NEW YORK -- Teeny tiny togs translate into big business for the junior market.
The market has switched from oversized, hip-hop looks to shrunken baby-sized styles, and it's working.
Manufacturers have plenty of explanations for the switch, including the junior customer's fickle nature, the desire to show off the body and a need for a new kind of sexiness.
"I started doing the small shrunken look about six months ago with mohair sweaters, mesh T-shirts and fitted satin blouses," said Gregg Fiene, owner of XOXO, a California-based junior sportswear company. "I've sold about 45,000 cropped mohair sweaters to date.
"The shrunken look is all about getting back to body-conscious but sweet looks. Four years ago when I started this business, Lycra and ottoman stretch were really hot, but the look was more clubby and sexy. This is about pretty sexiness."
Other popular XOXO tiny styles include baby T-shirts with heart motifs, cropped knit cardigans, and mini knife-pleated skirts and satin HotPants.
"I think [the tiny movement] is pretty simple," explained Claire Ortiz, design director for Esprit. "Young people created the whole oversized look to rebel against things that fit. You weren't supposed to wear size 40 jeans. When that look wasn't shocking anymore, tiny and the little girl look came in," she said.
"We've been extremely successful with this look. Our direction was a surprise to the industry when it was introduced, but now our fashion styles are selling much better than our basics."
"There is so much pressure to excel for these kids, and these clothes are kind of goofy and fun, sexy but humorous," Ortiz said. "They say, 'Don't take yourself so seriously."'
Big tiny looks at Esprit include cropped wool bouclé cardigans with matching A-line miniskirts, cropped shiny rayon T-shirts, little dresses with collars and tie backs, and baby tees with Esprit logos and angels.
For some retailers, like Birmingham-based Parisian stores, the small look is retailing better in pieces than head-to-toe looks.
The short kilt and pleated skirts are strong for back-to-school, said Arlene Goldstein, Parisian's fashion director. "We've had immediate sell-throughs on tiny skirts, like Esprit's," she added."We had some positive response to the cropped vest. I think it's a safer way to get into the look."
One key to selling this look is showing the customer how to layer the pieces, said Goldstein.
"The oversized homeboy look in juniors was never strong for us," said Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy's East. "It was more a young men's and boys, but the tiny small clothes have been perfect.
"We did fairly well with the grungy, plaid-utilitarian look, but juniors are always looking to see what they don't have. They're very influenced by MTV, Beverly Hills 90210 and shows like Blossom. If it's on those shows, they want it," said Lin.
Lin credits designer Marc Jacobs for starting this look. In his last collection for Perry Ellis, he showed cropped sweaters and small proportions in the grunge arena. "This inspired today's cleaner versions," added Lin.
"The whole schoolgirl look -- kilts, plaids and jumpers -- are perfect to go with the tiny look. You accessorize it to make it appropriate for each person, whether with Maryjanes or stilettos," said Lin.
Ady Gluck-Frankel, designer of Necessary Objects, believes the tiny look grew out of the oversized statement.
"If you're a cool girl, what do you wear under your big shirt, but a white undershirt or T-shirt? Then the shirt started being tied around the waist and now it's not on the body anymore.
"The look is very sexy, but it's a new sexiness, different from the old glamour. It's more about who we are -- you roll out of bed and put on your tiny T-shirt and leave in your hair pins and look great."
Gluck-Frankel thinks that a young person will never give up on oversized, but the new trend will be mixing tiny and big. "A shrunken skirt with a shrunken shirt is not as interesting as a tiny skirt with a big shirt or vest over it."
Necessary Objects offered the tiny look in jackets with fake fur collars, cropped mohair sweaters, black wool skirts with satin trim, plaid kilts and rayon cropped tie-front tops.At Jou Jou, the tiny movement led to a new label.
"We saw the trend emerging, and an increase in our knitwear business, so four months ago we introduced a line called Baby T's, and we have sold all that we can deliver right now, over 120,000 units," said Bob Acampora, executive vice president of sales.
"We saw the junior customer taking these tees and wearing them under everything -- slip dresses, overalls, and rompers."
Jou Jou does three styles right now: sheer, flocked and puckered. The number-one style is a black flocked version on a nude background.
Abraham & Straus and Sterns reported a 32 percent sell-through in the first two weeks at full retail, according to Acampora.
For spring, Jou Jou is doing thermal knit pointelle, and embroidered ribs. Chains like Wet Seal want the spring baby tees for Nov. 30 delivery for Christmas selling, said Acampora.
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