Sitting on the terrace of Le Bristol Hotel among the rooftops of Paris, Megan Hess spied a little white mouse pop its head up across the way. In that moment, the world’s most fashionable children’s book was born. 

That book, Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris, chronicles a tiny white mouse who lives in the hills of France and dreams of Paris and all the fabulous style therein. It’s a concept that began in the most organic of ways: “I was just sitting there and I had a coffee and I was thinking, that’s so funny,” Hess says. “Imagine that little mouse lives in the best street in Paris, right at the bottom is one of the best boulangeries, the best bakeries, in Paris. And there’s a fromagerie cheese store just, like, two doors down. Imagine the cheese that little mouse could find on the street just outside that cheese shop.”

The year was 2017. Hess immediately pitched the idea to her publisher. 

Claris’ principal passion is fashion design. | Source: Claris the Mouse

Hess already had a publisher because, before she became the creator and keeper of Claris, she worked (and still works) extensively as an acclaimed fashion illustrator. Her illustrations have graced campaigns for top luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co., and she’s created portraits for icons and institutions like Michele Obama and Vanity Fair. Her big break came in 2006, when Candace Bushnell commissioned Hess to illustrate the cover of her book, Sex and the City. 

It is not the typical backstory of a children’s book author. Her expertise in fashion illustration, however, did lead to the world of publishing: “After several years of illustrating with luxury brands and illustrating for a lot of fashion weeks and things like that, I started to work on fashion books, which were not for children, but were for adults,” she says. These books include fashion biographies of greats like Grace Kelly and Christian Dior, plus illustrated interior design books and travel guides.

Claris author Megan Hess | Source: Claris the Mouse

Through these fashion books for adults, Hess found herself with a publisher, who one day asked if she’d ever consider writing a children’s book. 

“It was really hard to actually find something that I connected with because working on books takes so much work that I knew that I couldn’t embark on a children’s character or children’s book unless it was something that I was really excited about,” she says.  For a while, Hess was stumped —  then she spied the little white mouse in Paris. “That’s where Claris started. And then the first book came out in 2018 and … I’m currently, literally today, working on book eight.” 

Claris has traveled to multiple European locales. | Source: Claris the Mouse

The first book, Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris, is the mouse’s origin story, and sets up the basics: Claris is known for her courage and kindness, her friendship with a dashing house cat and a pair of dapper frogs, and for her love of designing and tromping around in extravagant fashion. She lives as a sort of stowaway with a glamorous family whose daughter, The Brat, is always threatening to rain on Claris’ parade. 

Blooming from the pages in fabulous flourishes, the Claris series feels indulgent while calling to mind the Eloise books. And its backbone is equal parts fashion and friendship; Claris dares to perform acts of kindness in legendary cities of Western Europe and North America, all brought to life in the prettily perfect hand of Hess. 

“I have a style of drawing, which just has evolved over time,” she says. “And it’s funny, whenever I meet students or they say to me, how can they find their style of drawing? I always say, ‘If you just keep drawing, your style finds you.’ So my style is the same style [as in the Claris books], but I think because it’s a children’s book, it leans into something that connects with children. So, it’s probably a little bit more colorful than my other books.” 

One look at the pages confirms that aesthetics are never far from her mind either, each book adhering to a thoughtful color palette. “I don’t like all of the books to just be all multicolored,” she says. “Some of them are quite colorful, but I have a Christmas [book] where she goes to New York called Holiday Heist. She has a Christmas adventure, and I was strict that the color palette in that is completely red. The Christmas colors, red, green, gold, cream, the entire book. There’s no pink in it.” 

So far, Claris has gone to Milan, London, and the French Riviera. But Hess’ favorite stop may be FAO Schwarz in New York City. 

“FAO is my favorite kid store in the world. There is nothing else like it,” she says. In February 2023, Claris launched a special edition book: Where is Claris in New York! with FAO Schwarz. The decadent book, perfect for the coffee tables of fashion-forward parents, is a look-and-find story with a special sleeve and FAO-theming, plus stops to fashionable sites in the city, like Central Park, Bergdorf Goodman, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The book, plus the extended Claris line, which includes plush (Hess’ favorite piece of Claris merch) and accessories, launched at FAO Schwarz in New York City, and remains the only place to purchase the full line of Claris books and products. “And they still don’t realize how excited I was about this,” she says. “They think that I thought it was great, but it was truly just a dream come true.”

Globetrotting aside, a major focus of Claris’ books are, of course, the clothes. Hess says she does deep dives of research to match Claris’ ensembles to the fashion perspective of each location. For example, all the looks in the Pasta Disaster (which rhymes when Hess, an Australian, says it) were influenced by the creations of legendary Italian designers. 

Artwork from Pasta Disaster | Source: Claris the Mouse

But Hess wants kids to take away from these books that fashion and femininity don’t equate to frivolity. She also wants to incorporate a sense of escapism and fantasy while tempering the scale of expectations society puts on kids. 

“It’s such a big Marvel world, and I love all that stuff, too. [But] I think the things that people can do have become so out of this world,” she says. “And I think something really simple: being kind … I actually think it’s something that can have a huge impact on other kids.”

So seven books and six years later, Hess is full steam ahead on Claris.

Claris’ eighth adventure is currently in the works, and while Hess can’t reveal details this early in the process, she did make clear the book would be a return to her roots in the City of Light: “I started to realize that she’s traveling every book. She’s the ‘Chic Mouse in Paris,’ so she should probably be chic in Paris for a little bit.”

A slew of fabulous frocks | Source: Claris the Mouse

Taking public reaction to Claris as a barometer of success, it’s safe to say Hess has a hit on her hands. And for parents and the fashionably literate, they may just find some delight in the escapist world of the haute, humble mouse, too: 

“The Claris book is my best-selling book of all my books. And I have, I’m not sure how many books I have, I think it’s around 30,” she says. “And even in Paris when we first did the book signing, there were so many women that came up and got the book signed … they’d say, ‘Can you please sign this to Clara?’ And I’d be like, ‘And how old is Clara?’ They’re like, ‘No, it’s me.’”

About the author

Madison Patterson

Madison Patterson

Madison Patterson is an editorial assistant at the Pop Insider, the Toy Insider, and the Toy Book. When she isn't writing, the Seattle native can be found reading the classics, watching football, and scouring the city for New York's best vintage.