Kids Are the New Clotheshorses


If the mere mention of “Mommy and me” dressing elicits painful flashbacks of frilly dresses with large lace collars, take a deep breath and envision a pair of black cashmere crewnecks from The Row instead. The luxe line from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen is one of a handful of fashion-insider labels catering to a new generation of discerning parents: those who want to dress their kids as they do themselves. Big fashion houses, including Burberry and Ralph Lauren, primed shoppers to pay a pretty penny for pint-size designer pieces. Now smaller, cult-favorite brands are offering a new aesthetic, a noticeable departure from traditional kids’ styles. More minimal and casual designs, often in neutral or subdued hues, eschew gender categorization and offer greater flexibility. Think fewer itchy, smocked floral dresses; more relaxed, slouchy tan pants.

The Row debuted its first kids’ capsule collection last September, invading the cutesy territory of Bonpoint and Jacadi with its signature solid separates for ages 2 to 10. As an adult, I found it hard not to drool over the first Italian-crafted cashmere assortment, including $590 lounge pants and a $650 belted shawl cardigan. As a mom, however, I found it hard not to wonder if these pieces could withstand a little drool—or worse. But what’s a dry cleaning bill in the name of fashion?

At Ssense, the fashion-forward luxury retailer from Montreal, The Row is one of the top adult performers. So it was a natural extension to carry the kids’ line, too, says Brigitte Chartrand, vice president of womenswear buying. She also oversees the children’s assortment, which launched last spring. Her goal? “To curate an offering that feels ‘less junior,’” she says. “What performs well for Ssense Kids mirrors what works well on the adult side in terms of styling and aesthetic.” The young models on the Ssense website pout and pose like their adult counterparts—the only difference being that their heights, listed online for sizing purposes, are in inches rather than feet.

Smiling may not be part of the styling, but kids stand to benefit from this new direction. Comfort is a major selling point. Take Ssense’s exclusive capsule with Fear of God Essentials Kids, from designer Jerry Lorenzo. The core of the assortment is cotton T-shirts and fleece separates, pieces any parent knows abound at every playground. But Lorenzo’s design details, like a mock neck on a sweatshirt or a wider leg on a short, elevate the look immeasurably. Primary colors be damned, Essentials’ styles are cast in shades of khaki, pale sage, and brownish mustard. Suitable for school pickup or a street-style photo shoot? You tell me.

Parents, it seems, are willing to reach deep into their piggy banks to pull off this style. Last fall, Saks Fifth Avenue launched a $400 navy blue Palm Angels hoodie, $690 Rick Owens high-top sneakers, and a $985 Off-White bomber jacket. Although the logo and branded elements do best, the impressive growth in the children’s category in general means the high-end department store plans to “continue expanding our kids’ assortment and testing more minimal and neutral styles,” says chief merchandising officer Tracy Margolies. Saks carved out a “Mini Me” edit on its website, which includes big and little versions of a black Balmain sweatshirt, black Balenciaga sock sneakers, and black Moschino sweatpants.

As is true in most parts of life, it helps to have moms in the mix. London-based designer Rejina Pyo used her own experiences as a parent to inform the launch of her kids’ line last spring. “I wanted to make sure that the sizing and designs were versatile, that the kids could wear them for more than a few months, and that they could be passed on to other family members or friends after they grow out of them,” she says.

Volume helps with that. So does elastic. A pair of cotton twill leopard trousers can be worn full-length, the Rejina Pyo website notes, “or as culottes as the child grows.” I could envision the “Nora” dress, with its sweet Peter Pan collar, becoming a tunic over leggings thanks to the elastic at the waist and sleeves. Whenever possible, Pyo upcycles materials from her adult designs. The leopard print featured in her spring 2021 collection was used to make a utility jacket in the kids’ line.

This kind of through line helps customers see the connection between the adults’ and kids’ assortments, according to Kelly Dowdy, co-owner and buyer at English Rabbit, a children’s boutique in Beverly Hills.

Similar silhouettes and embellishments go a long way, too—anything that telegraphs a link between kids and their grown-ups. When we spoke, Dowdy had sweatshirts with shoulder pads on the sales floor, along with high-waisted mom jeans. (Yes, mom jeans. For kids.)

Still, Dowdy makes sure that the designs from adult brands are suitable for little ones. Sometimes prints are too sophisticated, or the design elements, like cutouts, too mature. She’s even passed on one style of children’s Golden Goose sneakers that was a little too distressed for her taste. “Someone who is spending that price point on a kid’s shoe, they don’t want it to look completely destroyed,” she says. Better to have the children add the patina themselves.

This article appears in the March 2022 issue of ELLE.

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