want to create. There are no boundaries to anything, the sky is the limit and it is a freeing feeling. In a way, being the master of my own doing and success is something I thoroughly enjoy.
Where do you look for fresh inspiration?
Mainly through our customers’ children, mine, as well as my own personal aesthetic. I love fashion so I guess I am very much aware of trends etc but in traditional fashion I feel you have to stay true to what you stand for so following trends isn’t always that important. I try to represent the world of the childhood my children have in our own clothes.
How do you spark your children’s imagination and encourage their creativity?
By letting them be… it’s not always easy! I try to help them discover and develop what their passions are without pushing for it. I am a very big believer that having limited access to screens and TV is key to this too. My husband is Dutch and I find the Dutch have a very relaxed way of parenting, still being very involved and I have learned a lot from him on this department. My husband and I love adventurous travelling and we have taken our children from the day they were born to all the places we have visited together (South Africa, rural India and China, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Iran… to name a few). I think getting to know other cultures really helps with your imagination and creativity and I love looking at the drawings that they have made following some of our trips.
How do you approach dressing your children?
It’s a fairly straightforward motto… it needs to be simple and comfortable but I like their clothes to look smart. My eldest child is 11-years-old so I can imagine that things will be changing very soon in this department!
Can you talk us through the school run?
My five children all started going to the same school… but those times are gone and we now have three different schools to go to. Mornings are very busy but my husband and I have made the conscious decision to wake up earlier in order to sit down for breakfast together without having the need to rush anyone. We have taught our children how to go to school by themselves from quite a young age so that they can take responsibility (it took me a year to accept this admittedly but at some point my husband gave me no option and I am so grateful I did!) and school runs aren’t that bad. Since this September it is pretty simple, we all leave home together and we say goodbye halfway through. Two of my boys go to school together and so do my girls (always in pairs), they both have the responsibility to take care of each other until they get to school. I now have the privilege to take my little Hugo to school alone… it’s our time together and we have the most wonderful conversations… I now know everything about turtles and tortoises, the fact that elephants can survive up to four days without water… all thanks to these 20 minutes of uninterrupted talk during our walk to school, it is totally wonderful. Once I leave him at school I walk from Hampstead to Notting Hill every day for nearly an hour and this is truly the time I have for myself. I get to the office just before 9am… I love this long walk to the office, I find it gives me so much clarity.
How do you manage the juggle of five children and a career? How do you ensure you can give your attention to everything you want and need to and ensure you have enough headspace to deal with all you have to remember?
I am able to work full time and have five children because I have a lot of help. My husband is and has always been my main support and has been incredibly involved in our family from the very beginning despite working quite long hours with his own job. I can honestly say I haven’t cooked for 15 years… my husband does all of the cooking for the family, this is a huge help. I also have a wonderful nanny and she is home in the afternoons. She does all of the things that are very important to do in a house but your children will never remember you for (tidying up, school admin, cleaning etc) so that when I come back home I can fully enjoy my children, my husband and family life. I write down everything in my diary and have a daily personal to-do folder in my inbox that I tick off every day as so many things come up with five children with school, activities… I have an incredibly supportive MD who takes care of me as much as I do with her and this is of incredible help, you get to share so much and we cover each other’s backs, we are there for each other. It is truly an invaluable partnership.
In terms of giving attention, I try not too overly think about it as I find that as a mother, you can never win. I give my very best to my children and every day I spend 10-15 minutes to take them to bed individually (yes – it takes me an hour to take my children to bed!). This is the time that I have and can give to them individually and I know it’s very important to them and me. Otherwise the rest of the time is always spent together, as a family. I try to be home when they come back from school and we spend time together as a family. My husband and I aren’t very much in favour of “alone time to make someone feel special” mainly because it can be difficult to manage when you have five children who are 12 and 13 months apart. We also feel the backlash maybe that they start comparing with each other or demanding that time alone, and this is not always possible.
What have you had to sacrifice when it comes to your personal life or ambitions for your children? And what do you refuse to compromise on?
I guess I have had to give up going out spontaneously with friends, waking up late, reading a book when I want to, going to the hairdresser without planning, general time for myself but I feel it’s now the time I have to be with my children and this is the choice I made. I do not feel I have had to sacrifice anything, to me the positives of being a mother completely surpass the positives of my previous life. I will have plenty of time to go back to my old life in the future when they all grow up. I refuse to compromise on not spending time with my husband (our weekly Friday date nights are everything to us) and my children, I never will. Undoubtedly to us, family comes first and is second to none.
Where do you like to relax and unwind?
At home in London, on holidays with my family and at my parents’ home, back in Spain over big lunches outside and long conversations about anything and everything. I thoroughly enjoy weekend lunches (generally with at least 10 noisy children at home) or dinners with our very close group of friends, a free space to be yourself surrounded by people who love you. It’s totally wonderful and I feel very lucky to have this.
Where have you travelled to recently as a family that was particularly memorable? And what did you learn?
I will always remember our trip to Ethiopia, in particular to the Omo river delta bordering South Sudan and our recent trip to Japan. What I learn the most during our travels is how different people are and how they live so differently to us, there’s no single way to live and it is incredibly comforting and enriching to be aware of this. I always come back from holidays feeling more humble and openminded.
What are your top tips when travelling with children?
No matter how long we go away for, each of our children travels with their own hand luggage and so do we. As a family we are allergic to big suitcases! We waste less time in airports and travelling is so much easier when what you carry is light. We also tend to go to destinations that aren’t particularly glamorous so six outfits for the holiday is more than sufficient. You can always trend things up with a good pair of sunglasses and red lipstick in my case! My other tip would be doing jetlag training if you go really far away so that when you land you are still able to enjoy your day.
What are some of the challenges you face as your children get older?
Trying to not overly influence what they believe in and letting them make their own decisions and mistakes. Trying to not hide things away from them particularly when they ask for information about topics that may be harder to explain. My goal is to facilitate things for them, to look at things with an open heart, no judging involved! I have to confess I do not always succeed… they do let me know though so that I can improve and do it better next time. It’s an ever-evolving learning process for our children and for ourselves as parents.
What has been your most memorable moment of motherhood to date?
This is a difficult question as I have so many… definitely giving birth to my five children, I remember very vividly showing them off to my parents when they came to meet our babies in the hospital, I was so proud!
What’s one piece of advice you would pass on to all mothers?
I can’t really give advice as every situation is different but I have learned how important it is to be less harsh on yourself, there’s always an opportunity to make things better and we all learn from our mistakes…
What has motherhood taught you about yourself?
The ability to love someone more than yourself, I find this the biggest gift motherhood, and my husband, have given me.
What do you enjoy about living in London?
Very soon I will have lived in London longer than in my own country, but I still feel like a foreigner… discovering new words and things every day that are very different to how I grew up… it’s exciting and in a way it feels like you are still visiting a new country.
How would you describe your interiors style?
Classic (I have a big love for French XVIII Century antiques) with a modern twist. My style is recognisable and familiar because it is classic but it has elements to it that can be different and make the interior unique, just like La Coqueta’s clothes. I also love the fact that our home is full of objects that remind us of particular experiences as a family or as a couple, mainly our trips abroad together.
Where do you like to shop for your home?
I love going to Les Puces in Paris, Antique shops in Pimlico, 1stDibs online, The Conran Shop, Merci in Paris… I don’t really have a specific place, it is more something that finds me than me looking for it. I like small independent shops. I do love Judy’s Garden in Hampstead to buy ferns and terracotta pots, the owner is absolutely delightful.
Tell us about your husband – how did you meet?
I rarely talk about him because he is a very private man. We met in London at a Christmas party organised by one of our best friends and through a work colleague of mine. I don’t think there’s one single secret for us but I guess chemistry and the fact that we are very complementary personality-wise, we have always liked similar things. I am everything that he is not and vice versa, there’s no personality overlap. Being truthful, genuine and showing our best for the other is important to us… never give up, always make an effort.
What are your favourite things to do with the children on the weekend in London?
Walks and picnics in Hampstead Heath, watching an old movie altogether after we have all prepared a few “tapas”, making photo albums by sticking pictures of our trips, having a barbecue at home and inviting close friends, cooking together, bike rides… something simple but yet incredibly special.
What three words do you hope your children would use to describe you?
Kind, available and fun to be with.
Finish this sentence. “The thing people don’t know about me is…”
That I have a big love for ceramics and I like making pots and creating things with clay – I love small personal objects that tell a story.
And finally, what is next for La Coqueta?
To keep bringing new products and growing organically in line with customers’ demands. I would like to keep expanding our global online business.
Please list your ‘little list of loves’.
- Tresor Lumineuse Lancôme perfume.
- Estée Lauder lipstick (Pure Colour Envy Liquid Matt, my latest discovery!).
Erdem’s aesthetic (I particularly adore his dresses).
- Colourful trainers and sunglasses.
- Antique jewellery (Roman earrings are my favourite).
- I am currently reading The Goldfinch in Spanish and Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes, following our trip to Japan.