Is style learned, bought or innate?
For four young Aucklanders Canvas spoke to, it's all three. Whether it's an appreciation for vintage bargains, a wardrobe brimming with designer duds or a knack for combining Zambesi with Glassons, these well-dressed kids have had an interest in clothes from a young age.
Naturally stylish, they are also influenced (and, in some cases, funded) by their parents. But for the most part, their look is their own. They simply have an eye for fashion. A love for it.
Internationally, designer childrenswear is big business. Suri Cruise is said to have had a wardrobe worth $4 million by the time she was 3. Bonnie Young, a couture childrenswear designer based in New York, sells skirts for up to $2000, tapping into the instant customer base the internet allows.
New Zealand's small population makes similar achievements difficult. High-end childrenswear designers Trelise Cooper Kids and Auckland's popular Sugar Free clothing stores have closed as mums buckle down in recessionary times (although you can still buy the latter online). But there are still plenty of places for young Kiwi clothes horses to shop. For tweens who know their way around an op shop, it's entirely possible to pair designer garments with basics from chain stores without giving up a kidney. And for those with bigger wallets, international labels for littlies such as Armani and DKNY are available from stores such as Great Classics in Parnell and Mesamis in Mt Eden.
So here's what the next generation of style stars are wearing. Be warned: their wardrobes may make you sick with envy.
THE INDIE KID
"I don't really like black or dull colours," says Madeleine Brighouse, 14, standing beneath a kitsch, multi-coloured chandelier in her peach and pink Mt Eden bedroom. Today she's wearing skinny black jeans, a black and white striped singlet under a skull T-shirt and a pair of red Doc Martens - an outfit not entirely representative of her vibrant aesthetic.
"These are just school clothes," she says, typically offhand.
What she really loves are the statement pieces hanging in her small wardrobe: a cobalt blue mullet skirt from Supre, a turquoise pleated number from Glassons, a sequinned cartoon shift dress found in a Vulcan Lane boutique. As exuberant as this sounds, what gives Madeleine's look its distinctive edge are the rock 'n' roll undertones.
She pairs pretty much everything with Doc Martens. On the floor near a few balls of coloured wool and opposite her drum kit (she's been playing for three years), is her beloved Docs collection - in black, red, bright green, and a pair with a rainbow platform heel. Then there's the slouchy tartan blazer from Paper Bag Princess and a black, silver and gold structured minidress from Ruby that looks like it came straight out of The Jetsons. (Her other favourite Ruby is Kiwi musician and style star, Ruby Frost.)
As a kid Madeleine shunned skirts and dresses, and wouldn't be seen dead in pink, opting for "things you can climb trees in". Her mum used to ask if she wanted to wear Pumpkin Patch like the other kids. Madeleine was aghast.
"I was the odd kid. Other kids would say to me, you can't play with us."
Even now, her cool pixie haircut is sometimes a target of ridicule from students who share her school bus. Those girls would likely baulk with embarrassment knowing that the style they see as unacceptably androgynous has attracted the attention of two top New Zealand designers.
Madeleine met one of them at the opening of Topshop in Takapuna, which she attended, aged 12, with her mum.
The designer came up to admire her leather jacket with the sleeves rolled up, which she'd paired with an old T-shirt, skinny jeans and, of course, Doc Marten boots.
"She said, 'I like what you're wearing, I like your style'. I said to mum, 'who's that lady?' Mum said, 'that's Karen Walker'."
She also has a friend in Tanja Jade, aka Misery, best-known for her artwork and clothing that mixes the innocent and the sinister, a look Madeleine has recreated in the skull cushions she knitted for her bed. Along with Ruby and Huffer, one of Madeleine's favourite local labels is Cuda Sisters, Jade's new label with her sister and a friend.
"I loved Misery for a long time and my mum met her at a convention and said 'my daughter really likes you, so she did me some postcards'."
A small artwork painted just for her has pride of place among her Misery collection above the bed.
Madeleine gets $100 clothing allowance a month from her parents. "I have to use it wisely because it covers everything."
She shops at Glassons, Ruby, Cotton On, vintage stores and occasionally Trade Me, where she has picked up a $5 Zambesi men's tee and several pairs of Docs.
"I'm waiting a couple of months and saving up. I've got my eye on a bright orange jumper and a bright green, blue and black colour-blocked dress from Ruby."
No guesses as to what she'll wear with it. "Just Docs and a pair of tights."
Nonchalant about her sartorial gift, she often leaves the house wearing the most outrageously colourful ensembles, says her mother Anya Brighouse, a fashion writer and interior designer.
Yes, she is influenced by her mum to a degree but Madeleine's choices are all her own (bearing in mind Anya's two rules: nothing sexual and not too much black. Unlike her daughter, Anya has a wardrobe full of dark clothes.)
Considering Madeleine has limited access to television, magazines and the internet, she must be inspired by what she sees on the street, says Anya. It's also a hobby. Every year Madeleine writes a fashion blog for Thread.co.nz (for which Anya also writes), traipsing through the crowd at the Parachute music festival to find "people whose insides match their outsides".
For Madeleine, style is inherent and it's hard to believe she has her sights set on being a veterinarian or an engineer.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm keen on all clothes. I like bright clothes, out-of-the-ordinary clothes. If I see something I like I'll just try it with a whole lot of other things. I don't really think about it that much."
Christelle Blanchard is only 8 but she already has a wardrobe most of us could only dream about.
"This one's from Australia, I got this in London, this is from LA, and this one's from Miami," she says, proudly pointing out a selection of pretty dresses.
We're in Christelle's pink-themed bedroom. Posters of Beyonce and Willow Smith are tacked on the door. Many of her glittery gowns her grandmother brought home from London. Christelle is a girly-girl with a penchant for feathered headbands, fur stoles and bling. Even her blue jeans are embellished with silver studs.
"I've got a lot of jewellery," she says, showing off a Barbie doll-shaped accessories rack and a handbag in the shape of a pug dog.
"And she wears it all at once," adds her mum, Michelle, who is accustomed to toning down her daughter's "more is more" approach to dressing.
"Can I please wear this one, even though I can't wear it until I'm 12 years old?" asks Christelle, pulling her umpteenth party dress from the wardrobe, and draping it on the bed. The answer is no.
Never mind, there are plenty more to choose from: a silk, pleated beauty in rose pink, a white, tiered flapper dress and her favourite, a mint-green frou-frou frock with black lace overlay.
"I wear them to parties in summer. And the holidays."
Christelle's mum is a former fashion model from London and her dad is a businessman. The family travels extensively, taking three trips abroad a year. Christelle's wardrobe is, not surprisingly, a global affair. It's also very glamorous. A leopard-print dress from Australian label Bardot and a black shift with silver detailing would look right at home in any 20-something's wardrobe should they come a few sizes up.
Michelle does most of the shopping but it's clear Christelle has a huge interest in clothes.
Her passion for fashion began at age 5, when she was picked to model for Trelise Cooper Kids at Fashion Week. The label specialised in detailed party frocks and was Christelle's "absolute favourite", says Michelle. Since it closed, she says she
has struggled to find good quality childrenswear in New Zealand.
"I guess people just don't really want to spend the money. They don't see the need because children grow out of their clothing. Christelle will [grow out of them] but then I give them to her cousin, who's smaller. You just hand them down. But at least I can hand down clothing that's decent. It's good quality and it holds itself well. I always buy bigger than what she is."
Christelle nods. "So I will have it for a long time."
At Great Classics in Parnell, Michelle stocks up once a season, bringing home a selection of clothing and allowing the kids to choose what they like. The rest is returned.
Christelle's 10-year-old brother Curtis is less forthcoming about his top-notch wardrobe but says he has just as much input into the shopping as his mum.
"I'm looking for the tuxedo," he says, rifling through a preppy selection of Armani, Ben Sherman and Diesel, in a palette of navy blues, green and red. He pulls out a pair of pressed cream Hugo Boss shorts in a dry-cleaning bag. "These are the ones I got chewing gum on."
Two studded skull T-shirts from Selfridges in London - one green, one red - are tossed on to the pile before he begs his mum to let him get out his tuxedo. "It's my favourite out of every single thing."
How would Curtis describe his style?
"Kind of fashiony. I don't like the stuff mum gives me sometimes so I'll change it. She always used to give me a sweater, which was itchy and I hate it."
"Can I wear this?" he asks his mum. "No. That's my leather jacket."
Even future fashionistas have to follow the rules.
THE VINTAGE PRINCESS
How many clothes does 12-year-old Tiggy Tattersfield-Collins own?
The Waitakere Primary student leans against the bunk in her bedroom and counts, and counts ...
"Thousands," she beams.
Where does she keep it all?
"I have big drawers," she says, pointing to a bulging dresser. "I got Dad to make me racks. I have half here and half with Mum. So I have two sets of clothes. And I've got even more at my Mum's."
Not surprisingly, Tiggy has help at hand for her ever-expanding wardrobe. Her stepmum, Aimee, owns the Auckland designer recycle boutique, Tatty's. "I'm there, like, all the time," she says. "Every week."
It's where she's been able to pick up some great pieces for a fraction of the retail cost. There's the navy ruffled Karen Walker dress and the pink and purple Zambesi jersey. Topshop is another favourite - it's where she scored a puffball graphic-printed skirt - as is Garage, where she picked up a very cool pair of brown brogue ankle boots. And although she likes to window shop the Ponsonby boutiques, she's not averse to finding quirky items in mainstream shops. Her denim dungarees came from Just Jeans; the holey white H&M skirt her grandparents brought back for her from London.
"The first things I ask for for my birthday are clothes and shoes. I'm not the sort of person who's a shopaholic. But I do go shopping with friends sometimes. I take $20 usually but I have to work for my $20. But I can't spend it on silly things. I have to use it wisely."
She earns her dosh by helping her dad, an artist, at the Sunday Takapuna markets, where they sell vintage clothes. Her bedroom walls are covered in his work.
Tiggy's helter-skelter collection of op shop items might seem overwhelming but she has a knack of pulling things together in a classic yet youthful way.
There is a photograph of her by the bed looking like a chic Parisian in a red oversized cardigan, black skirt and black tights. Another favourite look is younger, less restrained: the puffball skirt with a contrasting bright yellow singlet. Over time she has progressed from an obsession with skinny jeans - "the skinnier the better", says Aimee - to a preference for skirts and dresses, such as the black fairy mini from Ruby she's wearing today, paired with a black Johnny Cash T-shirt and her red Vans.
"I'm in a black mood today. I get in lots of different moods. I was in a pink mood yesterday. I had on a pink jumper, jeans, pink headband and pink shoes."
Were the jeans pink too?
"No! I don't like when some people just wear one colour because sometimes it's not right, you know? I like colours that work well together."
Tiggy was 5 when she became interested in fashion. She loves magazines "with models on the front".
"Mum always gave me good quality clothes when I was little. She always said, I used to give you OshKosh and stuff like that. She likes clothes herself. I got more into clothes when Dad met Aimee. I was about 9 and she had Tatty's."
Aimee says she never has to worry about Tiggy wearing anything inappropriate for her age. It's always very practical, "although she'd kill me for saying that".
So who does Tiggy, a budding actress who proudly keeps her Queen of Hearts costume on her bedroom hanger, admire in the fashion world?
"Karen Walker. And I quite like Karl Lagerfeld, he's very famous in fashion. I don't really have any of his clothes but I try to put together cool outfits that are unique."