At age 3, Malcolm Rae Radboy has a fashion game stronger than most guys 10 times his age. Driven by what his dad, the creative director Babak Radboy, describes as his “butch” personality, his uniform consists mainly of jeans and T-shirts, duded up with designer pieces to arrive at a cultivated mix of high and low. Among his choice looks: inexpensive Old Navy pants worn with a Dolce & Gabbana sweater, and Jean Paul Gaultier jeans paired with a Pierre Cardin top from the 1970s. Usually, Malcolm accessorizes his outfits with highly sought-after Yeezy kicks, given to him by Adidas.
“Designer clothes worn by children are like snowsuits worn by adults. Few can carry it off successfully,” the writer Fran Lebowitz once observed. Clearly, she had yet to encounter Malcolm and today’s crop of similarly fly kids. Encouraged by their millennial parents, many of these tots are not only embracing fashion like a beloved teddy bear but also becoming budding style stars, followed and fussed over on social media for their cutting-edge looks.
“The key with kids’ wear,” Radboy says, “is having a little bit of humor.”
With that in mind, he and the designer Telfar Clemens have launched Telfar Bambino, a kids’-wear line that echoes the subversive, post-gender spirit of Clemens’s main line. Among the offerings are a Simplex shirt designed from overlapping circles and “thigh-hole” dungarees that Malcolm calls his Hulk jeans. Needless to say, the line is not for every child, and as such, it will be sold exclusively on Telfar’s website. “I’m not sure what store is ready for this,” Radboy admits.
His collection is just one of many recent launches bringing a fashion-forward attitude to the kids’-wear market. Designer children’s wear is nothing new: Oscar de la Renta and Ralph Lauren have long catered to the kindergarten crowd. But lately a slew of edgy, street-inflected brands have joined the mini-me market. Balenciaga debuted its children’s collection at its men’s spring fashion show, where model dads strolled the Bois de Boulogne with their offspring—the latter dressed in gargantuan sweatshirts, slogan tees, and the brand’s signature Speed knit sneakers. “The collection is literally a mini-version of the men’s and women’s ones,” says the Webster’s Laure Heriard Dubreuil, who will be selling it. “We love creating a full family story.”
Similarly, Balmain and Givenchy jumped into kids’ wear this past fall, with shrunken versions of the house’s key looks. “It was very easy to choose which styles to produce,” stated Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing of the cavalry jackets, sequin dresses, and zebra-print tops. “These are the same looks that, over the years, moms and dads have pleaded with me to produce for their kids.” For its part, Givenchy is offering logo’d swimwear and T-shirts emblazoned with Rottweilers, a tough-guy motif initiated by the brand’s former creative director Riccardo Tisci. The fall collection was designed by Clare Waight Keller.
“It’s a big market and getting bigger than ever—you can’t ignore the financial success of it,” says the designer Jeremy Scott, who credits social media and trendy tykes like North West and Blue Ivy Carter for its evolution into cool. Along with Moschino’s kids’-wear line, he also designs a line of strollers, car seats, and carriers for Cybex—the latest stroller features cherubs and gold wings affixed to the sides. A Jeremy Scott children’s collection, replete with all the comically radical elements that Scott is known for, will be available this fall. “At the end of the day,” he says, “no one wants their kids in dorky clothes.”