To the serious fashionista, they are some of this summer’s most coveted items: a Carretto Con Rose silk embroidered dress by Dolce & Gabbana, a Gucci peacock feather jacquard coat and a pastel-hued Chloé silk crêpe boho dress with tassel trims are all top of the wishlist for those with an eye on trends. At £2,400, £1,340 and £419 respectively, this capsule wardrobe of seasonal must-haves doesn’t come cheap. And demand for these high-ticket garments is all the more astonishing because they are scaled-down versions of catwalk pieces, designed for style-conscious children.
Childrenswear is booming: in 2015 sales reached $135.6bn worldwide and accounted for 12% of the overall clothing market, according to research firm Euromonitor. For the past five years, growth in the childrenswear market has outpaced both men’s and womenswear. The childrenswear market in the UK is forecast to rise a further 13.2% in the next five years, to £6.1bn.
In the designer market, online retailer childrensalon.com is leading the way: their customers can’t get enough of Gucci, D&G and Chloé, plus Roberto Cavalli, Moncler, Fendi, Versace and more. A boy’s Burberry wool tuxedo suit with satin lapels (£745) aims to bring out the 007 in any seven-year-old.
The business was founded in 1952 as a small upmarket children’s boutique in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and has grown into the world’s largest online luxury childrenswear store. Selling more than 280 designer brands, and employing almost as many staff at its head office and six warehouses, childrensalon.com sells around 800,000 items a year to 110 countries. Little clothes are clearly big business, and getting bigger. Revenue at this family-owned business rose by an impressive 51% to £42.7m in 2015.
It’s no surprising, then, that everyone from luxury brands to aspirational start-ups and mass retailers want a piece of the action. Following a proliferation of childrenswear launches from the fashion houses of Milan, Paris, London and New York, Net-a-Porter confirmed in 2013 that it had registered the domain name Petite-à-Porter, and online designer boutique hub FarFetch launched a childrenswear division last year.
“I realised how much mums enjoy buying dresses for their daughters,” said London designer Roksanda Ilincic, mother to six-year-old Efimia. Ilincic counts Cate Blanchett, Melania Trump, the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron among her grown-up clientele, and launched her Blossom junior range in 2012. “It’s a different perception buying for your daughter – you would indulge her much more than you would yourself.”
When Victoria Beckham unveiled her collection for US chain Target last week, the 150-piece range included a number of designs for children, with scalloped hem dresses, bunny embroidery, floral appliqué and pastel hues the order of the day – all at around £20. It’s a far cry from the four-figure price tags of her catwalk collection, but the temptation to tap into the lucrative childrenswear sector must surely have been overwhelming for the mother of four.
“I know what fabrics [children] like because I’ve been dressing them for a long, long time,” Beckham recently told Vogue, explaining, without irony, how motherhood has made her an expert in kids’ clothing.
She’s not alone, of course. The arrival of celebrity progeny seems to bring the obligation to create a fashion line inspired by said child. Former model Jools Oliver, wife of Jamie and mother to their five children, designs the rainbow-hued Little Bird clothing line for Mothercare. Rock Star Baby is a collection of pirate-themed monochrome T-shirts, beanies and bibs by Tico Torres, the Bon Jovi drummer.
Last month Kim Kardashian and Kanye West offered a preview of their new kids’ range, modelled by three-year-old daughter North. In true 21st-century fashion, the collection was launched on social media, with the stars’ Snapchat followers given the first glimpse of a yellow shearling jacket and co-ordinating sequined dress.
“Daddy and mommy are doing a kids’ line and these are some of the pieces,” cooed Kardashian to her sneaker-wearing child in the short video. “Northie picked out the colours and the fabric.”
Not to be outshone, Blue Ivy Carter, five-year-old daughter of Beyoncé and Jay Z, will soon unveil a range of clothing, along with – yes, really – fragrance and makeup branded with her name.
“Social media has had a huge impact on the childrenswear market,” said Honor Strachan of research firm Globaldata. “It began with Suri Cruise, whose daily outings with Katie Holmes were scrutinised by style watchers, and it’s exploded from there.”
When Shiloh Jolie-Pitt was born, Barneys sold out of the T-shirt she was pictured wearing on the cover of People magazine, and the children of the Duchess of Cambridge cause a rush of Sloane-y mothers at Trotters and Rachel Riley when they appear in public wearing their traditional fashions.
British online retailer alexandalexa was acquired by Sweden’s Babyshop in 2015, creating the Luxury Kids Group, which is expected to turnover €40m this year. “We work closely with celebrities and instagrammers, which has a massive impact on sales,” said alexandalexa’s Jenny Slungaard. “The rise of social media, particularly Instagram, has seen parents become a lot more conscious about what their children wear, as are the kids themselves.”
While for some, designer labels are what matter, for others it’s brands with ethical credentials or those that manufacture in the UK. At upmarket London department store Liberty, Sarah Coonan, head of buying for the Little Liberty range, said: “When you’re buying for your cherished child or someone else’s, it doesn’t sit well if what you’re buying is not ethically sourced and organic: the majority of our customers ask questions about a garment’s provenance. Our customers want brands with soul, with a different story to tell. We’ve also seen a big shift towards gender-neutral clothing, where brands aren’t selling separately to boys and girls with traditional colours and styling. We are well on track to double our year-on-year turnover this year.”
It seems then, that while many of us are tightening our purse strings, there are plenty of people willing to splash their cash on whatever they deem stylish for their offspring.
Spanish baby and children’s label, made in Spain from luxury fabrics, in traditional styling with a modern twist.
Scamp and Dude
Contemporary, unisex leopard-print sweatshirts and accessories by former beauty PR Jo Tutchener-Sharp.
Beautifully made classic French childrenswear that looks as if it’s from another era: smocking, ditzy prints with Peter Pan collars, and bloomers
Dolce & Gabbana
La Dolce Vita epitomised for pampered bambini, in the form of flamboyant frocks and other colourful clothes for attention-seekers.
Simple childrenswear reminiscent of styles from the 1970s. Clothkits combined with C&A and Woolworths, with a designer price tag.
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