Now that the countdown has begun to the Duchess of Cambridge’s due date, the end of fashion bump-watch is nigh. But royal-watchers fear not, for no sooner will the world’s most eagerly anticipated baby make its appearance than the obsession with what it will wear will take over.
No wonder the designer childrenswear market is booming. There’s a swath of designers from Stella McCartney to Marni, Chloé and Marc Jacobs producing children’s collections; Diane von Furstenberg is working on collaboration number two with Gap; and Net-a-Porter has announced plans for a dedicated children’s site Petite-a-Porter. With a Key Note study estimating the British childrenswear market alone to be worth £6.99bn by 2015, and a recent Mintel report forecasting it to grow 6 per cent over the next four years, there’s never been a better time to be designing children’s clothes.
“I’ve wanted to do kids’ [clothes] since I’ve had children and probably even a little before,” says Stella McCartney, who produces a new children’s collection twice a year with prices ranging from £23 for a T-shirt up to £205 for a coat. “I felt there was a gap in the market, and for kidswear that needs to be accessible and realistic on the price points but not compromised on quality or design.”
Alex Theophanous, chief executive of online retailer Alex and Alexa, which stocks designers such as Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith and Fendi, says: “It’s very interesting, the connection between the mainline brand and the childrenswear collections. It both increases brand loyalty and can open the brand up to a new customer base. There are people who may purchase Stella McCartney Kids who wouldn’t necessarily buy into the mainline collection.”
Founded in 2007, Alex and Alexa stocks more than 9,000 different items. “Our customers purchase designer labels for themselves, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to change their tastes and head solely to the high street for their kids,” says Theophanous. “It’s not just about lusting after something expensive. When buying designer, you know that you’re getting the best.”
Eva Karayiannis is the founder of London-based label Caramel Baby & Child, which has experienced a 20 per cent growth in sales over the past year and sells items such as a blue daisy print romper (£59), a striped wool jumper (£67) and a linen dress (£72). “When they have a baby, many women lose interest in themselves,” says Karayiannis. “It is a transitional period of their life, from pregnancy to child birth, and it can be a time that they replace the pleasure of shopping for themselves with shopping for their children. It is not about guilt; it’s about what makes them happy at this time of their life.”
While childrenswear has an obvious shelf life, with clothes being outgrown in as little as a couple of months, designers such as McCartney are keen for their designs not to be seen as throwaway items. “I think it’s really important to have a collection that includes luxury pieces that can be kept and passed down through the generations, as well as pieces that really are really fun and allow kids to be free, full of energy and full of life,” says McCartney.
“Our clients are constantly looking for key pieces with quality and longevity,” adds Torly Grimshawe, childrenswear general merchandise manager at Harrods, which recently expanded the childrenswear department to more than 66,000 sq ft. “Customers are increasingly investing in key seasonal pieces and buying into the high fashion-trend-led items, which feature fabrics from many of the mainline ready to wear collections.”
While it remains to be seen what the future heir to the British throne will be wearing, one thing is certain. Such is her level of stylistic influence that whatever brands the Duchess of Cambridge chooses will spark a babywear boom.
Case study: Carry on Cambridge
Childrenswear, maternity wear, hotels ... it seems that everywhere and everything that the Duchess of Cambridge touches can bring huge rewards for those involved. Heritage luggage company Globe-Trotter is the latest luxury brand to try and harness the Kate effect. Having teamed up with the Goring Hotel – which, as all royal-watchers know, is where the then-Kate Middleton stayed before her wedding – Globe-Trotter has produced an exclusive Goring Hotel suitcase collection (from £485). Available in nine sizes, including a 13in vanity case, 21in trolley case and 33in suitcase, the cases feature a specially commissioned damask silk lining from the Gainsborough Silk Company (the Suffolk-based company has held a Royal warrant for more than 30 years). The case goes on sale next month, neatly coinciding with the Royal due date and thus helpfully providing the Duchess with a hospital bag suggestion.