The room is filled to bursting with pleather jeans and faux fur coats, the lucky audience members with seats vying for space with their elbows.
It is like any other high-fashion catwalk show – but with one small difference. This is the first Global Kids Fashion Week, and here the threat of tantrums and inappropriate behaviour comes not from the usual bitchy fashion crowd but from a pack of extravagantly styled toddlers. In the front row, mothers discreetly wrestle their uncontainable tots back into their £100-a-ticket seats just in time to see an army of beautiful children take to the runway.
“There is a huge market for kids’ fashion,” explains Alex Theophanous, one half of the online children’s store AlexandAlexa.com, who co-organised the inaugural event at London’s Freemason’s Hall. “The market is significantly bigger than ever before. We felt the time was right to take children’s fashion centre stage.”
The market for children’s clothes in Britain is estimated to be worth £6.5bn – worldwide the figure is more than 10 times that. It is little wonder that every luxury brand worth its salt is cashing in with mini-me lines.
At this event alone, the line-up includes Little Marc Jacobs, Junior Gaultier and Paul Smith Junior. “All key luxury labels have a children’s line now,” Theophanous adds. Over the course of a two-day event (both sold out, with proceeds going to the charity Kids Company), 30 designers are showcasing next season’s wares.
The “90s revival” attendees were informed there would be “a key thread through all the designers and collections and carefully curated looks [paying] tribute to a decade where colours were brighter, prints were bold and little details made a statement”.
The 500-strong crowd – the adult contingent at least – are desperate to get a first glimpse. Among them, in the front row, are Karen Tilly and her two-year-old daughter, Natalia. “Shopping for her is a bit of a hobby, actually a big hobby,” explains Karen, who says she wouldn’t think twice about spending as much on an outfit for her toddler as she would for herself.
Natalia’s outfit today, her mother explains, is a leopard-print jacket from Gap, gold metallic jeans “just from Baby K”, and patent knee-high Leila Kella boots. “She was wearing a Mona Lisa tunic and scarf and leopard-print bag,” Karen adds, picking up a trail of discarded items from the floor. So what is her favourite outfit of all? “Spiderman! I’m horrified.”
By the time the lights go up and the mini-models start sashaying up and down the catwalk, the crowd is rapt. With music booming and cameras flashing, it is just like any other show, except that the even-tinier-than-usual models tend to hold their poses far too long in their excitement and have to be quietly pressed to go backstage.
But it is not just the cute models they are pining over; it is also their outfits, which range from pretty dresses priced at £700 to full-on “fashion” ensembles which pull together wife-beater vest, braces and khaki shorts with yanked-up socks and sandals. The message seems to be: if you can buy it for yourself, you can find it for your kids, too. At pretty much the same price.
Kari Nyack is a fashion stylist. Her two-year-old daughter, Frankie, is in a Mischka Aoki dress that cost £480. “She always wears beautiful dresses, you can dress them up or down with lovely shoes or trainers.” Always? “School uniform or dresses. Always.”
Her friend Elena Souto, whose daughter India is best friends with Frankie, is a personal stylist for other people’s children. Hers is an industry, she says, that is “only getting better”. “My clients are people who don’t have time to shop for their kids,” she says. “I try to base what I dress them in on their personality and what they like to do. People will pay a lot for that.”
A thriving kids’ fashion market may be a good thing for industry, but is it really positive to be instilling our children with values based on expensive clothes and looking a certain way? “We don’t focus on the children but on the parents,” Theophanous insists. “It is the parents’ decision what the kids wear and we market at the parents.”
Among the guests at the after-party, where kids queue to have their nails painted or their pictures taken, is Sharon, who is launching a luxury children’s line. Sipping champagne in the corner, she and her business partner, neither of whom wanted to be identified, are cheered by the turnout. “It shows that the children’s business is booming. More than anything it shows that people will buy and buy and buy. That can only be good news.”
General view of child models pictured on the catwalk at the Global Kids Fashion Week show at the Freemasons Hall in London, March 20th 2013. The event aimed to educate and inspire people about Kidsí fashion with all proceeds from the shows public ticket sales being donated to charity Kids Company.