Lap of luxury: Designers cash in on ‘aristocrat’ kidsWalking into a Seoul department store can be a shocking experience for a bargain shopper. The price of luxury goods can be astounding ― 538,000 won ($561) for a denim jacket slathered with the brand logos of a French designer.
That’s a lot to pay for something the wearer will grow out of in a year. The jacket, after all, is in the children’s section.
Welcome to the market for luxury children’s goods. Gold bracelets and cradles are no longer the best gifts a Korean parent can buy. The market for luxury brands as a whole is growing, with recent figures placing it anywhere from 1.5 billion to 2 billion won. Based on anecdotal evidence, luxury children’s goods account for a significant chunk of that growth.
A company that runs a photo studio for kids offers a photo album for a child, running from his birth up to his first birthday. The price? A mere 1 million won.
A used girl’s cashmere coat by Burberry was on sale at Feelway, an Internet shopping mall for used luxury goods, for 255,000 won. Also on the site was a black label trench coat for kids, on sale for 377,000 won, and a used Gucci baby stroller for over 1 million won.
On Karosu-gil, a street increasingly popular among hip (and moneyed) young Koreans, an entire block comprises facilities and upscale designer shops for children. Other neighborhoods in Seoul have special golf schools for kids, gyms, theaters, shops of imported cosmetic brands for young girls, and photo studios for children. Kids BonBon, a children’s beauty salon that has seven branches nationwide, sells a special perming chemicals for kids.
Versace, Christian Lacroix, DKNY, Christian Dior and Burberry have all opened children’s branches in department stores in Seoul. Some closed down after a few years, but the remaining ones have managed to steadily expand their market. Dolce and Gabanna Junior opened in Galleria, which has one of the largest ranges of luxury brands of any department store in Seoul, in September, 2004. O’Kids Mall, which opened last year, also carries luxury brands for children, along with toyshops and stationery stores, including outlets for Calvin Klein, Sonia Rykiel and Dolce and Gabanna.
Burberry Children, a leading provider of luxury children’s wear in Korea, now has six branches nationwide; their first Korean shop opened in Seoul’s Lotte Department Store in March 2004.
Dior Baby, a junior brand by an ultra-premium fashion house Christian Dior, now has three branches; they first opened in 2003 in Galleria.
“Children have a greater understanding of fashion and culture nowadays,” says Jo Young-nan, Baby Dior’s marketing merchandiser. “They are more sensitive to trends. They know exactly what colors, designs and characters they prefer when it comes to choosing clothes, and they’re letting their parents know. It also gives parents a chance to show some interest in their children through fashion.”
The growth in the luxury children’s goods market, however, stands in stark contrast to the fate of the market for regular children’s goods. Next Economy, a vernacular business weekly, recently reported that the size of the Korean market for children’s goods has been decreasing every year by 10 percent. The magazine reported that import strollers that cost 1 million won sell better than strollers that cost 100,000 to 200,000 won.
Latching on to the trend, Korean designers and companies of casual junior wear have launched upgraded brands targeting exclusively high-end clientele. One of the most famous to have done so is Andre Kim, who launched a junior label three years ago.
One explanation for the trend is that Korean parents are more likely to wait to have children these days until they are economically stable; they also have fewer children. With the country’s birth rate also sinking, many predict that the trend will only continue.
Data backs this up. In a recent customer survey, Baby Dior found that most of their clientele comprises baby-boomer parents between the ages of 30 to 45; they raise one or two children, prefer products that are unique and have innovative design, and are often loyal customers of Christian Dior.
A similar report by the Boston Consulting Group in the United States reveals that parents who buy luxury kids’ goods are typically older, work from 40 to 65 hours per week and earn over $150,000
So what happens after the inevitable ― the kids grow up? Luxury pawn shops and online shopping malls for luxury goods became scavenger sites for young mothers to pick up the discarded goods of their richer peers.
Not everyone is eager to snatch up ultra-expensive designer goods for their kids, however. The idea of paying the price for a tailored suit to buy something that will be used for only a year has led to the coining of a new phrase, “aristocratic syndrome,” referring to parents who see their children as “princes” or “princesses.”
Another new phrase is “kitty mom,” one of the generation of highly-educated Korean mothers in their 30s who grew up loving the Japanese character “Hello Kitty,” and who spare no expense on their children.
“It’s partly to do with the changing roles of mothers,” says Na Eun-young, a professor of social psychology at Sogang University. “In the past, mothers were expected to be warm and nurturing. Now, they are encouraged to become ‘special mothers,’ who can provide something different that other kids can’t have. It reflects a social demand that you have to win. Yet this can be harmful, because it denies a child the chance to create his own achievements, the ability to control. As a result, kids today find it increasingly hard to control their social relationships and their methods of consumption.”
by Park Soo-mee