When it comes to dressing her three children, no label is out of reach for Loretta Lazar, a full-time mother in Paris. Sophia, 10, Noah, 2, and newborn Katarina have a wardrobe full of designer gear, says Lazar. "They don't wear Gucci or Dior every day," she says. "But I want my kids to look nice."
Gucci, the Italian brand owned by Paris-based PPR, and Burberry Group, Britain's largest luxury retailer, are targeting status-conscious parents with $340 fur-lined suede infant boots, a $375 cashmere baby outfit, and a girl's double-breasted gabardine trench coat retailing for $750.
Children's wear accounted for 5 percent of Burberry's £1.28 billion ($1.99 billion) in sales last year and may double to 10 percent "over time" as the company adds to its eight standalone children's stores, says Chief Executive Officer Angela Ahrendts. "There is excellent potential for children's wear across retail and wholesale channels, including e-commerce where sales are particularly strong."
Sales of children's designer coats and jackets climbed 13 percent, to $3.69 billion, from 2007 to 2009, according to researcher Euromonitor International. That compares with a 10 percent sales decline overall in the $195 billion luxury goods market in the same period as some consumers curbed spending during the global recession, according to consultant Bain & Co.
Worldwide sales of luxury goods are set to grow 10 percent this year, HSBC analysts Antoine Belge and Erwan Rambourg estimate. Sales of high-end children's wear should outdo that pace: Euromonitor estimates that sales of children's designer coats and jackets may grow 12 percent, to $4.13 billion this year. That's more than three times as fast as the expected sales of men's and women's luxury outerwear this year. And by 2015 the kids' high-end coat and jacket market may swell to $8.6 billion, Euromonitor predicts.
Part of the appeal of buying luxe for the little ones is price, according to Lazar. Christian Dior's children's wear "isn't the same price as adult Dior," Lazar says. "You can get an outfit for 200 euros, whereas for adults you can barely get a T-shirt" for that amount.
Gucci will introduce clothes, small leather goods, footwear, jewelry, sunglasses, and blankets for kids under 8 for the 2011 spring selling season. "We are increasingly convinced that our brand has the reputation, authority, and the adaptability to be successful in a variety of areas," Gucci CEO Patrizio di Marco says. The collection, made in Italy, goes on sale in November.
Celebrity culture and status-seeking are driving the growth, according to Fflur Roberts, Euromonitor's luxury goods research manager. Suri Cruise, the 4-year-old daughter of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, has been photographed wearing a Burberry fur-trimmed parka and beige velveteen coat lined with the brand's signature plaid. "Lots of children will follow Paris Hilton or Victoria Beckham and want to have their clothes or be like them," Roberts says. Sarah Peters, senior retail analyst at Verdict Research, says there's also a bit of parental narcissism at work: "Parents increasingly see their children as a reflection of themselves, so they want to make sure they look good and are in the latest things."
Babies aren't the only beneficiaries of this trend. Pets are also getting a designer makeover as people without children look for a substitute to spoil and another way of showing off their status, according to Euromonitor's Roberts. That has fueled a big jump in spending on designer pet clothing and accessories. Sales of high-end pet goods such as logoed leashes, so-called doggie bags for carrying pooches, vests, and blankets almost doubled, to $1.73 billion, from 2004 to 2008, Euromonitor estimates. After stagnating last year, spending on the category may rise 4.3 percent, to $1.8 billion, in 2010 and surge to $9.14 billion by 2014, the researcher predicts. "Their owners won't feel so bad about it because it's not for them," Roberts says. "The guilt aspect is taken away if it's for their children or pets."
Of course, all that concern about Fido's fashion sense comes at a cost. A Louis Vuitton monogrammed canvas "Baxter" dog carrier costs $1,365. Gucci's dog bag costs $1,430, while a medium dog leash by the Italian fashion house costs $450.
Parisian mom Lazar, 40, doesn't have a dog. Some of her American and Asian friends do, however. "Let's put it this way," she explains. "If the dog is wearing Gucci, the kids aren't wearing Gap."
The bottom line: Designer clothing for children is a fast-growing segment, thanks to brand-conscious parents eager to express their own sense of style.