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Adult Looks Favoured by Pre-teen Trendsetters at NY Kids Style Show

Fashions originally created with grown-ups in mind are increasingly being hijacked by style-conscious school-agers, according to exhibitors at this year's New York Children's Club, one of North America's leading kids' clothing expos.

Photo: Bags of new season styles debuted at New York Children’s Club.
Bags of new season styles debuted at New York Children's Club.
Photo: Bags of new season styles debuted at New York Children’s Club.
Bags of new season styles debuted at New York Children's Club.

When it comes to precociously fashion-conscious little girls, the best way to predict their style expectations is to track just what the more modish grown-ups are wearing, at least that was the advice from a number of exhibitors at this year's New York Children's Club. The wisdom of these words was soon apparent, with those stalls offering junior takes on adult looks – most notably metallic and boho-chic – seldom lacking browsers.

Keen to capitalise on this cross-fertilisation of looks between mums and dads and their mini-me's was Anasuya Engel, Creative Director of Peas and Queues Kids, a Los Angeles-based contemporary kids' clothing brand. Explaining her own particular approach, she said: "I used to be a women's wear designer, so I do try to keep things on trend, while retaining the look of women's clothing. My style is mainly Bohemian, which is still hugely popular with women."

For Karine Senequier, a Senior Manager with France's Oh La La, while she notes the huge influence of adult fashion, she also believes it needs to be tweaked a little if it is to truly appeal to pre-teen trendsetters. Outlining the thinking behind her current collection, she said: "At present, we're offering a trend-inspired range aimed at two- to 12-year-olds.

"We've used a lot of bold colours, particularly red and navy, with gold and silver metallic also featuring. At present, metallic accents – or even complete metallic pieces – are very in.

"Metallic even works for babies, as do darker colours, which is something new. Whatever you do, though, you also have to have light pinks and blues in your collection. That's an absolute must."

The use of a stronger pallet also struck a chord with Jemma Jacques, the Proprietor of Le Petit Chouchou, a California-based baby shoes and diaper bag brand. Championing one colour, she said: "Different shades of burgundy are what I'm seeing right now. I'd go as far as to say that a love for all things burgundy is probably the current biggest trend."

Apart from boho and metallic, the parental penchant for bling was also being mirrored in the junior style category. Clearly fully embracing this particular crossover was De Blossom Collection, a California-based designer footwear brand with a specialist subsidiary – De Blossom Girl – that focuses on stylish shoes for the younger lady.

Despite operating in the largely trend-resistant formal occasions niche, Sales Representative Gia Ching conceded the brand was not immune to sparkle appeal, saying: "As we specialise in special occasion formal shoes, including several baby and toddler ranges, things tend to be fairly stable. Having said that, our Swarovski crystal shoes have been our biggest hit at this show."

Also benefitting from a little sparkle was another junior footwear specialist – New York's Steve Madden Kids. Outlining just what was working best for the company, Sales Representative Jill Green said: "We take a lead from women's fashion, so we're right on trend. Sliders are doing well at present, as are twin gore sneakers and glitter, of course."

While many at the event championed the benefits of tracking adult fashion, the expo still managed to remain more than just a showcase for kiddy takes on senior styles. Very much solely child-inspired, a number of exhibitors were happy to adopt more whimsical motifs, especially when it came to party and gift clothing.

A keen advocate of retaining quintessentially child-focused fashion was Jessica Larson, a Sales Representative with Curly Girls, a New York-based accessories brand. Clearly relishing the freedom offered by the junior fashion sector, she said: "I've spent most of my career in the women's fashion sector, but you can have so much more fun when you are designing for little girls.

"While colour is always important, the trending things for us right now are unicorns, mermaids and ice-cream cones – novelty is definitely big at the moment."

In more general terms, Larson had also been looking out for just what seemed to be catching the eye of the many buyers attending the event. Giving a quick rundown of her findings, she said: "Hairclips are clearly losing out to headbands at the moment. The pom-pom look is still doing well, while cat headbands are doing amazing business..

Photo: Sophisticated gift clothing from Marina Cabrera.
Sophisticated gift clothing from Marina Cabrera.
Photo: Sophisticated gift clothing from Marina Cabrera.
Sophisticated gift clothing from Marina Cabrera.
Photo: Stylish footwear for the younger lady.
Stylish footwear for the younger lady.
Photo: Stylish footwear for the younger lady.
Stylish footwear for the younger lady.

"For tutus, the whole birthday concept is working well, especially with matching accessories, with cute little hair pom-poms completing the look. At the end of the day, the birthday category is all about being giftable and about matching the outfit with the occasion."

Giftables were also the present focus of Sue Tannura, the Proprietor of My Sister Kate, an Illinois-based children's boutique. Giving her own take on the market she said: "Right now, it's tutus and gifts that customers are really looking for."

While whimsy had its advocates, for others it was the more sophisticated end of the gift clothing sector that had the most potential. Outlining its suitability for even the most junior of consumers, Jackie Dopazo, a Designer with Florida-based Marina Cabrera, said: "My baby knits are definitely good. They have a clear European influence that sets them apart from other brands when customers are looking for a unique gift."

Despite its willingness to ape the style of the senior sector, the children's clothing market does have to contend with a number of unique challenges – most notably, the tendency of its target consumers to continually change their dimensions. For one exhibitor – Romy & Aksel, a Montreal-based supplier specialising in clothing for children in the two-to-eight age range – this was an opportunity rather than an obstacle.

Explaining how the company had incorporated the issue into its thinking, Communications Director Ranya Nasri said: "It's all about adjustability. Kids grow and all two-year-olds are not the same size, neither are three-year-olds…four-year-olds… As a result, many customers see our adjustability as a value-added feature."

Apart from variations in size, variations in regional tastes and preferences also preoccupied many exhibitors. Indeed, the more savvy style entrepreneurs had tailored their stands to the sizes and fashions favoured by the many East Coast buyers who typically attend the event.

Summarising the variations as she sees them, De Blossom's Ching said: "New Yorkers definitely go for darker colours and they also go more for an athleisure look, including sneakers and more utilitarian stuff. In California, by contrast, it's more about brighter colours.

"If you are targeting South America, then it's different again. Consumers there are really picky when it comes to materials. They won't go for anything suede and they don't like satin. They do, however, like PU, largely because it's durable and easy to clean."

Citing the weather as the primary spur to varying geographical tastes, Oh La La's Senequier said: "Regional preferences are very much affected by the climate, with winter collections clearly unlikely to do well in the 'summer states'. That said, Miami boutiques might take a winter coat as many of their customers come down from New York."

For Marina Cabrera's Dopazo, she sees geographical considerations as an integral part of the design process, saying: "When I create a new collection, it is always region-specific. In terms of knitwear, I know they won't even touch it in the South, while in New York and Massachusetts it will go down a storm. By the same token, in the South they love linen, while New York stores won't even consider it."

Overall, the mood at the event was somewhat mixed, with some exhibitors blaming New York's unusually cold weather for deterring buyers. Others, though, saw signs of a broader downturn, with Peas and Queues' Engel saying: "The last year has been hard. A lot of stores have been closing and a lot of companies struggled and we've not been immune to it either.

"Basically, people are buying less. A lot less. Buyers who would have thought nothing of spending $1,000 a few years back are thinking twice before spending even $500 now."

Not all exhibitors were quite so downbeat, however. Cautiously optimistic, Senequier said: "Well, we at least are having a strong show. The orders are coming in, although you can never be certain until they've been confirmed."

Photo: Adult styles in junior sizes hit the Children’s Club catwalk.
Adult styles in junior sizes hit the Children's Club catwalk.
Photo: Adult styles in junior sizes hit the Children’s Club catwalk.
Adult styles in junior sizes hit the Children's Club catwalk.

Children's Club 2018 took place from 7-9 January at the Jacob K Javits Convention Center in New York. The event featured 340 exhibitors and attracted buyers from across North America.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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