Old enough to dress themselves

When it comes to clothes, children don't need any help - they've got their own ideas, says Tamsin Blanchard
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The moment Charnelle Campbell, aged seven, (no relation to Naomi) walked into the makeshift studio to have her photograph taken, her eyes fixed on a pair of bright orange sandals from Marks & Spencer that were lined up with rows of pairs of children's shoes. She put them on. They might have been made for her; they fitted perfectly. She could not stop looking at them and would not be parted from them. Charnelle is typical of children her age. She has very strong ideas of what she wants to wear and how she wants to wear it.

Last week, during half-term, the Independent gathered together a rail of clothes from shops ranging from Paul Smith to C&A and enlisted the help of Charnelle and six other children. Often, children's clothes are simply scaled-down versions of adult clothes. But in many ways, the clothes are more interesting than adults' clothes - they make strong use of bright colour, pattern and texture. Childrenswear designers are more willing to take a risk with the clothes they design. They also pay surprisingly close attention to what is happening on the international catwalks. Clothes that walked down the catwalks of Calvin Klein, Nicole Farhi or Ghost two seasons ago have a marked influence on the clothes children will be wearing this spring.

Our models for the day, brother and sister Holly and Nathan; brothers Matthew and Sam; friends Charnelle and Raphael, and Olivia were not to be persuaded to wear anything they did not like. They do not, thankfully, follow designer labels. But they have very specific ideas about clothes and colours. Raphael wanted to leave his white French Connection cotton shirt open over his string vest. Unlike most adults, he did not feel the need to be styled. However, he had to be coaxed into wearing a pair of Birkenstocks and would have been happier in his own Timberland-style boots. He knew exactly what to do with a pair of sunglasses, too. As though used to wearing them all the time, he perched them, not on his nose, but across his forehead, just so. Not bad fashion sense for a seven-year-old.

Meanwhile, Nathan and Holly were busy changing out of their tracksuits and T-shirts and trainers and into something altogether more sophisticated. The siblings liked their smart new unbleached, eco-friendly look with matching trousers and waistcoats. Nathan chose to wear his top button fastened but said that, personally, he would not wear his shirt tucked in. So he left it hanging out. Then he agreed that a pair of Palladium shoes would go with the ensemble very nicely, thank you. His sister, who hangs out with Nathan and his friends on the football pitch, wore a cream shirt and waistcoat by Paul Smith. She was delighted with a pair of canvas espadrilles. But however much she feels at home in boys' clothes, what Holly really wanted to wear was a pretty, girly dress. Her favourite choice from the rail of clothes was a daisy print one from Next.

Then there was Olivia in a T-shirt and slip dress from Marks & Spencer. Or was it Calvin Klein? The simple slip dress that has become ubiquitous - from Hollywood movie stars to Camden Market shoppers - has broken through into childrenswear, too, and little girls love the look. It means they can dress almost identically to their big sister and her friends. And the thoughtful people at Marks & Spencer have made it even easier for five-year-olds like Olivia to pull on in the morning: the dress and T-shirt are all-in-one.

The fun really started with the combat gear. No sooner had fatigue trousers been pulled on and the boots laced up than four children were transformed into child-sized action men and it was out to the back garden for a round of sparring and karate kicks.

The trend for army clothing that has hit mainstream adult fashion this season has taken childrenswear by storm as well. GapKids has done it. C&A is bulging with it. And for children, heavy-duty combat trousers and commando shirts in camouflage and khaki make perfect sense. These are action clothes for active kids. For 20 minutes at least, even Holly forgot about that pretty daisy dress she'd her eye on.

The only child who did not get carried away on operation army was Charnelle, who was still wearing those orange sandals and would not swap her feminine white crinkle dress for a pair of combat trousers. Not even to have her picture taken.

Stylist: Jo Adams assisted by Alison Pye

Grooming: Wendy Rowe Photographer: Gary Wallis

Children: Olivia, Raphael, Charnelle, Holly, Nathan, Matthew and Sam

FASHION IS EDITED BY Marion Hume

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