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Kids at the catwalk: In defence of taking children to fashion shows

What is it about taking kids to catwalk shows that makes people so cross? I don’t get it. You can take kids to music festivals, you can take them to fancy restaurants, you can take them to far-flung corners of the world, and the world will look on and think: that’s cool, it’s all good life experience. But take them to Somerset House for a London Fashion Week catwalk show? Cue more pious outrage than that time Michael Jackson dangled his kids out of a hotel window.
Does it make people cross because they think you are using the kid as an accessory to attract attention, like a new pair of Sophia Webster shoes? This would make sense if the fashion industry was peopled only by neurotic loners who use their ovens for shoe storage and have no human contact between one show season and the next, but in reality this workforce has a disproportionately high rate of working mothers. So, perhaps it makes people cross because they believe fashion is inherently morally degenerate, and therefore the front row no more of a place for a child than a crack den? Um, run that one by me? Because I fail to see how the next generation will be inexorably corrupted by early exposure to the return of the high-waisted trouser.

Jess Cartner-Morley and her daughter at London fashion week.
Photograph: Jess Cartner-Morley

As you may have guessed, I have taken my kids to fashion shows. When I returned to work after having my first baby, Alfie was just six months old, so my mum came with me to New York and Paris fashion weeks, looking after him while I was working. I never took him to a show myself, because I just didn’t see how I could concentrate and take sufficiently detailed notes on a collection to write a news review while simultaneously bouncing a baby. (Kim Kardashian doesn’t have this problem, obviously.) But, at Paris Fashion Week, a friend who came down with flu, knowing my fashion-loving mum would love to see a show, offered her tickets to Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney. Mum sat in the fourth row, Alfie on her knee. He was utterly transfixed, and clapped wildly at the end. (He was particularly enthusiastic about YSL. I like to think that he recognised the design genius of Tom Ford, but in reality he had just learnt to clap and was really pleased with himself.) Since my daughter Pearl was about six – old enough to sit still during the sometimes-lengthy waiting, and then sketch quietly – I have taken her to a few Saturday shows most London fashion weeks.

The kids you see on the front row of fashion shows are not there for show, but for very practical reasons. The month of catwalk shows doesn’t break for weekends, because it is more time- and money-efficient to schedule the four cities – New York, London, Milan, then Paris – back to back. If a buyer from LA has flown to Milan, she doesn’t want to twiddle her thumbs in a hotel room – and miss her own kids back home, most likely – so that the locals can hang out with their families. It’s an efficient system. Nevertheless, most of us would quite like our kids to be able to pick us out in a line-up once fashion month ends. So what’s the harm in combining a Saturday morning at the shows with spending some time with your child?

The Beckham family with Anna Wintour at the Victoria Beckham show.
Photograph: PixelFormula/Sipa/Rex

But there are politics involved, for sure. The plus-mini-one scenario is entirely different in celebrity and civilian scenarios. If you are a celebrity, the designer will be thrilled you brought your kid, because the paparazzi love nothing more than a celebrity baby, so it’s great publicity. This does not apply, obviously, for us civilians. The Saturday-morning-baby thing is tolerated – after all, lots of designers and show organisers are women with kids and understand – but you have to play by the rules. You don’t bring kids until they are old enough to behave themselves: this is someone else’s big day, and not yours to jeopardise by bringing a toddler who might have a tantrum. And you never, ever let your child sit on a seat next to you until the lights go down and you are completely sure the seat is free.

But you know what? Kids are so much fun at fashion shows. As Kanye West said the other day, “Fashion is merely opinions. And I have lots of opinions.” Kids have a million opinions, and they are not afraid to share them, which makes the after-show debrief hilarious. Also, children have an incredibly low bar when it comes to celebrity, and so are made up when they get to have their picture taken with anyone even vaguely off the telly, which is perfect for London Fashion Week where your Jolie-Pitts are hard to come by, but every other show has someone from Saturday-night light entertainment in the front row.

But I’ll be honest: there are downsides. For a start, you can’t have a kir royale and a couple of canapes and call it lunch. I may be an irresponsible, front-row-with-kid mummy, but even I know that.

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