Youngsters crave luxury labels : The Morning Call Online December 2, 2006 Youngsters crave luxury labels Upscale retailers find good business catering to 'tweens,' children 8 to 12 years old. By Alana Semuels Los Angeles Times | Dressed in pink Ugg boots, Seven jeans and a matching pink sweater and cap, Elizabeth Cohen looks the epitome of hip as she winds her way through the holiday crowds at a shopping center here. Cohen is a discerning consumer she names Prada and Dolce & Gabbana as her favorite brands. She's also 10 years old. ''I ask her, 'What do you need these for?''' said her mother, Jane Cohen of the Bel-Air district of Los Angeles, who shops mostly at vintage stores and garage sales. But the 10-year-old is hardly unusual. Elizabeth and other ''tweens'' children who are 8 to 12 years old are expected to demand luxury goods this winter. The season's shopfest is under way, and for tweens and teenagers, the search is on for expensive accessories, belts, purses and shoes such as those seen in fashion shows and magazines. ''There's a huge uptick in teens shopping for traditional luxury brands,'' said Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Harrison Group, a marketing firm that recently conducted a survey of teenagers' preferences. ''Having a Gucci scarf is part of being a kid today.'' But even on the affluent west side of Los Angeles, these youths rarely have closets of luxury goods. Many, including Elizabeth Cohen, also shop at Target or Gap, looking for bargains they can mix and match with luxury accessories. ''It's not only the rich communities it's anywhere that kids have an income,'' said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group in New York. ''A lot more kids earn money than used to, and they feel they have the right to spend their money as they see fit.'' Taylor said teenagers buy these brands with allowance money or wages earned from part-time jobs. This can lead to a fair amount of spending on brands once known only to the rich and famous. ''They're 100 percent more brand-conscious today than they used to be,'' said Fraser Ross, owner of the upscale store Kitson. ''A 12-year-old will know what Louis Vuitton is.'' Kitson is known as a high-end west side celebrity haunt. A year ago, Ross added Kitson Kids, but tweens still prefer items at his main store, such as $190 Seven for All Mankind jeans and $650 Isabella Fiore handbags. Many customers, he said, see celebrities wearing brands and buy the same ones. ''I call them ABC girls Armani, Blahnik, Chanel,'' Ross said. ''They wear everything branded.'' Nor is the interest just among girls. Kitson opened a men's store in September. He included clothes in small sizes for boys often propelled to the store by their girlfriends, Ross said. The interest in these brands isn't just for the wealthy, said Kim Ciliberto. She owns Tutti Bella, an e-retailer selling upscale baby and children's clothing, such as embroidered pants by Nolita Pocket, an Italian brand, for $176.95. Ciliberto's sales have more than doubled in the last year, and her customer base spreads across the United States. Some of her clients buy the expensive items for a special occasion, but others splurge on fancy baby and children's gear for everyday wear. ''Both parents and their kids are more label-conscious,'' Ciliberto said. ''Parents start when kids are babies, and by the time kids are older, they recognize the brands.'' Part of this interest comes from baby boomers who have grown up in affluence, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group. In part, parents ''want to show their status through their kids,'' he said. Cohen expects that this holiday season the interest in brands will lead to the ''one-for-you, one-for-me'' phenomenon, in which a mother buying a Coach bag for her 8-year-old daughter will also buy one for herself a boon for luxury retailers. Designer apparel represents about 9 percent of teenage clothing purchases, Cohen said, far greater than the percentage just a few years ago. But if you ask the customers, it's not always Mom and Dad who spur an interest in brands and support luxury purchases. Alex Demopoulos, 12, of Santa Barbara recently stopped by a Coach store during a visit to Los Angeles. She had her eye on a brown purse with a white stripe selling for more than $130. Alex and friend Caitlin Connor, also 12, said their favorite brands were Burberry, Juicy Couture and Gucci. Kids learn of brands from reality TV, celebrity reports and magazines such as Teen Vogue, said Samantha Skey, a senior vice president at Alloy Media and Marketing, a New York youth research and marketing firm. During their tween years, kids switch from being influenced by their parents and the brands they buy to being influenced by their peers and the brands they aspire to own. For many tweens, identifying with a brand is part of developing an identity independent from their parents. This generation's tweens and teens have grown up confident that they will have lucrative careers, so they feel entitled to own luxury brands. But much of the interest in these brands is purely aspirational, Skey said. For many children, this means getting access to luxury products any way they can, such as buying knockoffs, or looking for deals online, or sharing designer handbags with their mothers. Alana Semuels is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.