THEY are Hollywood's smallest shills, infant influencers, pint-sized pitchmen. Yes, celebrity babies are fashion's new mini mannequins, already selling clothes when their biggest concern in life is a clean nappy.
I guess it was inevitable that the celebrity-dressing craze, fueled by paparazzi photos and weekly fan magazines, would extend to the next generation. But the hype over Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt's T-shirt is unbelievable. The 2-week-old wore a Kingsley vintage-washed, raw-seamed gray T-shirt for her debut photo shoot in People magazine last week -- and that was enough to create a run on the L.A. label. The $42 cotton shirt is emblazoned with the image of a skull and crossed spoons, pots and pans, and the words "The Pots & Pans Band." It was designed by Kingsley Aarons, and back in January, given to Angelina Jolie by the upscale Denver baby boutique Belly.
Janci Frisby, co-owner of the store and instant baby fashion guru, has talked to several magazines and newspapers, even as she admits she can't be sure Shiloh is wearing her shirt. Still, the media attention has been enough to increase traffic in the store and online, with the number of sales on bellymaternity.com going from an average of two per day to 50 per day.
"People are coming in and behaving like the store is a museum," she says of Belly, which she calls a "mini Barneys," stocking True Religion, Seven Jeans, Juicy, Lacoste and Ya Ya clothes for kids, as well as more obscure labels such as Simple Kids out of Antwerp, Judith Lacroix from Paris and Makie from Japan. "Customers are asking if we can wrap five gifts separately in Belly bags, and leave the price tags on. It's been huge for branding." So much so, that Frisby and her business partner Katy Close are shopping for real estate to open a second store in L.A.'s Melrose Heights shopping district, celebrity mama mecca.
Jolie's kids are style icons in the making. Last year, her son Maddox made headlines with his mohawk hairdo, still a favorite with the toddling set.
"Maddox has become the spokesperson for hip, celebrity kids' wear," says retailer-to-the-stars Fraser Ross, who owns the Kitson and Kitson Kids stores on Robertson Boulevard. "The Bulldog T-shirt he wore, we sold hundreds of them instantly. The manufacturer had to recut it for us."
Ross anticipated fashion's baby boom when he opened Kitson Kids last August.
"I opened it because all of the contemporary clothing lines started doing kids' lines, not because Britney was pregnant, which someone wrote.
"But I do think that children are becoming the new designer handbags."
Of course celebrities are also designers these days, so it's no surprise that they are grabbing a piece of the action. Britney Spears, whose baby Sean Preston seems always to be dressed better than she is, is launching her own baby line. She'll follow Denise Richards, who recently announced Kidtoure, a rival to Charlie Sheen's Sheen Kidz collection, which debuted in April. And if the photos in this week's OK! magazine are any indication -- featuring Gwen Stefani's stylish baby Kingston in a Bob Marley tee -- a Little L.A.M.B. line will probably be rolling out soon. Store owner Ross reports that Stefani's lower-priced Harajuku Lovers kids' line is already a brisk seller.
And why not bring on the baby stylists? Because no self-respecting 2-week-old wants to appear in a onesie that's so five feedings ago, or be caught in the same sun hat as the baby in the next pram over.
That wouldn't sit well on the pages of Cookie, because of course, a baby lifestyle glossy magazine actually exists.
All joking aside, there is something disturbing about a fashion frenzy surrounding infants. It feels exploitative. And one has to wonder about the motivation. Why do young parents need celebrity validation to buy baby clothes? Are they really buying a baby "beater" just because Sean Preston is wearing one?
"It's a natural progression," says Frisby. "If you think these celebrities are your style icons, then the way they dress their children is going to resonate with you as well. If a celebrity has everything in the world to choose from and they choose item A, then item A must be pretty cool. We look to them because they can choose whatever they want."
Perhaps that's the case, but modeling your baby after a movie star's is just creepy. Better to dress your child in clothes that are an extension of you. Then maybe, just maybe, your baby book won't end up looking like a tear sheet from People magazine's Style Watch.
You've come a long way, Babes
Billion Dollar Babes, the original multi-designer sample sale and shopping party, celebrates its fifth anniversary today with a huge event at Sony Pictures Plaza in Culver City. There will be deals on clothing and accessories from Alice & Olivia, Alvin Valley, Anya Hindmarch, Chaiken, Diane von Furstenberg, James Jeans, Joe's Jeans, Petro Zillia, Robert Rodriguez, Sass & Bide and more.
Founders Kate Nobelius and Shelli-Anne Couch have come a long way since they had their first event in two rooms at the House of Blues. Now, Billion Dollar Babes is a global phenomenon with events in New York, Chicago, London, Dublin and beyond. For information, see www.billiondollarbabes.com.