Luxury Brands Seek Success with High-End Children's Lines

Would you spend more than $300 dollars on kids' shoes? Roger Vivier is making the bet that its customer will with the launch of its “Juene Fille” line, hitting stores in March. The brand famously made a custom pair of shoes for Suri Cruise back in 2008 when she was only two years old. This new line will feature the French accessories brand’s signature buckle.

Vivier isn’t alone in betting on the success of sales of children's luxury garb: Lanvin just launched its “Petite” collection with pop-up stores at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, the Metropole Hotel in Monaco and the Pierre in New York City (pictured). The collection includes a $1,570 pink taffeta trench and a $1,105 red sundress. Much of line mimics Lanvin’s women’s ready-to-wear collection -- Mom can scoop up the black, white, and gray floral bubble dress from Lanvin’s Fall 2011 collection; and now so can her young daughter.

Where the trend in previous years might have been to create diffusion lines offering fashion at lower price points, it seems the luxury customer is an increasingly popular target.

Three other brands making major investments into children’s are Gucci, Versace and Oscar de la Renta. Gucci opened its first standalone children’s store in New York City this November on Fifth Avenue, right next to its flagship store. The line’s most expensive item is a $3,800 pink python jacket. Versace just opened its first store for its “Young Versace” collection in Milan. Offerings include Swarovski crystal baby bottles and studded hoodies. And De la Renta, who had dipped into the children’s market with a small line of girls dresses in 2009, is launching a capsule children’s line for Spring 2012, with a full range arriving in Fall 2012. The designer has hired a vice president of design for the children’s business in Catherine Monteiro de Barros, and will be counting on at-home trunk shows, targeting the uber-wealthy, to boost sales. 

Scratching your head and wondering what kind of customer would spend this much money on their children? According to the NPD Group Inc. Consumer Tracking Service, in the 12-month period that ended in May 2011, sales of children's clothing in the US reached $32.4 billion, and $800 million of that was spent on designer lines.

While many luxury brands have seen their aspirational customer base dry up during the recession, they are hoping the super rich will pick up the slack. Children’s lines are a way to get this segment to spend even more. What’s a pair of $235 children's Gucci jeans to a mom already spending $2,600 on a trench coat for herself?

Then there’s China: According to a report compiled by the China Research and Intelligence Co., Chinese baby-related industries have maintained an annual growth rate of 30 percent over the last several years. Many experts are predicting that the Chinese children’s clothes sector will experience robust growth in the next decade. 

While designer children’s collections in the past have most often been licenses, where logos were slapped on basic children’s clothes, the new focus on offering "mini me" versions of a designer’s collection seems to be paying off. According to Burberry’s 2010/2011 annual report, sales of its children’s collection are up 23 percent, and Spring 2011 was the first season managed by the London design team. Ralph Lauren even bought back a Japanese children’s license in 2009 to help control its children’s product.

Phillip Lim told the LA Times that he has found success with his children’s line, launched in 2007, by offering the same quality product he does with his adult collections. "Nothing is skimped on,” he said. “It's just as you'd get in the adult version -- Italian fabrics, hand embroidery, only smaller.”

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