The temptation to see one's child as an extension of oneself is natural—after all, parents start to assign ownership of various features a few hours after their baby is born: my nose, your eyes, grandpa's chin. With the launch of several children's lines from mega fashion brands like Fendi, Lanvin and Gucci, however, parental projection is going to a new level, with mini-me's dressed to impress rather than for recess. Of course, quality children's wear has been around for ages, but until recently, traditional brands like Bonpoint were the height of toddler fashion—and were worn only for special occasions.
Earlier this week, as fashion editors poured out of Lanvin's resort collection presentation in Manhattan, the buzz wasn't about the house's beautiful cocktail dresses but instead the new children's line, which designer Alber Elbaz saved for his finale. Following in the grand tradition of Jeanne Lanvin, who made children's wear in the early 1900s, Mr. Elbaz was met with oohs and ahhs as he showed his miniature confections for little girls, some accompanied by dolls in matching outfits. Although there were a few early adopters, such as Armani and Stella McCartney's wildly popular collections for the Gap, the fashion world's enthusiasm for kids' clothing has reached a frenzied pitch this year, with design houses adapting popular ready-to-wear looks, allowing moms and dads to match their tots.
This spring, Gucci launched a line for babies and children 2 to 8 years old, following an ad campaign starring Jennifer Lopez and her offspring frolicking on the Malibu beachside. The collection—which includes a full line of clothing along with shoes, handbags, jewelry and sunglasses, ranging from $50 to $3,550—incorporates iconic Gucci totems. The horse bit hardware appears on leather ankle booties, and the double-G monogram appears on everything from raincoats to scarves. "The children's clothes have all the hallmarks of Gucci but are designed to allow children to really express themselves," said Gucci Creative Director Frida Giannini. "I used luxurious materials but also took great care to make every piece child-friendly. There obviously needs to be an emphasis on comfort because children want to move and play as they wish."
From parents' perspective, the most pressing concern might be that the product doesn't sexualize their children, a challenge for houses known for a more revealing silhouette. Come December, Young Versace, Donatella Versace's pint-size interpretation of the Italian brand's decadent aesthetic, will hit stores. Similar to Ms. Giannini's approach, the collection features house iconography, including the Medusa symbol and Greek-frieze motif, on pieces like a crystal-trimmed skirt and a one-shouldered minidress. For boys, there's an embroidered T-shirt featuring a mohawked preschooler sketch. Although the clothes might strike some parents as a tad clubby for babes with 7 p.m. bedtimes, Ms. Versace insisted it's all in good fun. "We're known for our rock 'n' roll aesthetic, which can be edgy but doesn't necessarily need to be sexy or inappropriate. Our designs for children will be influenced by music and popular culture," she said. Young Versace will debut this month with a presentation in the baroque splendor of Florence's Palazzo Corsini, during the Pitti Immagine Bimbo trade fair. Gian Giacomo Ferraris, the brand's CEO, anticipates that it will comprise 10% of the company's global sales in five years.
Big fashion houses are taking the presentation of their children's collections almost as seriously as they do the bottom line. In addition to Lanvin unveiling its line together with its adult resort looks, Fendi organized a full-fledged runway show for its U.S. debut, which caters to ages 3 months to 12 years old, and ranges in price from $140 to $500. The spectacle featured 39 miniature models who paraded a catwalk inside the company's Fifth Avenue flagship, wearing logo-printed capes, tiered peasant skirts and skinny pants, all chaperoned by Kelly Rutherford of "Gossip Girl."
While the prospect of playgrounds populated by armies of children toting "It" bags may seem silly (or the end of civilized society as we know it) to some parents, and even more absurd to adults (childless or not) who can't even afford the grownup versions, in the end it's all meant to be good clean fashion fun. As Ms. Giannini observes, a successful kid's collection hinges on "a touch of irony. I certainly don't want the kids to look like mini versions of their parents. I reinterpret Gucci's signature glamour into a playful spirit." Stella McCartney's kids' line executes this idea exceedingly well, with pieces like a denim dress and a camel coat that are inspired by her own runway designs—but with much more reasonable prices, running from $20 to $150.
Still, most parents won't make high-end items—say, a $425 duchess satin tunic dress and $1,375 leather trimmed twill trench coat from Burberry, or a three-piece boys tuxedo from Gucci—the foundation of their child's wardrobe (unless that child happens to be Suri Cruise). These special clothes will be given as gifts, mixed in with Gap Kids and, before long, marked with the inevitable food and drool stains. More importantly, toddler fashion plates won't have to worry about being stuck with an out-of-date trend. Before their pricey togs fall from favor, they're almost sure to be outgrown.
PREPPY BABY | Start them on stripes, seersucker and rope bracelets early. From top: Striped Tee, $48, splendid.com; Maxou Baby Aviator by Selima Optique for Crewcuts, $80,selimaoptique.com; Yellow Rope Bracelet, $4, State News, New York, 212-879-8076; Skedaddle Skull Seersucker Shorts, $17, lordandtaylor.com; Sperry Top-Sider Bluefish, $30, Stride Rite, New York, 212-249-0551
FASHION BABY | You guessed it, a Rodarte-esque china print dress and imitation K. Jacques sandals for tots. From top: WaterAid Dress, $18, hm.com; Littl by Lilit Zigzag Mini Canvas Purse, $25, Yoya, New York, 646-336-6844; Smartfit Toddler Buckle Gladiator Sandals, $15,payless.com
HIPSTER BABY | Yes, those are skinny jeans. From top: Heather Grey Infant Rib Tank, $10,americanapparel.net; Red Kids Suspenders, $13, americanapparel.net; Jordan Sunglasses, $8, kidville.com; Levi's 514 Slim Fit Jeans, $30, macys.com; Chuck Taylor All Star, $25,converse.com
SURFER BABY | Water wings and espadrilles go together like a longboard and a leash. Surf Tee, $10, hm.com; Intex Turtle Arm Bands, $4, State News, New York, 212-879-8076; WaterAid Espadrilles, $10, hm.com; WaterAid Shorts, $8, hm.com
HIPPIE BABY | A tunic, Toms and Tibetan prayer beads make for a tranquil toddler. (While the necklace is spiritual, it may not be baby-proof.) From top: Taupe Baby Kurta Set, $25,dagmardaley.com; Tiny TOMS Navy Purple Tie Dye, $29, toms.com
WSJ Written by: Sameer Reddy