Clutching a quacking duck in her arms, the military jacket– and skinny jeans–clad model mugs for the camera. “You are so cool, Maud,” coos Stella McCartney from the sidelines as photographer Ryan McGinley snaps away in a sprawling studio in north London’s King’s Cross. “You’re getting the cool award of the century right now.”
McCartney and crew on set with Alexander.
Though McCartney is typically known for casting more recognizable faces in her ad campaigns—like, say, Kate Moss—the adorable Maud met two key criteria for this particular shoot: She’s less than five feet tall and is a good decade away from being eligible for her driver’s license. The fact that the auburn-haired tyke doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with rabbits, snakes, lizards and a posse of other tots—all under age nine—was just the icing on the cupcake.
In November, in collaboration with Gap Kids and Baby Gap, McCartney is unveiling a one-time-only stash of children’s clothes, a product category grown-up clients of the ultracool designer have been demanding for years. Launching in the UK, France, Japan, the U.S. and Canada, the line includes everything from supersoft cashmere blankets for newborns to Fair Isle sweaters, brushed cotton blazers with silk lapels, and those wool military jackets, which are intricately embroidered with gold thread. In addition to the wallet-friendly price points (from $14 for wool tights to $128 for jackets), many of the looks are versatile enough to be worn by either girls or boys, a boon for parents with big broods.
A mother of three children under the age of five (two boys, Miller and Beckett, and a girl, Bailey), McCartney says opting to work on her first full-blown kids’ collection with a stylish yet affordable retail partner was a natural move. As a mom, she says, she was frustrated by the gulf between the extremes of the children’s clothes spectrum. “I find there’s nothing between the two worlds—it’s kind of cheap or expensive, and they look like that,” she explains. “Some expensive labels are too conservative and twee, and the cheaper stuff is a little less classy and tasteful.”
Of course, McCartney knows it’s not only Mom and Pop steering the sartorial ship. “I’m quite aware that after the age of four and a half, kids actually don’t want to wear what their parents want to put on them anymore,” she says, raising a knowing eyebrow. So to avoid pitched battles with her own line, McCartney sought design input from insiders. Specifically, she commissioned four-year-old Miller and her colleagues’ daughters to draw the monsters that adorn the days-of-the-week underwear. And Miller even got final say on a T-shirt design.
From top: Kinte, lying low; Sophie sporting a tutu.
“My son is obsessed with superheroes, so I’m like, Okay, I’m going to create my own superhero,” says McCartney, recounting the idea for a top that is sold with a set of colored markers so kids can add their own scribbles. “I’d take it home and I’d be like, ‘Do you approve of our superhero?’ And he loved it. So I thought, I’ve kind of had a sign-off on that.”
Judging by her demeanor on the set, McCartney, despite cutting a statuesque figure in a pair of her own high-waisted jeans, a dusky pink sweater and spiky heels, has an easy, relaxed manner with kids. When Alexander, a cutie with a mop of dirty-blond curls, hoists a turtle above his head, McCartney nudges him to be more cautious. “Supercareful with him,” she says. “Don’t drop the turtle.” And between shots, while the newbie model allows a giant hairy spider to climb up his arm, she conducts an ad hoc focus group: “Alex, do you like what you’re wearing?” she inquires sweetly. “Yeah? That was the right answer.”
McCartney has logged enough years in the mothering trenches to know that a photo shoot, even one stocked with a veritable petting zoo, can’t hold the attention of feisty kids indefinitely. As little Kinte starts to squirm under the hot lights, McCartney is nonplussed. “He’s not going to get ungrumpy in this environment,” she says, slipping seamlessly into mom mode. “He needs to leave this studio and go outside.”
McCartney says she was determined to book miniature civilians rather than polished child models for the campaign. “Perfect little kids are not really very me,” she says. “I wanted to have a bit of realness.” And she has a similarly no-nonsense approach to the collection. “When you’re talking about this kind of accessibility and children,” she says, “it’s really important that you feel comfortable throwing the lot of it in the washing machine and not being too precious with it.”
To that end, while there are tulle tutus and a silk dress embroidered with tiny flowers, there are also basics, including smart navy peacoats, organic cotton T-shirts and high-top sneakers. “Nothing is really matching, which is very much what I do,” she notes. “And a lot of the designs just get better with age.” Still, McCartney has worked in plenty of the luxe elements that have won her own line loyal fans. Some pieces have even been shrunk down from her past women’s collections, such as a sweaterdress knit with an intarsia leopard design and a pretty plum-colored wool princess coat with a pleated skirt.
From top: Maud checks herself out in a mirror; McCartney with Marley, Eden and Alexander.
McCartney concedes it was challenging to replicate designer details for downsized prices. “But my job is to push for the best that I can do,” she says. “It’s ridiculous to not try to do that.” High-quality fabrics, McCartney adds, were non-negotiable. “To me, the fabric is so important, especially on a child, as they are so aware when things are scratchy.”
Though she has designed one pricey girls’ dress—a one-off for spring 2009 that was part of a matching mom and daughter set—McCartney has no immediate plans to include kids’ clothes in her signature line. And she admits that awaiting the verdict of discerning parents on the Gap collection is “kind of nerve- racking,” especially after the runaway success of her first guest High Street collaboration with H&M, in 2005, for which fans stood in line for hours. “You don’t know how it’s going to go down,” she says. “But I personally prefer shopping for my kids’ clothes to shop-ping for my own. I just get more enjoyment out of it.”
But since only a select few have been privy to McCartney’s children’s designs, such as the “alien outfits” she made for her sons’ school productions, there’s a distinct chance that even her inner circle will be fighting it out to get their hands on the line. “Everyone I know was like, ‘When are you going to do kids? When are you going to do kids?’” says McCartney. “It was just a question that was wearing me out.”