NEW YORK — Contemporary companies appear to be downsizing — literally.

The demand for fashion-forward children’s clothing has become an unavoidable force for such contemporary firms as Paper Denim & Cloth, Juicy Couture, Le Tigre, Lula B, and Trunk Ltd.

“No one was really offering high-end designer jeans for children,” said Chris Gilbert, president of Paper Denim & Cloth. “We created exact replicas of our adult styles for kids aged one to five.” The collection ranges between $44 and $48 wholesale.

Paper Denim & Cloth launched its children’s line in 2002. Last year, the children’s business generated $1.4 million at wholesale. “The cost of making the garment is not less,” Gilbert explained. “Our margins are particularly high, so we can retail the jeans near $100.”

At first, the company began selling the children’s pieces alongside their adult counterparts. “It was just really cute,” said Gilbert. Now, the line stands alone at such venues as Bloomingdale’s, Ron Herman and Barneys New York.

Retailers also see a window of opportunity in children’s wear. “I’m not sure how much volume there is in it yet, but we’re definitely trying it out,” said Alison Mangaroo, children’s and men’s wear buyer at Atrium, a specialty boutique here. “There is great opportunity in this category.”

Currently, Atrium carries children’s wear lines from Paper Denim & Cloth and Adidas, but will expand to include lines from Le Tigre, Juicy Couture, Da-Nang and Little Laundry. “It’s easy to go to Gap or Old Navy for basics, but people really do want cool items for their children,” she said.

For Gela Nash Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, founders and designers of Juicy Couture, the decision to create children’s wear was more personal.

“Pamela had just had a baby,” Taylor said. “Every single person we knew that had a kid started asking for Juicy kid’s wear.” Juicy Couture Baby launched in 2002.

Taylor realized the mothers who wore Juicy Couture also wanted their children to wear Juicy. “People are really into that mommy-daughter kind of thing,” she said, noting that mothers and daughters like to wear identical bright-hued Juicy Couture styles. Celebrity moms like Kate Beckinsale, Cindy Crawford, Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet are fans of the label and outfit their little ones in Juicy Couture Baby.Le Tigre, a well-known brand in the Seventies, was relaunched last year after the rights were bought by Ryan O’Sullivan, a former Wall Street executive, and Vincent Nesi Sr., owner of Nesi Apparel Group. This spring, the company will venture into children’s wear.

“I think it’s a natural progression for a lifestyle brand,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s no fun being [exclusively in one category] anymore.”

Le Tigre’s vintage logo, a darting tiger, has a certain playful appeal for children. In fact, it was the tiger logo that forced O’Sullivan to take notice.

“I have a three-year-old niece and a bunch of goddaughters,” O’Sullivan said. “When they see friends in our polo shirts, they point at the tiger and roar. So I got on the bandwagon.”

The children’s apparel will be almost identical to the adult styles. “They’ll mostly have the same characteristics,” O’Sullivan said, “but we’ll give them a more youthful silhouette. And of course, they won’t be sexy.”

Le Tigre also wants to incorporate kid-friendly technical fabrics to battle stains and wear-and-tear. Wholesale prices range between $8 and $26.

Like Taylor, O’Sullivan agrees that when it comes to mother-daughter styles, a “mini-me phenomenon” exists, but unlike Taylor, he thinks there is a certain point at which kids no longer want to dress like their mothers. In fact, he believes there comes a point when the last thing children want is to look like mom.

“Currently, we’re doing sizes toddler 2 through size 8. We’re staying away from sizes 8 to 20,” O’Sullivan said. “At some point kids enter an ‘anti-what-your-parents-are-wearing’ phase.”

O’Sullivan predicts wholesale volume for children’s wear will reach $20 million in 2005. “I think we have a leg up because of the tiger,” he said. “Kids dig it.”

For contemporary T-shirt companies, designers looked to infuse a bit of coolness into their children’s lines.

“I was a model for Fred Segal in the Eighties,” said Chiara Hardaway, designer of the Lula B collection. “While other kids were wearing Gymboree, I got to wear things a bit more funky.”Hardaway began Lula B in late 2002 and will launch her first children’s collection for spring. The wholesale price range of the collection is $10 to $35 and will include sizes newborn to 16. “I do a lot of tie-dying and when I started dying smaller Ts, they just looked a lot cuter,” she said. Currently, she’s testing the lines at the specialty boutiques Tres Jolie and Diane Merrick, both in Los Angeles.

Brad Beckerman, chief executive officer and creative director for Cinq Group, a Santa Monica-based brand development, licensing and marketing firm, launched Trunk Ltd., last year. It is an exclusive collection of authorized limited edition rock ’n’ roll merchandise featuring original artwork from such artists as The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Billy Idol, The Cult, The Doors, Madonna, Ozzy Osbourne, U2, Mötley Crüe, and others. Beckerman will launch the children’s line, Mini Trunk Ltd., for the holiday season. Wholesale prices range from $25 to $30. “Parents just want their kids to look cool,” Beckerman said.

Beckerman, who has amassed a personal collection of more than 1,100 concert T-shirts, thinks the appeal of music is trans-generational. “This was a no-brainer for me,” he said. “Older sisters, uncles, parents are the people buying these for kids. We’re taking the adult version and shrinking it down to its perfect aesthetic.”

When it comes to children and rock bands, Beckerman knows that some just don’t mix. “The Beatles work well. So do Blondie and Pink Floyd,” he said. “But we’re conscious of things like skulls and death.”

And while contemporary children’s lines are shaking up the market, more designers are also getting into the fray. Following in the footsteps of Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Versace, Moschino, Roberto Cavalli, Giorgio Armani and Burberry, which all have children’s lines, comes Escada.

This fall, Escada launched its kids’ collection in three age groups: Baby (0-2 years), Children’s (2-8 years) and Junior (8-16 years). Prices range from $25 to $150 wholesale.

“Kids’ wear gives us the perfect opportunity to attract younger customers,” said Brian Rennie, designer for Escada. “We can make kids into Escada fans who love the products from early on and we also can attract young mothers who maybe are not aware how much Escada has changed.”The Escada collection consists of colorful T-shirts and dresses. “We offer girls a collection with which they can express their personality without being a miniature collection of the women’s wear.”

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