NEW YORK – Juliet Sandler dresses in the latest $650 dresses and $400 shoes from Parisian fashion house Lanvin. Juliet is 3.
Her mother, Dara Sandler, says she dresses her daughter in the latest fashions because Juliet is a reflection of her – even though her daughter can’t spell the names of the designers, let alone pay for their clothes.
“I dress my daughter exactly the way I dress myself,” says the 33-year-old Manhattan mother, who spent $10,000 for her daughter’s summer wardrobe. She plans to spend a few thousand dollars for fall.
Top fashion designers are pushing more expensive duds for the increasingly lucrative affluent toddler demographic. This fall, Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana, and Marni launched collections for the pint-sized. Luxury stores Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman are expanding their children’s areas to make room for the newcomers, many of them with higher price tags. Late last year, Gucci, which launched a children’s collection two years ago, opened its first children’s store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.
American households are expected to spend an average of $688 outfitting their children for school, says the National Retail Federation, and that includes supplies like pencils and notebooks.
That’s most families. Some will spend $795 on Gucci backpacks or $1,090 on leopard print puffy coats from Lanvin.
Sasha Charnin Morrison, fashion director at Us Weekly, admits that some of the clothes are outrageously priced. But, she says, things like $200 Gucci sneakers make her kids happy.
“They’re a walking billboard of you. They’re a reflection of who you are, so if you are someone highly stylized, then you want to make sure your kids are the best-dressed kids out there,” she says.
Only five years ago, the high-end children’s wear business was dominated by just a few major designers like Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Christian Dior. But the recent influx of others is the latest sign that affluent shoppers have gone back to splurging since the recession. And as the wealthy feel more comfortable about spending again, they increasingly want their kids to reflect themselves.
It’s a “mini-me” phenomenon, says Robert Burke, a New York-based fashion consultant. “It feels good. It’s like one for me and one for you,” he says. The trend isn’t limited to Manhattan or Beverly Hills, but is occurring in other big cities like Boston and Chicago, he says. Sales of designer children’s wear are also strong in resort areas where retirees who tend to dote on their grandkids live, he says.
Luxury children’s sales account for just a fraction, or just over 3 percent, of the $34 billion market, but it’s growing faster than the rest of the children’s wear and clothing market, according to NPD Group Inc., a research firm. For the past 12 months ending in May, children’s wear sales rose 4 percent, with the upscale component up 7 percent, according to NPD’s most recent data. That compares with a 3 percent rise for the overall clothing market.
Nordstrom, whose designer kids clothes were limited to a few names like Burberry and Ralph Lauren, is adding a number of collections for kids from the likes of Marni, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney.
Manhattan resident Kelly Mallon, 39, says she’s proud that her 9-year-old daughter Madeleine has developed her own fashion sensibility.
“I love seeing my child well-dressed. It makes me happy. It makes her happy,” says Mallon.“It’s not a little girl playing dress-up. She’s in her own clothes made for her.”