She's not yet five, but already Suri Cruise is a trendsetter. Whether in eyelet frocks, floral headbands or colourful knitwear, the well-dressed daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes has yet to make a sartorial move the international fashion press hasn't commented on. And scrutiny of the mini-fashionista has intensified of late with the launch of the Suri Cruise Fashion Blog.
A recent posting showed the pouty preschooler in Vancouver, wearing a cherry-red Lili Gaufrette dress one day, a polka-dot-print Marc Jacobs the next.
Suri is fashion's literal It babe right now, outshining even Willow Smith, the nine-year-old daughter of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and another flashy dresser. But Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, that equally well-clad scion on the latest magazine covers, may be a princess-in-waiting.
"Celebrity baby dressing is a big trend and why kids' clothes are making headlines right now," says Ashley Manis, children's-wear buyer for TNT Kids in Toronto, where Suri and her parents popped in last fall while cruising the high-end kids' stores clustered on the city's Eglinton Avenue West. "Many of our clients see their children as walking billboards, promoting their own excellent sense of style."
These parents also think nothing of dropping thousands on designer duds for their little darlings, spoiling them with luxury brands they themselves covet. And many of those adult brands are keen to accommodate them, spinning off kids' lines faster than you can say spoiled brat.
Among them are Amsterdam's trendy Scotch & Soda (whose junior Scotch Shrunk is a collection made just for children) and Rock & Republic (the deluxe American jeans brand offering kids' clothes priced as expensively as their parents').
Also on the junior fashion bandwagon is Stella McCartney, whose eco-friendly kids' line launched in the fall. The deluxe Euro-chic labels Gucci and Fendi are also now offering children's wear collections as part of their collections.
On the mass-retailer front, there's Abercrombie & Fitch's Abercrombie Kids and Aeropostale's P.S. From Aeropostale, both launched within the last two years. Even Diesel and Urban Outfitters now have mini fashionista lines in their stores.
It's activity like this that has children's wear pegged as a growth market, one of the only sectors of the fashion industry showing robustness since the recession. According to a recent global industry report, children's wear retail sales within the world's top 10 global retail markets is estimated to be growing at six to seven per cent annually and predicted to reach $131.5-billion (U.S.) by 2012.
"There's definitely a stronger focus on kids in everything from seasonal collections to licensed product to gift giving," says GapKids spokeswoman Tara Wickwire. "This is certainly an exciting and growing part of the business."
That growth is being spurred by the fact that kids' clothing isn't perceived as just utilitarian any more. As the interest in little Suri Cruise's every tog suggests, they're now both a style statement and a symbol of a family's affluence.
"You can't sell $200 kids' jeans if there isn't a market for them," says Toronto stylist Jay Junnila, who notes that jeans for children are being designed to look a lot like what adults wear when they go out to play. "Jeans have gone from a utilitarian and practical item for kids to a fashion statement incorporating fits and finishes that used to be found exclusively in adult clothes," he adds, citing acid-wash skinny-leg jeans and paint-splattered denim for kids.
"Parents love to see a little bit of themselves in their kids and dressing them in clothes they love [accomplishes]this," Junnila says. "Parents want their kids to looks just as funky and edgy as they do."
At H&M, children's collections are designed to be fashionable yet functional while incorporating the latest trends from the adult collections. "It is important that the trends you see in our ladies' and men's departments are carried out through the entire collection, from the teen line to kids' wear and right into accessories," says H&M Canada spokeswoman Emily Scarlett. "This season, bright, fun and cheerful colours are really important and we are happy to say that all the key colours for the season can be seen in every department in the store."
Besides a new vibrancy in kids' clothes - look for turquoise as a hot hue for boys - trends for the coming season include kaleidoscopic prints, florals, lace and flowing fabrics on dresses, tie-dye, double-breasted jackets and a mixed-and-matched look evoking the 1980s.
Indeed, retro styling in general is popular in kids' wear right now, with 1970s boho chic and 1980s neon leading the charge. This shouldn't be surprising as such looks are what the parents of today's little fashion plates wore when they were young.
But will the kids like it? Judging from one of Suri Cruise's latest outfits - red-and-pink cowboy boots worn with a flouncy hippie-esque sweater dress by Juicy Couture - it's safe to say that the answer is an unabashed yes.