- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2005

Well-heeled parents splurge on teenagers’ accessories

NEW YORK

When Sydney Ramsden complained she didn’t have a purse for her 13th birthday dinner at Manhattan’s “21” Club last year, her mother bought her a black nylon bag — a $230 Prada “pochette.”

“It went perfectly with my outfit,” says Sydney, an eighth-grader at a private, Upper East Side girls’ school who has since added a pink Prada pocketbook to her accessory wardrobe. For Christmas, she wants Louis Vuitton.

Teenagers are the new kids on the block for the luxury stores on Madison and Fifth avenues, where retailers pay the world’s highest rents. Fueled by Mom’s and Dad’s credit cards, girls are snapping up $1,500 bags and $480 cashmere tracksuits, helping drive record sales for companies such as Prada of Milan and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton of Paris.

The young customers include daughters of bankers and lawyers, set to splurge into 2006 as their parents collect more than $17.5 billion in year-end bonuses from Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.

For Sydney’s birthday, her parents also bought a $250 Juicy Couture argyle sweater and a $295 chunky silver necklace from Tiffany & Co., the nation’s largest chain of high-end jewelry stores. Accessories for their daughter, who wears a uniform to school, run about $1,500 a year, says Susan Ramsden, 41.

Dan Ramsden, 40, is a managing director at Near Earth LLC, which does satellite industry investment banking for San Francisco-based Thomas Weisel Partners LLC. Mrs. Ramsden is a former buyer for AnnTaylor Stores Corp., whose own favorite brands are Prada and Tod’s SpA, an Italian maker of bags and loafers soled with rubber spikes.

“It doesn’t matter that they are only 16, 18 or 23,” says Patricia Edwards, who helps manage $6.4 billion in assets, including retailers’ shares, at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich in Seattle. “They think they should be able to have a good life.”

For LVMH, the world’s largest luxury-goods maker and purveyor of purses with the “LV” monogram, sales rose 12 percent in the third quarter. Prada’s revenue increased 23 percent in the year’s first half.

Average monthly same-store sales at department stores that appeal to upper-income consumers jumped 7.3 percent in the year through October, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That was about double the 3.8 percent increase for all department stores.

Top European fashion houses are catering to the younger set. Italy’s Valentino made Jacqueline Kennedy’s gown for her 1968 wedding to Aristotle Onassis and dressed Princess Grace of Monaco. Now, Valentino Fashion Group SpA has a line called R.E.D. that was featured in September’s Teen Vogue.

Some girls are so eager for the French and Italian goods that they call Europe to beat U.S. waiting lists. Samantha Sussman, 15, acquired her $900 Chloe Paddington purse by asking her aunt to pick it up on a trip to Paris.

Samantha, a 10th-grader at an Upper East Side girls’ school, has a Vuitton bag she received from her grandmother for her junior-high graduation and a quilted Chanel handbag, a hand-me-down from her mother.

“It’s a classic thing,” she says.

Juicy Couture, a unit of Liz Claiborne that sells a “socialite” pink cashmere tracksuit, has added $900 purses styled for customers as young as 18. Juicy Couture-clad Barbie dolls also are available, at about $100 for a set of two.

“High-school kids love Juicy, no doubt about it,” says Michelle Sanders, vice president and fashion director of Liz Claiborne’s Juicy Couture. “They’re probably our more vocal customers.”

At Coach, the largest U.S. seller of luxury leather goods, the average bag costs $250, with 18- to 24-year-olds accounting for about 10 percent of sales, spokeswoman Andrea Resnick says. Coach’s profit jumped 54 percent in the quarter ended Oct. 1.

“It used to be that the mother was carrying the high-end bag,” says Rebecca Resnick, senior accessories editor at Teen Vogue in Manhattan. “Now, the mothers and the daughters are carrying them.”

The magazine, a spinoff of the 113-year-old fashion bible Vogue, was started by Conde Nast Publications in 2003. The target audience: girls ages 12 to 20. Fashion advertising pages jumped 55 percent in the year through September, including double-page spreads for Tod’s and Burberry Group of London.

Manhattan teens also are taking cues from celebrities such as the 19-year-old Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, who moved to the city last year to attend New York University. Mary-Kate’s style — dubbed “Dumpster chic” for its baggy pants, oversized sweaters and vintage items from secondhand stores — includes a cup of coffee and a $1,500 bag from Balenciaga, a fashion house that is part of Gucci Group.

Along with Balenciaga, adolescents are hot for goods bearing the names of Armani and Gucci, according to a “brand-love index” compiled by Harrison Group, a Waterbury, Conn., market research firm.

The two fashion labels joined Microsoft, Apple Computer and Abercrombie & Fitch to round out the five brands with the biggest increases in popularity from 2003, the firm said after an October poll of 500 persons ages 13 to 24.

“Materialism is way up this year,” says Jim Taylor, a Harrison Group vice chairman. Fewer respondents are saying that “I want to make the world a better place for everyone,” he says.

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