A Baby-Booty Boom

Forget the silver spoon. It takes a lot more than a highfalutin eating utensil to signal wealth among the spit-up set these days. Among the gifts bestowed on Willow Camille Reign Smith since she was born in October to American movie star Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith: an $865 Gucci diaper bag, and no fewer than 10 baby baskets--each stuffed with such goodies as rhinestone-studded jean jackets and Kate Spade baby bags and priced up to $1,500. "I love Gucci, always have," says Pinkett Smith. Her recent purchases include a $1,280 Gucci motorcycle suit for her 2-year-old son, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith. "It feels good just putting it on, and you want to look and feel good in your clothes, and so does your family."

With the economy in the United States and most of Western Europe thriving and the current crop of celebrities producing plenty of babies along with their CDs and movies, top fashion designers and other luxury merchants are targeting the moms and dads who have it all--and want to share it with the kids. Besides Gucci and Kate Spade, Versace, Burberry and Tse have all introduced designer lines for little ones in the past two years. And parents are plunking down big bucks for everything from custom art works to cars, diamonds and even furs for their little Mini-Mes.

The baby-luxury boom began about three years ago, when the Gap launched a high-end infant line, says Tom Julian, trend analyst for Fallon Advertising in New York. "That identified the market and showed that people were receptive to the idea of luxury goods for babies." Since then, the market has surged. Last year Americans spent a record $7.9 billion on infant and toddler apparel, up almost $1 billion from the year before, and analysts say the trend is spreading across Europe. "People are doing more with their children," says Bill Amberg, the London-based leather-goods designer whose range includes a $395 shearling-and-leather papoose favored by Posh Spice and Madonna, and who is about to introduce a $2,000 titanium-framed stroller. "You're out and about, and want something that goes with your lifestyle, like a nappy bag that looks like a handbag. You don't want to walk around with something covered with bunny rabbits and little bears."

Zitomer, a high-end department store in New York, is one place where celebrities can load up on expensive loot for their kids. Says owner Sharon Sternheim, "They don't feel like it's going overboard--they just want to feel like they're paying for quality they can see.'' At Zitomer these days, they're seeing it in a line of cashmere booties, gloves, hats and sweaters that cost up to $350 a pop. "It's easy to go wild because everything is so cute and fun," says supermodel Cindy Crawford, who's bought her share of the cashmere.

If celebrities are leading the way, the average new parent isn't far behind. Mark Roberts, a London media analyst, recently bought his 4-year-old son an Armani evening jacket at the London department store Selfridges. "It is worth paying the price for the quality and look of the clothes," he said. "If I dress smartly for a social occasion, it is equally pleasing to dress my children in the same way." Janice Gilbert, 28, a sales associate at Macy's in New York, spent most of one paycheck on the same Gucci diaper bag that Jada Pinkett Smith bought. "I saw it in InStyle [magazine] and knew I had to have it," says Gilbert, whose son, Jalen, is 5 months old.

Of course, it's unlikely that many average working stiffs will line up to buy Gucci's child-size white mink coat at more than $4,000 or Michael Kors's $2,000 crocodile-trimmed canvas diaper bag. "It's the ultimate wee-wee pad for many of my clients whom I suspect will never change a diaper but can carry the bag and pretend they do," he says.

Even if a parent can afford them, who really needs such extravagant gifts? Is this sort of heavy-handed materialism bad for kids, even rich kids? A teacher at a celebrity-heavy school in Beverly Hills doesn't think so. "They're living a surreal life anyway," says the teacher, who asked that her name not be used. "So a Gucci diaper bag isn't going to hurt or help one way or another." But she does see risks for kids whose parents are struggling to pay the rent and buying them Gucci. "They may have some false expectations of life and may not handle it well when they can't get those things, or want more."

But designers are having fun dreaming up these over-the-top goodies. And they realize that babies are lifelong clients in the making. "There's the potential of getting these children hooked on such refined quality from the very beginning," says Julian. Santa, are you listening?