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Stella McCartney is yet again expanding her brand’s reach — and her latest target audience is the grade-school set.

McCartney’s first full children’s wear collections, done in collaboration with GapKids and babyGap, will be launched Nov. 2 at select Gap stores in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France and Japan. The 70-piece line, which McCartney said she designed to “find a kind of balance between Stella as in what I do for adults…and how I see kids, really,” takes inspiration from both the design signature McCartney has developed in her own collections and her practical experience as a mother of three.

This story first appeared in the October 22, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I guess I tackled it in the same way I would one of my own ready-to-wear collections, but then the challenge was, ‘OK, I’ve got to get into the same mind-set of a kid and what they might like,’” said McCartney as she stood on the sidelines of the campaign shoot for the collection — which stars a host of children posing with baby animals — at a London studio in late summer. “It’s quite a good thing to have kids when you’re designing a kids’ collection, to be aware that they actually have their own point of view.”

To wit, McCartney made sure the fabrics she’s used in the collection — such as organic cotton, cashmere and wool — aren’t “scratchy,” and has incorporated fun elements to entice children as much as their parents. A T-shirt printed with a superhero design — which McCartney’s four-year-old son Miller approved — and a pair of white high-top sneakers can both be customized with a set of colored markers sold alongside the garments. There are also pajamas that come in a dinosaur-print bag for boys, along with tulle tutu skirts in caramel and pistachio and a faded mint silk party dress embroidered with silk flowers for girls. (The collection’s sizes run from newborn to children up to age 12).

But practical pieces feature in the collection, too, such as a navy wool peacoat and organic denim jeans for boys and silk collarless shirts and organic cotton T-shirts for girls. “I think in kids’ wear a lot of the time they give one point of view…and that’s not how kids are,” said McCartney. “You want to mix and match, otherwise kids look too twee or too streety.”

And in keeping with McCartney’s vegetarian principles, the shoes she’s designed, which include sneakers and shiny gray rain boots, are all made without leather. “A big part of the excitement for me was not just the clothes but the shoes,” said McCartney. “Because so many people had said to me, ‘I can’t get shoes for my kids that aren’t leather.’”

Meanwhile, some of the pieces are mini-me versions of designs from McCartney’s rtw collections. There’s a gray sweater dress knit with an intarsia leopard design — which appeared full-size in the designer’s fall 2009 collection — along with skinny gray jeans with ankle zippers and a snug gray cable-knit cardigan dress.

Marka Hansen, president of Gap North America, described McCartney’s aesthetic as “a really natural fit,” for the company, adding that the designer’s insight into children’s likes and dislikes was a plus. “[McCartney] has hands-on experience as a mother, so she understands what kids want to wear and the practical considerations that parents have when dressing their children,” Hansen said.

And McCartney was just as eager to partner with Gap on the collection, since she was determined that her children’s collection be affordable. “I think [Gap] makes a great product for the price point, and I think that it’s really important for kids to deliver really high quality and have it accessible to people,” said McCartney. “I felt that I could get the right quality of product with them.” Prices for the collection run from $14 for wool tights through to $128 for a military-style jacket.

Though the designer has created a collection for price points far lower than those of her own line, McCartney has still managed to work in plenty of details. A girl’s taupe trenchcoat, for example, is lined with cotton printed with the words “I Love You,” while the military jacket is sewn with intricate gold brocade and a tailored jacket in brushed cotton has silk lapels. “My job is to push for the best that I can do [for the price point], and [Gap’s] job is to control the cost and also give the best they can do for the price they know is realistic for their customers,” said McCartney.

And the designer took an equally democratic approach to the ad campaign. Instead of casting children from modeling agencies, McCartney put a call out on Facebook for regular kids. The images, shot by Ryan McGinley, feature 20 children ranging in age from one to eight years, who share the spotlight with fluffy baby chicks, iguanas, rabbits, a miniature donkey and even a fox. “I wanted to get real kids, and also give real parents the opportunity of having their kids in an ad campaign of this scale,” said McCartney. “We cast in Notting Hill and there were, like, queues of kids and parents around the block.”

After the runaway success of McCartney’s 2005 collection for H&M, when customers fought to grab her designs, McCartney declined to predict if the collection with Gap would create a similar frenzy. “It’s a totally different kettle of fish,” said McCartney. “It’s talking about kids, and I don’t know if the parents are going to have a frenzy buying something for their kids.”

McCartney did allow she’s looking forward to the response. “It’s kind of nerve-racking and also really exciting,” she said.


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