There is no fool like a fool with children. Parenthood makes pinheads of us all. I considered myself perfectly sane until I became pregnant and found myself importing a specific model of buggy from New York on the basis that it was no longer manufactured in the UK, as though London was some sort of buggy desert and 943 different types didn’t already exist in John Lewis. I know parents with tutors for their five-year-olds and others who queued all night (or paid the nanny to) for their offspring to gain entry to a gymnastics course. When it comes to our children, nothing but the best will do. It isn’t exclusively a London thing. It isn’t just a late-motherhood thing. It’s everywhere spare money flows.
If children are the white-hot focus of our aspirations, it stands to reason that they won’t be dressed in Primark. The UK childrenswear market is worth £5.6bn, according to Euromonitor, with a retail value estimated to rise to £5.9bn by 2017. Social factors such as a rapidly increasing birth rate, parents having children later in life and a glut of baby-boomer grandparents with more disposable income at their fingertips than at any point in history have combined to make childrenswear a highly lucrative business. And nowhere more so than at the designer end of the spectrum.
Caramel Baby & Child (where a party dress can cost up to £250) has seen sales increase by 20% for the past three years, while luxury online retailers, such as Alex and Alexa (which sells more than 9,000 items by labels including Dior, Fendi, Burberry and Ralph Lauren), are thriving. Little wonder that Net-a-Porter has registered the domain name Petite-a-Porter or that Harrods recently expanded its childrenswear department to 66,000 sq ft.
Without question it is the internet, with its endless pap shots of celebrity offspring, which is fuelling demand for a designer childhood. Screwed up, perhaps, but since nobody is going to stop papping them any time soon, you can’t blame the fames for wanting to use the situation to their advantage. Celebrities latched on long ago to the idea of child as brand extension: cute kid + cool clothes + famous parents = good PR. Never mind how sweaty and uncomfortable one-year-old North West might be in her scaled-down Givenchy biker jacket and matching leather drainpipes: being tricked out as her mother’s mini-me ensures the flashbulbs keep popping, a state of affairs which is essential to the Kardashian brand.