x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

After revamping maternity wear, designers turn focus to kids

We look at the growing demand for high-end designer fashion that's just for children.

The specialist children's store Katakeet in Abu Dhabi.
The specialist children's store Katakeet in Abu Dhabi.

It was the supermodel Karolina Kurkova who reportedly said "pregnancy is the new Chanel bag" in terms of status symbols. She had a point.

Until recently, childrenswear in fashion followed that adage about children, that it was better for them to be seen not heard. Not anymore.

What was once an afterthought has become the glittering jewel in the crown of the designer label.

This time last year when the Italian luxury brand Gucci announced - at the grand old age of 90 - the imminent arrival of a childrenswear line, the vast publicity surrounding the happy event gave an indication of the changing role of designer childrenswear both in perception and fortunes.

The emphasis was on the Gucci creative director, Frida Giannini, who created the collection. Jennifer Lopez and her two-year-old twins, Max and Emme, were hired to pose in the campaign. The trendy photography duo, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, shot the family album.

In hindsight, the Italian luxury group had every right to make such a fuss of its new baby. Even Gucci's François-Henri Pinault, in his annual chief executive statement, flagged the subsequent and unprecedented leap in annual pre-tax earnings (up 32.6 per cent, with overall sales up 20 per cent) as owing much to the childrenswear range.

Since then, the two biggest fashion stories currently - soaring profits in the super luxury branded clothing sector and the number of designers launching childrenswear - have been as conjoined as Siamese twins.

Every brand boasting vast profits - Burberry, Fendi, Versace among them - happens to have a buoyant kidswear range.

"Spending on luxury childrenswear saw a revival during the recent economic downturn because buying luxury goods for children is regarded as a guilt-free shopping experience and luxury childrenswear is more affordable, with a lower price per item than luxury goods for adults," believes Ruta Perveneckaite, a retail analyst at Verdict Research, a leading retail analysis company.

Pushing sales, too, is the 50 per cent rise since 2000 in babies born to mothers over 40 who are more affluent and brand-aware; the "Suri Cruise effect", spawned by the paparazzi's obsession with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's fashion-conscious young daughter, which triggers a sort of fashion one-upmanship among yummy mummies. There are doting grandparents to thank and not least, the colossal impact of new wealth in emerging nations - China, Russia, India and Brazil - whose love of luxury and spoiling their children knows no bounds.

This month, Alber Elbaz will launch his childrenswear pre-collection for Lanvin, before his full debut range arrives in the spring.

He joins the mother of four Stella McCartney, whose tomboyish wellies for girls and Sgt Pepper-style Beatles jacket for boys sold out online within 24 hours when the collection launched in autumn 2010. The supercool US brand American Apparel and the Italian luxury giant Fendi also recently launched kidswear lines. This year, Paul Smith and Versace revamped theirs to keep up with the competition. Even Zara Phillips, eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, has added childrenswear to her equestrian range for Musto.

This July, Burberry opened a 100-square metre standalone childrenswear store in Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall, which features flat-screen LED video walls displaying catwalk versions of the kiddie trench coats available in-store.

They join Marc Jacobs, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Dior in having kidswear-only stores, which mirror catwalk trends - and prices. One Gucci hooded zip-up jacket for girls, age 2-8, costs Dh3,020.

In September, the designer "mini-me" trend saw Selfridges department store in London announce an 80 per cent rise in the sale of kids' versions of adult bestsellers, including Burberry trench coats, Ugg boots, Gucci totes and Toy watches.

Due to the exceptional reaction to Gucci childrenswear this summer, Harrods in London has announced "exciting redevelopment plans" which include a sizeable expansion in designer childrenswear for 2012.

"We have experienced a significant growth in designer childrenswear over the past few years," says Torly Grimshawe, the head of childrenswear at Harrods.

"Our clients are constantly looking for key pieces which have quality and longevity. This spending habit is typically seen in womenswear, however we have also seen this translate into childrenswear. Designers are able to capitalise on this, with their 'mini-me' collections that mimic the mainline beautifully, as well as signature staples which become timeless items to hand down."

"More adult labels joining in childrenswear gives credence to the market," believes Linda McLean, the fashion director of the leading kidswear fashion magazine Junior, who also writes the broody blog Smudgetikka.

"Competition is great news for the childrenswear industry," she says. "It shows designers are taking it seriously and may even stop people going to supermarkets for their kidswear.

"It's interesting because until now there's been a polarisation in childrenswear," explains Patrick Abouchalache, the managing director and the head of the consumer and retail group Roberts Mitani, a New York-based global advisory and investment company. "You had either very high or very low-end. Gap Kids or Ralph Lauren."

Value brands such as Primark, which offered trends at low prices, won over the loyalty of price-sensitive shoppers and effectively edged out the middle market.

"Areas like UAE, Kuwait and Saudi, where the customer is closer to Europe in terms of sophistication and who, historically, are strong supporters of luxury childrenswear, are a magnet to designers offering quality children's lines."

Abouchalache also believes we will start to see more expansion of multi-brand designer boutiques, such as the ground-breaking Katakeet childrenswear boutique, which opened in May in Abu Dhabi Mall, offering upscale clothes for kids up to the age of 10.

"A study showed us local nationals and Arab expats preferred a multi-brand shopping environment," says Frederica Tribuani, the head of marketing innovation at the Chalhoub group, which runs more than 400 stores in the Middle East region, one-quarter of them multibrand concepts such as Katakeet.

"Abu Dhabi was chosen as there is big potential for this market, it is growing very fast and there is a strong need for luxury brands and luxury stores."

The leading retail specialists Caulder Moore designed Katakeet's stunning interior, which features interactive furniture, a "magic" door and a wishing tree.

Inspired by the concept of storytelling, it showcases the work of the children's author and illustrator Polly Dunbar and houses clothes by Burberry, Fendi and Ralph Lauren.

However forays by famous adult fashion brands haven't entirely eradicated children's-only labels, stresses McLean.

"Although Lanvin is huge in terms of news, and getting hold of, everyone is talking about Scandinavian designers; brands such as Soft Gallery [a high-end Danish label founded in 2008], which do heavily embroidered pieces in modern shapes. Kids and parents love them."

McLean also cites a nostalgia boom as a reaction against catwalk-obsessed kidswear.

One British kidswear label proving popular, particularly with UAE customers, is Vintage Kit (www.vintagekit.com) worn by the children of Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss and Paul Weller.

Designs evocative of yesteryear include sailor suits, dungarees, cowboy shirts and childhood-inspired illustrative prints that so impressed Disney, it allowed the founder, the former womenswear designer Katherine Trigg, access to its archives.

The result is a collaboration which allows Trigg to recolour classics such as Bambi and Peter Pan for exclusive prints. She also offers a bespoke service on her exclusive range of rustic clothes, which are handmade in Wales.

"A brand, be it childrenswear or adult, must always have a unique selling point. It must offer consistency from product to image to shopping experience," says Abouchalache.

The luxury advisory group has just taken on its first-ever childrenswear-only brand, the Lebanon-based Lola et Moi, which can currently be found in Galleries Lafayette in the UAE, and is being worn by Cruise and Holmes's daughter Suri as well as the offspring of Salma Hayek - her father is the Gucci boss Pinault) - Jessica Alba, Brooke Shields and Kelly Ripa. "I felt the colours, prints and designs of Lola et Moi were different from any other childrenswear around," says Abouchalache. "As a brand, it has enormous potential to grow. Equally, the high level of craftsmanship will strike a chord with parents, friends or relations shopping for gifts."

"Childhood is about colour and having fun," says Lola et Moi's founder and designer, Rania Tohme. "We have a lifetime in which to wear grey and designer logos."