Gucci, Fendi present first children's collection in Florence

Gucci and Fendi, two of Italy's largest fashion brands are launching their first full children's collections, entering a sector that has weathered the global downturn better than others.

Gucci, owned by French luxury conglomerate Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, will present its Gucci Kids line at its historical Firenze boutique as the Pitti Bimbo international childrenswear fair, running from June 24 to 26, kicked off on Thursday in the Tuscan city.

The line, aimed at children from newborn to age eight includes shoes, dresses, accessories and sunglasses created by Gucci star designer Frida Giannini.

Historical family fashion house Fendi, owned by French luxury group LVMH, had already presented an incomplete line for babies and is now fielding a collection designed by Fendi heiress Silvia Venturina Fendi at Pitti.

The collection is a partnership with Italian company Simonetta, which has already worked in the past with designer Roberto Cavalli on children lines.

As the economic downturn bit hard into luxury apparel and fashion spending throughout 2009, childrenswear was not spared, but it weathered the crisis better than others and perspectives for growth seem to be pointing up.

In a downturn, "adults are likely to give up spending on clothes for themselves before they give up buying for children," Michelle Strutton, a senior analyst at research firm Mintel told AFP.

"The market in general has been focused on price, and the designer element is very niche but I would expect growth to be better in this sector than in the overall market," Strutton said.

Turnover for Italian companies in the sector remained stable in 2008, but dropped by 5.5 percent in 2009, according to Sistema Moda Italia, the federation of Italian fashion and apparel companies.

But Pitti Immagine, the organiser of the shows, said it was expecting 10,000 buyers from Italy, US, Brazil, Ukraine and Turkey and Hong Kong to come see the collections at the fair, compared to less than 7,000 last year.

Kidswear markets abroad are also looking up, forecasts say.

Mintel expects the 44-billion dollar (35-billion euro) US childrenswear market to grow about eight percent and the UK market by three percent at current prices by 2014.

Sales in the UK for ages zero to two "has largely prospered, assisted by growing infant numbers, greater affluence and the purchase of many items as gifts," Mintel said in a report.

As shows began on Thursday, several traditional childrenswear houses like Italy's Sarabanda or Miss Grant proposed apparel in certified biological cotton, while others opted for wooden buttons and linings and country themes.

Just like top designers embraced eco-chic at the men's shows in Milan this week, laying grass on walkways and wrapping models in eco-friendly fabrics and plant and animal motifs, the children's collections seem oriented towards green themes.

Other children collections to be presented at Pitti Bimbo inclued Calvin Klein, Elsy and Patrizia Pepe.

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