No more generation gap - children are now as label-conscious as their parents. Photographs by Sandro Sodano

A little girl, no older than eight, wearing a pink, frothy dress, is trying on a pair of trainers in the childrenswear department of Wade Smith, the Liverpool designer clothing emporium. The trainers are by Chipie - scaled-down versions of the shoes her older teenage sister might be wearing. The price tag reads pounds 55, and she may well have outgrown them by the end of the summer, but they are pink and shiny and that's all that matters.

As well as a selection of shoes (Kickers) and trainers, Wade Smith Junior also boasts rails of clothing with labels including Polo Ralph Lauren, Moschino and CK and price tags not vastly different from those of the adult versions. There is sportswear, too, with expensive logos such as Reebok, Nike, Ellesse, Lacoste and Adidas.

Meanwhile, a stone's throw away in the Cavern Walks shopping centre, Kids Cavern is selling childrenswear across the price spectrum, from French Connection, through Chipie and Diesel, up to Paul Smith and Armani. Business is brisk, and the owners, Tracy and Danny Shelvey, are looking to expand their premises. Parents are spending between pounds 800 to pounds 1,000 a season, depending on how many children they have. "These are ordinary people," says Tracy Shelvey. "They're not stinking rich." This summer their shop will have turned over pounds 80,000 on Armani alone, and already a customer has left a deposit on a pounds 300 Armani coat for Christmas.

Childrenswear is booming, with designers keen to introduce their labels to the designer clothes buying market of tomorrow. Garry Finnegan, childrenswear buyer at House of Fraser, whose flagship stores in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester stock Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith and Moschino, says, "It seems to be getter stronger week by week. It's almost frightening." Children are now more brand aware than any generation before them, mainly thanks to their parents who grew up during the Eighties. Although unaccustomed to designer labels when they themselves were kids, they now want their children to have the best - little Jack's wardrobe must be as label-filled as those of his eight-year-old friends.

Whether children enjoy being kitted out like miniature copies of their parents is another matter. On the day of our shoot, Ezra, nine, and Gabriel, 13, were reluctant to wear their Ralph Lauren rugby look. Armani is a name they have heard of, but not one that features in either of their wardrobes. Nevertheless, like most children, they have strong ideas on how they like to dress. "I always wear my shirts buttoned up," insisted Ezra, when it was suggested he open the top button of his Polo Ralph Lauren shirt.

The younger children were less conscious of labels and more interested in clothes that they had seen teenagers wearing. Cleo, eight, and Ella, five, love to dress up, and felt most at home in the printed jersey T- shirts and leggings by Zed, the funky kids' mail-order label for two-to- eight-year-olds. The designer, Denise Zetter, set out to create a range of scaled-down versions of what she herself would wear, but made in brighter colours. The collection's first season this summer includes towelling A-line dresses and seersucker checks, just like many adult ranges. "It's pure fashion with no frills," says Zetter. "Parents are mixing the affordable Zed clothes with more expensive designer ranges. It is like clubwear for kids; children are attracted to the graphic imagery and the fun, no-nonsense designs." Cleo didn't want to part with her star T-shirt and leggings.

British designer and high fashion childrenswear promises to continue growing but we have yet to catch up with the Italians, who have hardly a designer range that doesn't include childrenswear. What better start in life to give your newborn than a Missoni sequined Babygro at 200,000 lire plus (about pounds 100)? Babies, however, do not discriminate between Baby Gap and their Sunday best, and "dry clean only" is not practical advice when your baby has just been sick

Previous page (left to right)

Charnelle, eight, wears: jeans-style jacket, pounds 110, matching skirt, pounds 75, and T-shirt, pounds 45, all by Young Versace, from Versus, 92 Brompton Road, SW3, and Versace Collections, The Italian Centre, 162 Ingram Street, Glasgow; white loafers, pounds 29.99, by Ravel, 184 Oxford Street, W1, and branches.

Keiron, nine, wears: white zip-front shirt, pounds 70, and white Bermuda shorts, pounds 80, both by Young Versace, as before; navy deck shoes, by Kangaroos, from Instep, 45 St John's Wood High Street, NW8 (stockists, 0171-722 7634)

Ella, five, wears: strawberry and blackberry-printed dress, pounds 18.99-pounds 19.99, by ZED, mail order only (0171-435 5322 for free catalogue); floral lace- up sneakers, pounds 12.99, from Ravel, as before

(main picture)

Cleo, eight, wears: red-and-white rugby shirt, pounds 85 (adult version), by Polo Ralph Lauren, 143 New Bond Street, W1; white-and-lilac trainers, Converse Touch-EFX, pounds 19.99-pounds 29.99, at Cobra Sports, Oxford Street, W1, and Shelly's, 42-46 Market Street, Manchester

Above (left to right)

Ella wears: cherry-print dress, pounds 95, with matching bum bag, pounds 14, both by Tartine et Chocolat, 66 South Molton Street, W1 (mail order, 0171-629 7233); red patent leather heart sandals, pounds 26, from Buckle My Shoe, 24 St Christopher's Place, W1

Keiron wears: navy stripe linen jacket, pounds 60, with matching shorts, pounds 37,by Paul Smith; blue micro-check shirt, pounds 75, by Paul Smith Jeans, all from 44 Floral Street, WC2 (stockists nationwide, 0171-379 7133)

Cleo and Ella wear: navy T-shirts with white star, pounds 8.99; lime green leggings, pounds 8.99-pounds 9.99, both by ZED, as before

Daniella, seven, wears: navy cotton A-line button-through skirt, pounds 69, white T-shirt with Armani logo, pounds 25, and beige belted nylon jacket, pounds 125, all by Armani, as before; beige and navy pumps, pounds 17, by Buckle My Shoe, as before

Ella wears: red dress with daisy print, pounds 13.99-pounds 14.99, lime green leggings, as above, both by ZED, as before

William, four, wears: navy-and-white- striped knitted T-shirt, pounds 69, and navy shorts, pounds 59, both by Armani Junior, at 191 Brompton Road SW3 ; check Velcro shoes, pounds 17, by Buckle my Shoe, as before; blue mini-rucksack, pounds 27.50, by Kipling, from Revelation, 170 Piccadilly, W1, and 1 Tunsgate Square, Guildford (other stockists, 0181-345 6888)

Below (left to right)

Hannah, nine, wears: lobster T-shirt, pounds 18, and cartoon floral-print trousers, pounds 29, both by Paul Smith, as before; cream baseball boots, pounds 15.99-pounds 25.99, by Converse, as before.

James, six, wears: guitar-print shirt, pounds 53, and orange linen shorts, pounds 54, both by Paul Smith, as before; black lace-up shoes, pounds 21.99, by Ravel, as before. Daniella wears: pink-and-white-check summer dress, pounds 20, and white socks, pounds 3, both by Gap Kids nationwide (0171-518 6300); white patent loafers, pounds 29.99, by Ravel, as before

William wears: white, flag-print shirt, pounds 46, beige Bermuda shorts, pounds 43, flag-print belt, pounds 22, all by Tartine et Chocolat, as before; ribbed nubuk shoes, pounds 36, from Buckle My Shoe, as before; red socks, pounds 3, from Gap Kids, as before;

Cleo wears: flower-print pinafore dress, pounds 90, and matching, jeans style jacket, pounds 130, by Young Versace, 92 Brompton Road, SW3 ; clear Perspex and black peep-toe slip-on sandals, pounds 26.99, from Ravel, as before

James wears: lobster T-shirt, pounds 18, and goldfish-in-bowl shorts, pounds 39, both by Paul Smith, as before

Gabriel, 13, wears: red-and-white rugby shirt, pounds 68, off-white army style shorts, pounds 54, both by Ralph Lauren Boyswear, 143 New Bond Street, W1; navy deck shoes, pounds 19.99-pounds 22.99, by Kangaroos, as before

Ezra, nine, wears: Madras shirt, pounds 68, and beige army-style shorts, pounds 78, both by Ralph Lauren Boyswear, as before; navy deck shoes, by Kangaroo, as before

Stylist Jo Adams

Stylist's Assistant Jill Wanless

Photographer's assistant Marcus

Grooming Helen Walsh at GSM

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