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The Luxury Market for Babies and Toddlers Is Back

Jessica Grose
Photo by: Courtey of the Daily Mail
In a Daily Mail home-exhibition tour in 1920, designers re-created the nursery of the Queen of Belgium, using toy-hiding curtains, a white crib, and wallpaper printed with adventures.

When my daughter was born, my sister-in-law gave her a beautiful cashmere sweater. My baby promptly spit up all over it. The next time I tried to put it on her, it was already too small. Model and designer Julia Restoin Roitfeld, the wealthy daughter of former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, wants to help me buy a new one. In March she launched a website for mothers called Romy & the Bunnies, featuring interviews with socialite mommies—publishing heiress Fabiola Beracasa says of her postpartum workout, “We have been spending a lot of time in our Hamptons house, where I have access to a fantastic indoor swimming pool”—and very high-end baby clothes. “Must-haves” include a $70 LemLem sleeveless cotton onesie and a cotton Appleseed sweater from Tane Organics that retails for $83.

Romy joins the upscale playgroup of Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop, which recommends $700 Ouef cribs, and the flash sale site Gilt Groupe, whose baby gear section offers $52 Bensimon Tennis Forres shoes. Even the devoutly middlebrow People magazine has a celebrity baby website that links to $200 Stella McCartney bomber jackets for toddlers.

The luxury baby market didn’t really exist before the 1990s, says Alan Fields, the co-author of Baby Bargains, a consumer handbook for baby products. Baby-only megastores such as Buybuy Baby and Babies “R” Us (both founded in 1996) included products at all price points and helped to stoke demand for $500 cribs and $200 baby monitors. So did the introduction of online commerce in the early aughts, which allowed pricier European companies such as the Italian brand Peg Perego to pick up market share with its $800 strollers. And when the Bugaboo Frogs stroller was featured on Sex and the City in August 2002, it pushed the entire stroller market up, says personal finance expert Helaine Olen. “Suddenly, a $700 UppaBaby stroller looked reasonable.”

The luxury baby market declined precipitously in 2008. IBISWorld senior retail analyst Nikoleta Panteva says sales of baby and kids clothing dipped 9.2 percent during the recession, and revenue fell from $10.3 billion in 2007 to $9.4 billion a year later. But the category has rebounded; by 2014 it’s projected to grow 4.3 percent to $10.6 billion.

This return in part reflects the improvement of the economy but also a growing number of older parents who have more disposable income. Since 1990 the number of first babies born to women older than 40 has tripled. Our parenting-obsessed culture is sold on the idea of buying the “right” products for our children, says Olen. “A lot of cribmakers are having their cribs Greenguard certified,” author Fields says. The process, allowing companies to guarantee their furniture doesn’t contain dangerous chemicals, raises the price of a crib from about $200 to at least $600. Fields estimates that organic crib bedding is 15 percent to 20 percent more costly than its nonorganic counterpart.

Fields and Olen also point to the tabloids. Both Us Weekly and People have weekly sections devoted to celebrities and their offspring, featuring shots of stars such as Hillary Duff shopping at Splendid with her baby son. IBISWorld’s Panteva adds that Gen Y moms and dads, born between about 1970 and 1990, are particularly brand aware. Sites such as Romy & the Bunnies may have a sort of Bugaboo effect, pushing the rest of the market up. Unless you’re well-off, you probably won’t shell out $70 for a onesie. But that $35 organic-cotton baby dress that Gisele Bündchen’s daughter was photographed in starts to seem completely affordable. Spit-up not included.