Fashion: Don't call it kids' stuff

What do kids really, really want? It's not the Spice Girls, that's for sure. Don't call them kids, either. If anything, call them pre-teens or teenagers. And beware: if you are thinking of buying some clothes for a teenager this Christmas, they are very, very hard to please, says Melanie Rickey. Photographs by Andrew Lamb

If the fashion PR Phyllis Walters had her way, her 11-year-old daughter Robyn would be wearing knee-high white socks, a pretty dress, and an Alice band in her hair, but she doesn't stand a chance. Robyn likes Top Shop, IDX (a pre-teen range from Debenhams), Miss Selfridge, Diesel, Levi's and cK by Calvin Klein. Her favourite designer range is by Pearce II Fionda, the diffusion collection by the award-winning British duo, and she buys Sugar magazine every week, which is full of fashion and music gossip. What's more, she wants to be a fashion designer.

Walters has been forced to compromise the instinct to keep Robyn "a little girl" for as long as possible and, despite her profession, has brought up her daughter in an environment deliberately devoid of fashion influences. "I'm certainly not Eddy from AbFab. It's just that they are so clear about what they want. I think it actually starts at about age six," she says wearily. Walters is not alone. Finding clothes for the 10-14 year-old age group is not easy. They may still want their teddies at night but when it comes to clothes they want labels, they want to look cool, but most of all they want to belong.

The five that turned up for our shoot, Robyn, James and Sophie, all aged 11, Fleur, 13, and Jeremy, 14, were surprisingly clued up about their likes and dislikes and all loved modelling for the shoot, despite the fact that they wouldn't wear all of the clothes. Jeremy Stubbings, the oldest of the group at 14, was the most sophisticated. "I don't wear shirts," he says emphatically, "except for school that is." He is, by his own definition, a Skateboy who favours baggy clothes from dedicated skate and surf labels such as Quiksilver, Stussy and Alien Workshop. During the shoot he wore clothes from Ralph Lauren Polo ("I wouldn't wear them"), which is aimed at children and teenagers but is a scaled-down version of the adult range, so it is not condescending. The same goes for ranges from cK Calvin Klein, DKNY, Diesel, Ben Sherman, and Paul Smith. Each label does "grown-up" clothes and each of our young models aspired to them.

Jeremy liked the navy Diesel trousers. "I haven't really got any trousers like that, but I'd like some," he says.

The girls, however, were a different story. Sisters Sophie, 11, and Fleur, 13, are both tall, about 5ft 3in to 5ft 4in and have size seven feet, like Robyn. All agree that the Spice Girls are "a bit tiring now" and have transferred their allegiance to the other girl band All Saints. Fleur, unlike the others, was given an allowance of pounds 40 a month to spend on clothes when she turned 12. It was revoked when skin-tight jeans, crop-tops and sportswear from Miss Selfridge and Mark One were sneaked home after shopping trips with her friends. "My mum wanted me to buy smart stuff." It will be reinstated, she hopes, in January, by which time she will have turned 14.

Sophie has similar tastes to her sister, but leans more towards casual sporty wear, rather than tight jeans and crop-tops. Her favourite item on the shoot was the red "spaced" T-shirt from Miss Selfridge. "I like combat trousers and hooded tops. I don't wear skirts often, except when I'm going out," she says.

All this fashion talk, including phrases like "I liked the cK dress, it can be worn for smart or casual," from Robyn, and "I love Sugar for its fashion pages," from Fleur is a bit unsettling at first. Most of us who are old enough to talk about our childhood with a sense of nostalgia remember very occasional trips to C&A Clockhouse or Chelsea Girl for clothes to wear out of school time. Miss Selfridge and Top Shop was for grown- ups, or those with a Saturday job and lots of money. Not any more. These stores are now a Mecca for young and pre-teenage girls. They cleverly range their sizes from six upwards. So being eleven and without the curves that come later in the teens is no problem. These girls can buy into the look peddled by magazines like Sugar, Bliss and Just Seventeen without seeking out childrenswear stockists which are strictly, they say, for babies.

James Powell, the third 11-year-old, was the easiest to please, though how long that will last is anyone's guess. He likes blue jeans and loves his Planet Hollywood shirt and black Puffa jacket. On the shoot the DKNY trousers and Ben Sherman shirt were a hit, but if he had pounds 200 to spend on clothes he would buy a pair of Levi's, some Nike Air trainers and some baggy skatewear.

Overall the girls favoured bright funky clothes from the high street, and liked "designer" for really smart wear. The boys, on the other hand, wanted practicality with branding, but none of them wanted clothes specifically aimed at children. Being a kid these days, oops sorry, pre-teen or teenager, seems a rather complicated business. Should we thank these designers and high street shops for creating such needs in them, or should we let them get on with it? The last word goes to Phyllis Walters: "They'll do what they want anyway, so we should just let them, but only within reason." And within the confines of the budget, of course. These clothes do not come cheap, but they sure made our models happy.

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