No joke: this beauty – Natalie Christen-Genty – launched the sensationally successful children’s fashion e-tailer, Melijoe.com out of her Paris apartment back in 2007. That, in itself, is impressive but add to that the fact that she has no less than five children and a husband who commutes to London from Paris, and we are totally blown away. Today, the business has large Parisian headquarters from which the finest kids’ fashions – from Chloe to Converse, Kenzo to Karl Lagerfeld Kids are sourced – all under Natalie’s watchful eye. Somehow, she manages to fit everything in, including long haul travel with five kids in tow. She chats to kodomo.com about how she, quite literally, does it all.
Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
My family didn’t really travel much when I was young. I flew for the first time when I was 17, when I attended a summer school programme in the United States.
Before that, most of my holidays were spent on my grandparents’ farm in the Picardy region of France. I spent at least one month there every summer, right around harvest time. Every day, the cows had to be milked, the calves and chickens fed and we had to gather eggs. Every year, a calf was born. Those are my earliest and most beautiful childhood memories.
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
One very good holiday memory from before having children was a cargo flight with my first husband and his father, who was an airline pilot (only 6 passengers aboard and lots of merchandise: I remember there were paintings). We did Paris to New York, New York to Fairbanks in Alaska, Fairbanks to Tokyo and then Tokyo back to Paris. We did a world tour in that plane. We had bunks and a kitchen. It was magical, really exotic. I remember perfectly all of the colours and smells. We went back in time, and then moved forward again.
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
There were two, in fact! We went on holiday after Antone, my second son, was born. We did Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, in farniente mode. The hotel was perfect, very lounge-style with immense “ecological” gardens and a superb beach. I remember that we stayed on French local time so we were completely out of phase with everyone else: we were on the beach at dawn and turned in before everyone else in the evening.
Q: How do you find the experience of travelling with children generally? A wonderful, bonding experience, for example, or traumatic and stressful? Or a bit of both?
It’s different every year; first one, then two, then three, four, and now, five children.
First of all, it’s expensive! You’ve got to be really organised (from the minute you book the minibus for the airport) and it’s always a bit chaotic. But it’s a great time. And, above all, we adapt. My husband loves adventure holidays in Thailand, for example, but there’s a time for everything. With really little children, all-inclusive hotels are still the best option, with a night flight, no layover and little or no time difference. Right now, Mauritius is the ideal destination for us.
Q. Do you ever travel with your children for work?
No, I never travel with my children for work. For me, it would just be surreal, unless I had a nanny to come along. Which is not the case.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
Mauritius every Easter. Every year, we stay at the same hotel, so now it’s a little like being at home, but in holiday mode! The kids feel right at home and they have friends there; everyone has their favourite activity. The grounds are immense, with two pools, three beaches, a golf course and lots of activities. And the food is great.
Q: And your worst?
One year, the night before leaving for Mauritius I discovered that my elder two children’s passports had expired. (I didn’t know that a child’s passport is only valid for 5 years). I wanted to cancel everything, but we would have lost it all. So we left anyway and the elder two stayed behind in Normandy. It was awful! I cried a lot.
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
The must have? There are so many…
Everything’s a must when you have five children, from stuffed animals to passports and bottles (and the mangled dummy, of course), bathing suits, sun cream, and in all circumstances, a credit card so, at worst, you can buy whatever it is you forgot.
Q: And top tips for travel with kids, especially five of them!!?
I don’t really have top tips. It’s mostly about being really organised beforehand if you’re packing seven suitcases. But for the rest of the trip kids are easy; they’re so happy. We give them responsibilities and we also are lucky enough to travel to places that are comfortable and well-adapted to our set-up.
Q: What was the idea behind Melijoe? How is it going and what are your future plans?
Well, I had my first child in 2003. I’d always followed grown-up fashion, but when I went shopping for my son I was disappointed with the selection I found in multi-brand stores. So I decided to launch my own e-commerce site specialising in children’s fashion. Before I knew it, Melijoe became the go-to destination for kids’ fashion online. Today we feature over 100 of the best brands in children’s fashi