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Young Ideas

Fresh takes on classics and a nod to the Obama girls drives business.

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Special Issue
WWD MAGIC issue 02/03/2009

Children’s apparel vendors attending WWDMAGIC are sticking with sure things by reinterpreting select bestsellers from their current fall season, as well as upcoming spring and summer.

This story first appeared in the February 3, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Being recast with new silhouettes and trims are fake-fur coats, vests and shrugs; faux-leather pants, skirts and jackets; vests; plaids; tunics over bright-colored leggings or tights, and bloomers and fluffy petticoats with ruffles, tulle and crinoline. The current bohemian look is set to evolve into a more folkloric theme inspired in part by 18th-century French peasants and Czarist Russia.

“It’s all about reviving the classics with new attitude and value. That is what’s driving the business,” said Jamie Ross, a creative director and trend forecaster for The Doneger Group. By riding a trend over a few seasons, vendors can save money in design costs. The strategy also helps financially stressed families who still want to shop for what Ross calls “completer pieces” — fashion statements like shrugs, jackets or coats that relate to core wardrobes built over several seasons.

Ross said another key trend retailers have reported is school uniform skirts, shirts, pants, blouses and blazers as wardrobe staples that can be dressed up with mod shrugs, vests or leggings and skinny jeans in a “Gossip Girl”-inspired preppy look. For fall, designers will add ruffled blouses, jumpers with puckered pleats and cardigans to the trend.

“I can’t say enough about the cardigan,” Ross emphasized. She said knits are also slated for a new town-and-country haberdashery look, where blazers, in paisley, herringbone, tweed, velvet and pinstripes are expected to be signature pieces. Under this theme, designers plan soft, long-sleeve buffalo shirts in black and red, yellow, cobalt or white checks, worn with soft corduroy pants, skirts and jumpers.

Whimsical, fairy-tale dressing, popular for spring, is another trend to carry over for fall. “It’s a lot of mixing of romantic skirts and tulle and lace, tunics, beanies, pretty knit shrugs and a lot of leggings. It’s almost costume,” said Khalym Schell, a children’s fashion forecaster for Stylesight, New York.

Sweet all-American tomboy looks pairing jumpers, tunics and skirts with patterned and colored leggings and tights, are also expected to remain popular next fall, Schell said, adding that the most public fans of the tomboy look are Malia and Sasha Obama, the President’s daughters. “The girls have a casual style that is pretty, but it’s not girly,” Schell said.

The first daughters’ potential influence on the children’s apparel market also is not being overlooked by the industry.

“What they wear is what the world sees and I think will also influence young girls,” said Bernadette Reis, president and design director of Biscotti Inc. in Oakland, Calif.

On election night, Malia wore one of Biscotti’s special occasion dresses, a sleeveless red taffeta bubble-hem sheath bought at Nordstrom. Ever since, the dress has been in demand, along with other classic silhouettes and play clothes under the company’s Biscotti or Kate Mack labels, Reis said.

The black satin dress with crystal pleating worn by Sasha election night also has become a bestseller and staple for its producer, New York-based Gerson & Gerson. The dress is being recast with other fabrics, and its crystal pleating used in other designs. “It’s been a good dress,” said Kevin Gray, sales manager.

Rita Nakouzi, U.S. director of fashion forecaster Promostyl, said the Obama girls’ fashion influence will be seen throughout the tween market, and as they get older, will help shape what teen girls wear. “I see Mrs. Obama and the girls putting American sportswear in the spotlight again,” Nakouzi said, calling the first daughters’ relaxed style more accessible to American shoppers, in contrast to celebrity kids.

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