"It used to be kids' clothes were a year behind their parents' in style," says Barbara Bartman, 33, owner of Auntie Barbara's kiddie shop in Beverly Hills. "Now the same designers that are dressing their moms and dads are coming up with the same styles for kids"—with prices to match. Designer names like Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren are appearing in a growing number of upscale kiddie boutiques in L.A. Customers include the likes of Sally Struthers, Jane Seymour, Kenny Rogers, Charlene Tilton and anyone else with $58 to spend on tot-tight jeans or $40 for a size 2 T-shirt. As Beverly Hills resident Sachiko Irwin, wife of an international businessman and mother of John, 2, explains: "I enjoy it. If we can afford it, why not? I myself love beautiful clothes. I shop on Rodeo Drive and buy my clothes from Gucci and Adolpho. I'm not the kind of mother who would dress herself well and not want my child to dress well. He's learning about clothes, quality, taste—how to coordinate an outfit."
When child psychologists talk about kid couture, you could gag them with a spoon. Says kid shrink Irwin Lehroff of Beverly Hills: "It can instill a false sense of values. What may be adorable—a tux on a 4-year-old—makes the child accustomed to being told he is cute. He soon will connect material things with personal acceptance." But Hollywood celebrity florist Harry Finley strongly disagrees. His grandson, Michael Matsumoto, was not quite 2 when Finley bought him a tuxedo made by award-winning bathing-suit designer Gail Simms, who works out of This Little Piggy. "If you were as poor as I was as a kid," says Finley of his largesse, "you'd understand why." Perhaps. But even Finley might concede he's gone a bit overboard. He had already bought Michael a $1,200 mink-lined leather jacket. The tuxedo set Finley back $500—$350 for the custom-made jacket, formal shirt, cummerbund and bow tie, plus $150 for black patent-leather shoes and white kidskin spats. The child may be father to the man, but Harry Finley seems determined to be grandfather to the clotheshorse.
Forget silver spoons, today's rich kid (Los Angeles variety) comes into the world swaddled in an imported Italian camicina della fortuna (lucky shirt) of red silk embroidered with two tiny entwined hearts symbolizing the parents' love for their child—in case the $78 price tag is unconvincing. The proud mom and dad may parade their infant in a hand-knit stroller sack—$250 at a Beverly Hills boutique, This Little Piggy. By 18 months the tot can turn out in a tailored tux ($350 custom-made) or an off-the-shoulder sequined dress ($130). It's the latest—kid couture.