With rising sales figures in childrenswear departments, designers and stores are finding that high-end kids' clothing can entice customers in a recession.
The season's tot trends
Blame footballers' wives. They seem to pre-empt consumer trends. The second they collectively ditched It-bags and pet Chihuahuas and made a baby the must-have accessory, we somehow knew children's wardrobes were never going to look the same again. Kai Rooney, the Beckham children, the Jolie-Pitts, Gwen Stefani's sons Kingston and Zuma Rossdale and, of course, Suri Cruise - the four-year-old who wears bespoke Christian Louboutins and has a frock collection valued at $3 million (Dh11m) - are fuelling a demand for designer and catwalk-trend-led childrenswear.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the recession, an abstemious vibe still lingers in the air in terms of women shopping for themselves. But when it comes to shopping for their children, sales figures are going through the roof. Design houses and department stores are finding childrenswear is the way to lure customers back in. Guilt-free shopping takes on a twist when yummy mummies can once again buy a pair of Chloé silver leather gladiator sandals? albeit for their toddlers.
This season's swooning takes place in the childrenswear departments. This is where you now find fashionista-style waiting lists. Christopher Bailey's mini-me trenches and house-check romper suits have no doubt helped the luxury clothing giant Burberry Group report a 15 per cent rise in sales figures in the past six months. Selfridges' four stores in the UK report a 30 per cent rise in the sales of luxury baby items, including Dior bottles and Dolce & Gabbana bibs, since 2008.
The high-street fashion retailer Debenhams, which has designer collaborations largely to thank for robust sales figures, particularly in childrenswear, even goes as far as to declare the era of hand-me-downs over. Celebrity kids sporting the latest catwalk fashions (which Debenhams calls the "Suri Cruise effect"), is making parents blow their hard-earned cash to update their child's wardrobe each season - that's seven new dresses and five pairs of shoes for a girl and 10 T-shirts, a football strip and five pairs of jeans in the latest styles for boys, according to a Debenhams survey.
In a recent magazine interview, Stella McCartney, who this month launches her second childrenswear line for GapKids, talks about the now legendary Sergeant Pepper-style boys' limited edition jackets and cashmere leopard print jerseys in her debut Gap range, which sold out within seconds. "Every woman I knew who had kids was texting me asking for that jacket and that knitwear," the designer told the Sunday Telegraph magazine. "After my womenswear shows none of my girlfriends are like that."
McCartney, like many designers, makes sure her signature catwalk style and, wherever appropriate, iconic pieces that are child-friendly, are infused into her children's range, which also explains its soaraway success. Her latest GapKids collection features her famous horse print on a girl's T-shirt, a familiar unisex mac and even a romper suit with Macca-esque block colours such as ginger and rainforest green and "pop" prints.
In his popular childrenswear line last winter, Marc Jacobs did a red tweed coat for girls that was an exact replica of a piece in his mainline ready-to-wear. "John Galliano often uses the same fabrics in his Baby Dior line [available in the Dior boutiques in Abu Dhabi and Dubai] as his womenswear," says Linda McLean, the fashion director of Junior magazine, the definitive monthly glossy that features 22 pages of trend-conscious childrenswear and catwalk reports from the unfortunately named Pitti Bimbo, a fashion trade children's show that take place in Florence twice a year.
"Designer ranges are consistently authentic and forward-thinking," McLean says. "Those who can afford to don't just buy it because of the quality or the fashion one-upmanship. They buy it for the amount of design you get for your money. Dolce & Gabbana can adapt trends for their D&G Junior line, which keeps them way ahead of everyone else. On the whole, women's and menswear catwalk trends will be reflected in kidswear a year later."
Some childrenswear lines are also made under licence. Chloé, Boss and DKNY, McLean explains, are made by Children's Worldwide Fashion (the European leader in high-end children's fashion), who work closely with the brand. "In the past there were just a handful of over the top, beautifully designed, mostly European and very expensive labels such as I Pinco Pallino, and the superbrands such as Dior and Armani. Then denim giants like Diesel and Replay came along. Now you have 'in the know' womenswear brands like Antik Batik and Isabel Marant doing kids' ranges."
Sonia Rykiel, Roberto Cavalli, Paul & Joe and Blumarine all have childrenswear ranges. This July, Gucci will launch its first kids' range for spring/summer 2011 at the trade show Pitti Bimbo. But it's not just the big designer names that are considered crucially cool. The British brand I Love Gorgeous, worn by the daughters of celebrities such as Kate Moss, Sam Taylor Wood and Thandie Newton, offers something a little bit different.
The designers and owners Lucy Enfield and Sophie Worthington take inspiration from vintage shapes such as 18th century christening gowns for their subtly coloured pretty dresses, which are made in India and give a nod to catwalk trends. Mini adult looks are the strongest trend in the 223-square-metre kidswear section at Saks in Dubai, according to T Morgan, Saks's childrenswear buyer. "D&G, Dior, Juicy and Cavalli Kids are our biggest designer brands" Morgan says. "We cannot sell enough of them. The UAE customer is brand conscious, so well-known brands fare well here. Our customer has fun while dressing her daughters and is not afraid of colour, ruffles, you name it.
"At the moment there's definitely a colourful thing going on. Purple is the new pink for girls, and there's a masculine, sober palette for boys with styles like button-down cargos, T-shirts with rock 'n' roll details, and distressed denim. "Celebrities and their kids are often a source of inspiration, so yes, they do affect sales," Morgan adds. "Designer kidswear is bought by customers who believe their kids deserve the same quality of clothing they wear themselves. No one thinks a child is more deserving than his or her parent. Customers also trust and appreciate the aesthetic of the brand. When your child looks good you feel good and proud - and yes, snobbery plays a part."
McLean says the real reason behind the phenomenal rise in the popularity of expensive designer childrenswear in the past few years can be put down to increase in choice and accessibility. "Every good-sized town has a kids' designer boutique, plus now you have online sites." For added guilt-free status, there are sites such as Little Lunalu (www.littlelunalu.com), which offers 40 kids' brands, from American Apparel's baby basics and organic cotton ranges to Hunter wellies, with five per cent of sales going towards charitable organisations.
"When my daughter, Luna, was born, I realised that there were other mums who wanted more urban products for their children but just didn't know where to find them," says Adina Belloli, Little Lunalu's Iranian-American founder. "I've been a volunteer since the age of 12. The other thing I've always enjoyed is fashion. This was a way of combining the two. I look for products that are unique and I also like to support brands that give back to the world. Ultimately, customers are looking for that edge that makes their kid stand out in a crowd."