There are still black leather dresses in the shops for infant Avengers. But they look a bit passé by now. This winter fashion-conscious children are wearing light-flowered wool, genuine or near-genuine Liberty prints. I have never actually met a child dressed quite so much like an adult. But they obviously exist.
They do not want flounces, these sophisticated children; they spurn tiny bows and wishy-washy colours; they have taken up denim and abandoned organdie. Children’s clothes suppliers may keep their soppy names – Gay Child, Small Wonder, Little People – but their merchandise has become comparatively brutal. The clothes in the new Small Wonder shop are bold and sensible; small dark smocks, subtly striped Finnish cotton shifts, stretch jeans. They make a few concessions to gentility; this is, after all, the heart of Chelsea. But basically, Small Wonder is anti-sentimental, on the way to the offhand adult shops farther down King’s Road: His Clothes, for instance, and Top Gear.
I think it has been pushed in that direction. First by Marks and Spencer, whose practical, bright, imaginative designs make pastels with frills look absurd. Secondly, more specifically, by Grade One, a small South Kensington shop opened two years ago by a young architect (and father). His business grew into a department in Woollands, and now a brand-new pine-fitted Swiss Cottage branch. Alistair Cowin’s clothes are tough, decorative, jolly. Absolutely classless, too; quite cheap.
He sat on the cutting table in his grey denim suit, a large-scale version of his child designs, which helped to explain why his clothes are beginning to go beyond Grade One. It is simple: grown-ups keep coming in and asking for children’s clothes. Twelve-year-old sizes are wide enough already: “We’ve only got to add three inches to the hem.”
All the clothes illustrated are available from Grade One, 8 New College Parade, Finchley Road, London NW3.