By  on September 10, 2007

LONDON — London kids are getting a taste for luxury.

In the last few months, two new luxury e-tailers, AlexandAlexa.com and LittleFashionGallery.com, have launched upscale online boutiques, while Harrods has revamped its children's wear department, adding a space devoted entirely to international designer diffusion ranges. The market is clearly having a growth spurt.

"The children's wear business has completely changed here over the last six years, from brands you had never heard of to every designer adult label licensing children's collections. It's become huge," said Gillian Lee, children's wear buyer at Harrods.

In May, the store launched a 2,000-square-foot space for international designer children's brands, housing collections by Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Armani and Dior against a new-look, sophisticated minimalist interior.

"The department has totally exceeded our expectations in terms of the business. We are talking about big sums of money," said Lee, adding that already popular pieces, such as the beige cutout dress from the newly launched Chloé children's range, had waiting lists.

"It's really fueled by the fact that the brands are already big brands anyway. They are lifestyles, and so buying the children's wear is like buying into another part of that," said Lee.

Online, it's a similar story.

"Online shopping is forecast to grow 10 times more than the high street this year," said Alex Theophamous, founder and director of upscale retailer AlexandAlexa.com, based here and launched last month.

"The U.K. is Europe's biggest online shopping market. If you look at the women's market, the growth is all coming from online operators. These people all have children. It makes sense that if you are buying Ralph Lauren's clothing, you will want your children to wear it also," he said. "Another factor is that the women in the U.K. are having children much later, and so have a higher income when they do so. They have the money to spend."

Theophamous predicted the Web site's annual turnover within five years will be 5 million pounds, or $10 million at current exchange, annually. Next year, he said the brand would look at expansion to Russia, the U.S. and the Middle East."The luxury segment of the market is definitely extending," said Marie Soudre-Richard, chief executive officer at LittleFashionGallery.com. The company, also based here, launched online last November, and since then, Soudre-Richard said sales have grown twentyfold. The site carries 20 designer brands including Antik Batik, AirdeJe and Nume, and next year is turning its attention to expansion into Italy and the U.S.

Each retailer said that alongside regular luxury consumers, a large proportion of their market is gift-oriented.

"You are more likely in some ways to buy luxury children's wear if you are a godparent or aunt," said Theophamous. AlexandAlexa.com offers a children's wear gift-listing registry for baby showers, birthdays and christenings. Prices on the site retail from about 15 pounds ($30.42) to 150 pounds ($304.25). Similarly, LittleFashionGallery.com offers a gift-wrapping delivery service.

Lee said a large proportion of London children's wear consumers are also driven by aspirational purchasing, and they have a choice in how much they want to spend, as items on the site range from about 10 pounds ($20.28) to about 200 pounds ($403).

"You have people who want to buy the brand. You have people also who aspire to that brand. A child's T-shirt is cheaper than the handbag. You could buy a whole designer outfit for 200 pounds ($403) for a child."

While most agree that children are becoming brand-savvy at a younger age, the main consumer group is parents. Marketing strategies for both AlexandAlexa.com and LittleFashionGallery.com are directed at fashion-conscious luxury spenders.

"My client sees her children as a continuation of how she is dressed. She buys Dries Van Noten for herself, she wants something similar for her children: niche and high-end," said Soudre-Richard.

LittleFashionGallery.com's images have all been shot by established fashion photographers in a fashion editorial style. The Web site also has a separate magazine section devoted to lifestyle, expert advice, interiors, design and shopping. "My customer reads Vogue and shops at Net-a-porter. We needed to talk in that language," added Soudre-Richard.

Meanwhile AlexandAlexa.com employs similar sophisticated lifestyle-inspired photography, tapping established stylist Nicky Lowe to combine different brands into complete looks for its catalogue, and feting its recent launch with a celebrity party. The site sells children's wear labels including Cacharel, Little Paul & Joe, Quincy and Maan.Theophamous concluded: "A lot of our customers are Net-a-porter shoppers who haven't had access to the children's wear equivalent before. Buying these collections allows you to extend the fantasy through your children."

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