Children are known for their appreciation of dirt, popsicles and boogers — less so for fancy fashion items like $865 embroidered Gucci sweaters or $390 studded Fendi sandals. And yet both brands offer sizes as small as 0-3 months, as well as full collections that run the gamut from onesies to mini leather moto jackets. In fact, just about every major luxury brand in 2017 has an offshoot line of apparel and accessories scaled down for the 12-and-under set: Dolce and Gabbana’s floral-printed dresses are a hit with the mommy-and-me shopper, Moncler’s Enfant collection has fur-trimmed snowsuits for tots in colder climates and Adidas’s Yeezy Boosts come in infant sizes that are only slightly easier to cop than their adult counterparts. Elie Saab even went so far as to show matching gowns for children on his Fall 2016 couture runway in Paris last July.
Others still are poised to enter the fray in the coming months: Givenchy’s inaugural childrenswear collection hits shelves this summer, and both Emilio Pucci Kids and a newly relaunched Roberto Cavalli Junior will debut for Spring 2018. The retail space is evolving, too. In March, former Vogue editors Sylvana Ward Durrett and Luisana Mendoza launched Maisonette, a Farfetch-style platform that allows customers to shop a curated selection from children’s boutiques around the world, and last year, Farfetch itself entered the category, since expanding to carry over 10,000 items from 20 different countries. Clearly, there are plenty of parents who are shelling out for high-end wardrobes for their broods, but who are they? And why invest in an expensive outfit that likely won’t fit in six months, or shoes that are liable to be kicked off in a stroller?
Globally, the childrenswear market is outpacing both womenswear and menswear, growing 5 percent in current value terms in 2016 to $203.4 billion, according to Euromonitor. Designer childrenswear is only a small portion of the total industry at $5.89 billion, but the research house cites trends that suggest it could grow. For instance, parents today tend to have fewer children later in life, at a time when many have more disposable income, and fashion trends play an ever-greater role in influencing what — and how often — they purchase.
Leading the way are a coterie of precocious celebrity style stars: North West in her teensy custom Balmain jackets (a collection she started amassing long before the label officially launched childrenswear last June), $3,500 furs, and Vetements dresses; Blue Ivy Carter in her Gucci wardrobe, complete with party frocks, embroidered denim jackets, and logo handbags; Harper Beckham in her posh Chloé tops, Burberry coats and Ferragamo ballet flats; and the impeccably clad royal children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
This being 2017, however, kids need not be famous (at least not in the traditional sense) for their every sartorial move to be publicly documented, and with social media, parents aren’t just dressing them up for friends and neighbors. Now, the family photo album is visible to the world.
Yelena Pukay, an Oregon-based personal shopper and mother of four, has amassed an Instagram following of more than 34,000 thanks to her snaps of her youngest daughter Jasmin’s daily outfits (her other kids make appearances too, but the baby is the star of the feed). At nine months old, Jasmin’s wardrobe includes a seemingly endless collection of cashmere cardigans and rompers, which Pukay buys mostly from Parisian brands like Oscar et Valentine and Bonpoint, a Moncler puffer bought on sale, and, along with her sisters, a Dolce and Gabbana swimsuit printed with banana leaves. Her signature accessory — if a baby can have such a thing — is a cashmere pom-pom hat, many versions of which are documented on her feed, and which Pukay says women constantly ask her about (many of Jasmin’s are by British brand Mi Loves and retail for £26, or about $34).
As Jasmin grows, Pukay stretches out the lifespan of her wardrobe with some creative styling. “A lot of the pants, I’ll make them little capris,” she says. “Or the shirts with the ruffles around the neck, even though they might be a smaller size, I’ll still style them under cardigans. I feel like we’ve been getting really good use out of the clothing.” She’s willing to spend more for quality if it means the pieces will last, she says, and she hopes to hold on to the baby clothes as keepsakes to pass on to her kids some day.
For herself, she says she mostly shops at Zara for clothing, and splurges only on handbags and shoes. “When I go to the store, I first shop for my kids, then for myself,” she says. “I’m one of those moms, you know? When I came across Bonpoint, I wasn’t even pregnant. I was just walking down Rodeo [Drive in LA], and I saw these beautiful clothes. I’ve always had love for kids clothing, and I fell in love with the brand, so when I was pregnant, I knew exactly where to start buying my stuff. When I tested positive, the first thing I did was go to Bonpoint.”
Bonpoint was founded in 1975 as a couture house for children, and although the brand now owns and operates more than 110 boutiques worldwide and sales are estimated at around €100 million, or around $114 million per year, it still maintains a Paris atelier and shows a couture collection (which, according to the FT, accounts for about 10 percent of sales) twice a year. Along with Baby Dior, which opened the doors to its first Paris boutique in 1967 — Princess Grace of Monaco cut the inaugural ribbon — the brand was a pioneer in the field, and with its exclusive focus on childrenswear, it has since developed a reputation for impeccable fit and attention to detail, eschewing trendiness in favor of timeless design. This, of course, doesn’t come cheap: A smocked floral baby romper, for example, costs $235, while a leather varsity jacket in sizes up to 12 years will set you back $1,665 (Pukay, for one, says she tries to wait until pieces go on sale to shop).
In addition to the brand’s stand-alone stores, retailers like Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus carry select pieces from the line. According to John Totolis, Vice President, Divisional Merchandise Manager of Children’s at Barneys, Bonpoint is among the store’s top-selling kids’ brands, along with Stella McCartney, Dolce and Gabbana, Marni, and outerwear specialists Moncler and Yves Salomon.
At Saks, Fashion Director Roopal Patel says that while classic labels like Burberry are consistently strong performers, they’re seeing that customers are increasingly interested in brands that offer novelty items and opportunities for “mommy-and-me” dressing. Gucci, in particular, has been a standout: “Specifically some of the statement pieces, like the more iconic Gucci emojis or snakes, are trending really well within childrenswear,” she says. At Saks’s new Brookfield Place location in downtown New York City, the kids’ pieces are sold alongside the women’s and men’s clothing in the brand’s in-store boutique, a relatively novel strategy for the retailer.
“We saw that there were more locals coming in and shopping with their children during the week,” explains Patel. “We really saw an opportunity to develop more of a mommy-and-me concept, which we didn’t have on the floor originally. So we started to test out childrenswear in line with the adult.” The move highlights the synergy between the prints, colors and silhouettes, tempting shoppers into picking up kiddie-sized metallic horsebit loafers ($390) to match the pair they were planning to buy for themselves. Dolce and Gabbana has also mastered the mini-me trend: Farfetch’s Buying and Merchandising Director Candice Fragis says the brand’s lemon-print dresses and swimsuits sold out simultaneously on the site in both women’s and kids’ sizes.
While a rep for Gucci declined to comment on sales of childrenswear specifically, the brand reported record sales in the first quarter of fiscal 2017, jumping 48.3 percent to €1.35 billion euros, or $1.44 billion. And if creative director Alessandro Michele manages to keep up the fervor among his adult customers, the children’s category should be well-positioned to keep pace. “If mom is buying a lot of Gucci, chances are, the little one is going to be dressed in a lot of Gucci as well,” reasons Patel.
For parents who may not be able to afford the four- and five-figure price tags of Gucci’s grown-up lines, the kids’ offerings provide a somewhat more affordable way to take part in the trend by proxy. Childrenswear, says Maisonette’s Mendoza, “is an entry price point for luxury. You may not buy a $10,000 Dolce and Gabbana dress for yourself, but you might buy a $200 Dolce and Gabbana dress for your child and have that same experience.”
She and Ward Durrett have three children each and cite the frustrations of shopping for them as their inspiration for launching the platform. “The process of shopping for your young children is incredibly tedious,” says Ward Durrett. “You have to go to a number of websites to get the things you need for your kids — you’re at a shoe site, you’re at another site for pants, you’re at another site for a special occasion dress. It’s a disaggregated market, and it’s incredibly inefficient. And when you’re a mom, you have the least amount of time in your life.” The aim of Maisonette, then, is to be a one-stop shop for apparel, accessories, toys, decor and more, all aimed at a style-conscious consumer who values quality as much as they value convenience. The parent demographic is also a smart target for an e-commerce venture: According to a recent study by Big Commerce, parents spend 75 percent more time online shopping each week, and spend more of their budget online in comparison to non-parents.
Given their pedigrees, it’s no surprise that some of the pieces on the site require a champagne budget — $300 Golden Goose sneakers for tween boys, $98 cashmere briefs by bespoke kids’ brand Flora and Henri designed to be fitted over a diaper, a $395 Missoni plush teddy bear — but a surprising majority are more accessible, with lesser-known independent brands spotlighted alongside familiar names.
This isn’t accidental: “I think luxury means a different thing in the kids world,” says Mendoza. “For us, luxury can be a $12 wooden toy that’s coming from Switzerland, but it’s $12. It’s really not about price point. It’s about quality and it’s about how differentiated it is and the materials.” When it comes to parents of young kids today, says Ward Durrett, “your kids are kind of an extension of yourself. So when you’re thinking about buying a high chair for your apartment, you’re going to buy something that matches with your post-modern aesthetic, that isn’t necessarily a plastic, colorful, traditional high chair.” And, by that token, when you buy them a hoodie for pre-school, it’s going to be organic cotton, on-trend, and thoroughly Instagrammable.
Gifting, too, plays an outsize role in the childrenswear market. “While we may not buy our kids a $200 to $400 dress on a regular basis, grandparents, aunts, the people who are in your lives who want to buy for your kids often like to spend a little bit more on that and give them a special occasion dress,” says Mendoza, reasoning that since “documenting every second of your child’s life is so implicit in people’s lives these days,” it makes sense that people may feel better about splurging on pieces for occasions like holidays and birthdays.
While generations past may not have commemorated monthly baby milestones on Instagram, the idea of dressing kids up in their nicest clothes to show them off in public is a fairly traditional one. Yuliya Pugach, a mom of three girls, ages 4, 3 and 16 months, in Columbus, Ohio, says she’s happy to spend more on dressy pieces for daughters to wear for church on Sundays. Dresses by Burberry or Chloé with little Louis Vuitton purses to hold their snacks (her husband bought one for each of them as a gift) help make up their collections. “I love investing in their church clothes because that’s when I feel they should look their very best,” she says. But while you might think that having three daughters would mean you could rely on hand-me-downs, Pugach says that’s not always the case. “They do get some things, like the nicer designer clothes that aren’t stained yet, but not as much as people would expect,” she explains. “When I was pregnant with my second and third daughters, everyone always told me how lucky I was that they can wear hand-me-downs and save me a lot of money, but a lot of their clothes don’t stand the test of time.” The Burberry dresses she’s bought are her favorite, she says, because they’ve held up the best; the family also has matching swimsuits by the brand.
Children’s clothes have a different life cycle than their adult counterparts: they’re played in, spilled on, stretched, occasionally spit up on and eventually grown out of. While all of the parents I talked to for this story say they shop mass retailers like Zara Kids and Target as well as designer brands, their main complaint was the quality. In some cases, they said, clothes would fall apart before their kids even got the chance to grow out of them. Better-made pieces, at least, can see a second life — whether as a hand-me-down to a younger sibling or a relative, a keepsake to hold onto, a donation or a resale item. Parents today have several options if they choose the latter, thanks to a slew of online designer resale and consignment stores, including Vestiaire Collective, The RealReal and My Kid’s Threads.
Paris-based Vestiaire Collective currently has more than 28,000 kids’ items listed — a sizable number, though only a fraction of the 600,000 items on the site at any given time. Outerwear is the site’s top-performing children’s category in terms of sales, according to U.S. curator Sydney Locker, with items like a Gucci shearling-lined embroidered denim jacket ($1,141.20), Baby Dior coat ($741.78) and Moncler snowsuit ($707.54) filling the upper end of the price range. More than 50 percent of the site’s children’s business is in France — a much greater share than in other categories, but Locker says she expects this to shift as the resale industry grows and awareness increases globally.
For now, prospective sellers can be savvy about what they buy by keeping resale value in mind. “In the resale business, you’ll see a higher return on these classic, timeless investment pieces that never go out of style, like a Burberry or Moncler jacket, or something super on-trend right now, like Gucci — everyone wants Gucci,” says Locker. “We see completely what’s happening in women’s mirrored in children’s.”
This is also an area where a rapid growth spurt can actually work in parents’ favor. “If you buy it one season and the next season they’ve grown out of it, it’s still considered an in-season item,” she explains. “If you were to go and sell it, you will see a good return on the item.” Not every typical resale rule applies to childrenswear, though: “Designer handbags are our bread and butter for women’s,” she says, “[but] for children’s, it’s not even on the map. It’s a tiny piece of our business.”
Elsewhere, however, accessories seem to be picking up speed, with many luxury shoe brands — Giuseppe Zanotti, Sophia Webster, Malone Souliers — launching lines for kids who may not have even taken their first steps yet. In the case of Finnish designer Minna Parikka, it’s clear to see why the brand extension made sense: Her signature rabbit-ear sneakers, a favorite of Cara Delevingne, Coco Rocha and dozens of other street-style stars, are playful, colorful and about as kid-friendly as you can get (Eva Chen even used a newborn pair to announce her second pregnancy on Instagram). The “Mini” line launched last year, and already it comprises half of the brand’s business; the sneakers, which retail from around $156 for baby slippers to $445 for woven metallic low-tops, are available in 20 different countries and at 50 retailers worldwide, including Harrods and Selfridges.
They’ve also introduced the brand to a new whole new set of customers. “We have totally reached a new audience with the mini line,” says Parikka. “Before, our shoes were mainly for a trendy crowd, and now with the mini we reach customers from 0 to 70 years old. I think our oldest customer has actually been way over 90.” After all, who can’t appreciate a tiny sneaker with rabbit ears for a tongue and a pom-pom tail?
For dressier occasions, Aquazzura’s kids’ line, which launched in December, offers miniaturized versions of the brand’s ultra-popular, lace-up flats and fringed sandals at $240 to $575 a pop. Ward Durrett got a pair as a gift and says her 3-year-old daughter, Grace, wears them as play shoes. “I probably shouldn’t let her do that,” she laughs, “but you know, that’s the point — you can’t be too precious about these things. They’re totally scuffed up and worn, but she loves them and feels like a princess in them, and she chooses to wear them over every pair of shoes that I buy her.”
This brings us to a central debate around designer childrenswear: who are all these fancy clothes and accessories actually for? The kids wearing them? The parents buying them? The followers “liking” them? Or does it even matter?
For Vita Musiyevich, dressing up one-year-old Mila is one of the great joys of having a daughter — and one which she documents dutifully on Instagram, memorializing every cashmere bonnet and frilly romper the baby wears.
Musiyevich was born and raised in the Ukraine, where, she says, the options for children’s clothing were very limited (“I think we stayed swaddled up until we were almost a year old”). However, as she began to grow, her mom’s friend sent the family a few dresses from America. “I remember how special they were to us,” she says. “I still have pictures of me wearing them. I wish I could have brought them with me.” Mila may not be able to wear her old dresses, but she at least hopes to hold on to some of the pieces her daughter is wearing now for future children, including favorites like cashmere rompers by Bonpoint and Oscar et Valentine, Dolce and Gabbana’s rose-print dresses and rompers, and Belle Enfant‘s plush faux-fur vests.
Like every other mother I spoke to, Musiyevich does most of her shopping for her daughter online (Rochester, New York, where she lives, doesn’t have any high-end baby boutiques) and she says she often discovers brands through Instagram, including several from Europe that have become some of her favorites. At her age, she says, Mila doesn’t yet have any strong opinions about what she wears. Even headbands, a notoriously tricky sell amongst the 2-and-under crowd, are left on undisturbed, leaving Musiyevich free to play dress-up to her heart’s content.
“I always hear from other moms, ‘She doesn’t take them off? My baby would take them right off,'” she says. “Mila is my real life doll for now. I hope she stays that way for a little longer. “