Flicking through the latest celebrity magazines, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the latest It-accessory was neither a Balmain jacket nor a pair of Louboutins, but a sartorially splendid tot. Take the three-year-old Suri Cruise, who has spent much of her short life in the public eye and has become the object of media attention for her style.
There was a time when the main criterion for decent children's fashion involved a knack for hiding stains. Suri, however, exemplifies our current obsession with stylish kids. She made her debut media appearance in 2006, and since then comments on photos of her have snowballed from "isn't she adorable" to comprehensive dissections of her wardrobe, all the way from her Alice band down to her Little Marc Jacobs ballet pumps.
All this attention means that TomKitten wields some rather extraordinary power for someone only just old enough to walk. Since being snapped in innumerable Bonpoint ensembles, Suri has been credited with spearheading the once-fusty Parisian brand's international expansion. Suri's mum, Katie Holmes, is even getting in on the act, and has just announced she's creating a childrenswear line. Meanwhile, the British socialite and self-confessed fashion addict Peaches Geldof recently referenced Victoria and David Beckham's four-year-old son as her latest style inspiration. "Just got papped wearing my new Cruz Beckham badge," Geldof wrote on Twitter. "At least I can support Cruz as the new fashion icon."
Other names at the top of the fashion tots list include Malia and Sasha Obama, the Brangelina bunch and Madonna's growing entourage. And it's not just about celebrity offspring. The 13-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson currently has style watchers following her every move. Now with the chic kids looking visibly stylish, a stain-free child is the least of every fashion-conscious parent's concerns.
Marie Richard, the founder of the children's high-end fashion online boutique Little Fashion Gallery, realised there was a gap when it came to feeding parents' increased desire for well-dressed children. While working for Chanel in New York she met Sojin Lee, who went on to found Net-A-Porter with Natalie Massenet. She kept in touch with Lee. "Knowing Sojin, I watched closely how it evolved and tried to understand how it could work," Richard says. When she returned to her native Paris in 2006, she created a Net-A-Porter for kids.
A business that began from her dining room table quickly turned into an international operation with offices in Paris and London and a Paris showroom. A prestigious and diverse list of clients includes Halle Berry, Kate Moss and Saudi Arabian royalty. Richard's brands are equally eclectic, with everything from Bonpoint, Ralph Lauren and Little Marc Jacobs to niche brands such as Hucklebones and Finger in the Nose. She is currently working with Bonpoint to establish its presence in the US.
Richard says it's natural that we have started to take notice of celebrity offspring: "Nowadays it's really important for designers to have a celebrity following, so it's only natural these mini celebrities start to become really important as well, particularly in the US, where they're more visible." But she says celebrity kids are just one part of the childrenswear revolution. In recent years more and more grown-up fashion houses, including Chloé, Marc Jacobs, Anne Valérie Hash and Phillip Lim, have either launched childrenswear or dramatically raised their game in the childrenswear stakes. These kidswear lines are now growing at a rate that puts their adult counterparts to shame. At Little Fashion Gallery the average shopping basket is £200 (Dh1,226) - not bad going for baby rompers and play clothes.
"These brands want to develop their business; the mum that buys into these brands wants the same for her kids," Richard says. Linda McLean, the fashion editor at Junior magazine, agrees that it's not just about well-dressed kids, but an extension of the parents' style: "It's more often a desire for your children to be well dressed and also to reflect the style or brands that you yourself like or aspire to."
Nicky Goodman, the director of the London-based FourMarketing, which distributes kidswear brands including Fendi, D&G Junior and John Galliano, says: "It's about a change in the way we all shop. We're much more conscious of having a personal style and that affects our clothes, our lifestyle choices, our interiors. It's only natural that parents want their children to be part of this." Although Maddox Jolie-Pitt wearing a T-shirt certainly won't do a brand any harm, the rise in well-dressed A-list offspring merely reflects this shift in attitude towards kidswear, Goodman says. "There's so much choice when it comes to exciting brands and pieces now. I don't think celebrities have brought about the change; they've got onto the bandwagon like every other fashion-conscious parent."
McLean says designers' enthusiasm to feed the desire of fashionable parents (famous or otherwise) should not be viewed cynically. Not so long ago, designers licensed children's lines to the highest bidder, took the money and didn't give it a second thought. Now, she says, childrenswear is finally losing its stigma for designers. "Any time a hot adult designer label produces a children's range now, I get excited to see what they come up with and I'm rarely disappointed." She is currently tipping Stella McCartney's limited edition line for GapKids and the Los Angeles label American Apparel's expanded children's and babywear offer.
Goodman agrees that half-heartedly creating a kids line no longer cuts it: "If it isn't taken seriously by the designers then it just doesn't work. That's why lines like D&G Junior do so well for us - nothing is OK to sign off without direct say so from Mr Dolce." Of course, making the leap from catwalk to crèche isn't easy, and mini-me fashion doesn't mean copying adult clothes to the last stitch. Some outfits would be grossly inappropriate and a pair of Balmain boulder shoulders would look just plain odd on a four-year-old. Instead, trends must be interpreted in a new way. Richard predicts that, as for grown-ups, the 1980s are going to be a big trend for autumn/winter. But rather than padded shoulders and leather leggings, kids will be wearing skinny jeans and rock 'n' roll-inspired prints.
Unfortunately, the flip side of imbuing your offspring with an innate sense of style is that they inevitably start rejecting their parents' fashion advice and start dictating their own terms. Lourdes Ritchie has been quoted trashing her mother's fondness for a tracksuit. Meanwhile, there's a generation of school-age style icons influencing the way we dress. Tavi Gevinson, now at the grand old age of 13, has been inspiring a new fashion generation since starting her Style Rookie blog in March 2008. Her influence is felt well beyond her bedroom in the Chicago suburbs. In recent months, the fashion bibles Pop and Love have both featured the awkward teenager in their pages.
"I love how she has such passion for clothes at such a young age," says the Love editor-in-chief Katie Grand. "She has an amazing eye for putting things together." And expect Charles Guislain to have front-row seats at Paris Fashion Week. The fashion industry is falling over itself to get the 16-year-old budding designer to attend shows. To have access to the likes of Givenchy, Rick Owens and Dior is amazing, but for someone still in school to have a world following is even more impressive.
Perhaps the youngest of these children influencing adults is Arlo Weiner, the eight-year-old son of the Mad Men creator Matt Weiner. US GQ has already devoted a style feature to the child, who has a propensity for wearing top hats and bow ties in a style cocktail that sits somewhere between Kanye West and the artful dodger. All this presents a frightening prospect for us grown-ups as we become achingly unhip by the age of 25, if not before. Lauren Martin, the woman behind the Blow Presents Juniors event at London Fashion Week, argues that this is not something to fear. (The event gave children the opportunity to create and shoot their own outfits under the tutelage of industry professionals such as the catwalk jewellery designer Scott Wilson.) She says getting kids involved can only be a good thing for fashion in the long run.
We can learn from the likes of Tavi, Wilson adds. "Kids see fashion without the airs and graces adults tend to. True, kids are more style-conscious, but it's about individuality and customisation. That's no bad thing." Goodman agrees that in most cases kids are not forced into becoming mini-me clones. Instead parents encourage them to take an interest in fashion and develop their own look: "Part of being a parent is educating your children and as part of that, many want to educate their kids to be stylish."
Like it or not, whether it's down to increasingly style-conscious parents, savvy design, easier access to kids' fashion or a new generation of style icons and celebrity offspring, it seems there's no avoiding the fact that kids are getting hipper. And this fact leaves us with an important question: by the time the line hits stores, will Suri already be too cool to wear her mother's kidswear designs? Katie's odds don't look good.