Little Fashion Plates

Style-conscious parents are pampering their babies with cashmere sweaters, leather jackets and upscale body lotions. Toddler fashion has arrived.

April 04, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,Sun Staff

They are the hot demographic of the moment; a young, fresh-faced set very much on the minds of better fashion and cosmetics houses.

They command the finest cashmere sweaters, hip togs like silk shantung capri pants, and skin care lotions available only in the best department stores. And to hold their many accessories, there's even a designer bag -- by Prada, natch.

But they haven't commented on all of the attention. Most of them haven't even learned how to talk yet.

Products for babies and toddlers -- Generation Z, if you will -- have gone noticeably upscale, with retailers offering everything from $168 leather jackets to $250 cashmere blankets to high-end balms made just for their delicate little forms.

"Babies are really happening right now," said Vanessa Groce, editor of Earnshaw's, the leading trade publication for the children's apparel industry. "I think people are becoming much more style- and trend- conscious. With babies, in part, they want to create a lifestyle extension of themselves."

Last year, the successful, 10-year-old babyGap line introduced babyGap Luxe, a stylish collection that for spring features a cashmere hooded zip sweater, a polka-dot silk shantung dress and a navy wool blazer.

Donna Karan follows suit in June with dknybaby, a line of onesies, bibs, jumpers and pajamas, all with the hip DKNY logo. The collection includes a $68 cashmere baby sweater (expectant supermodel Cindy Crawford owns one), with matching blanket and booties.

This isn't exactly unfamiliar territory for Karan, who introduced DKNY Kids in 1997. Designers Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren already offer items for infants and children.

Cosmetics and skin care company Origins has launched a line of products especially for babies, including a massage cream, cleansing bar and body oil. There are accessories, of course, including hooded towels and bibs and microwaveable "Warming Bears" for baby to snuggle with.

Makeup artist to the stars Bobbi Brown -- who also has a popular line of cosmetics -- will offer her own Baby Essentials line in May, ranging in price from $14.50 to $22.50. Silkening, talc-free powder, body balm and massage oil come in elegant bottles, with baby-loving phrases:

"Babies complete you," says one.

Origins and Brown are in good company. Other skin-care prestige labels such as Kiehl's and Burt's Bees have similar offerings for infants.

"Everywhere I look, I see a new beauty line for children," said Groce, who said Earnshaw's will explore the trend in its July issue.

In this age of nesting, it's little wonder that babies are making a splash in the designer retail industry. A growing number of adults are putting off parenthood until their 30s and 40s, a period when their incomes tend to be higher. As a result, they have more money to lavish on their little ones.

"What they can spend their money on, it might be a little more luxurious than 10 years ago," said Rachel Low, assistant manager of global communications for Bobbi Brown Essentials. "I think that moms will spend that extra money on these products."

"In Europe, the baby prestige category has been strong for quite some time," said Eva Lesko, executive director of global communications for Origins. "It's something that in the United States was completely untapped."

But as much as Laurel resident Joy O'Neal Lampkin likes the designer clothes, she doubts she would buy them for her 1-year-old daughter Nya.

"It's not practical," said Lampkin, an elementary school teacher. "They outgrow them within two to three months. Even though they're beautiful to look at, unless it's a special event, I wouldn't put that money there."

However, Lampkin has purchased many of The Body Shop's baby skin care products for Nya. She also said she's inclined to check out the Origins baby line.

"It's more of a mommy thing," Lampkin said. "Babies don't care. I've bought Origins products, so naturally, I think it would be cute to get them for Nya."

The celebrity baby trend may also be a factor in the designer product boom. Madonna, Pamela Anderson Lee, Melanie Griffith and Holly Robinson Peete all have been shown in entertainment magazines with their babies. And toddling Lourdes -- Madonna's daughter -- has been sighted in designer frocks and shoes.

Uma Thurman reportedly carries a diaper bag by Belly Basics, which offers maternity fashions and accessories in stores like Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor. Styled as a nylon mailbag, the bag offers a pocket to carry a cellular phone.

"Babies are the latest accessory," Low said.

Groce said more consumers are purchasing fewer, better-quality clothes instead of more cheaper items. And because children are picking out their own clothes at an earlier age, infancy may be a parent's only chance to dress a child the way they want.

Though some of the items are surprisingly affordable, they are pricier than the offerings in discount and middle-of-the-road stores.

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