Teen 'runway' gets pricey
Once marketed exclusively to adults, high-priced fashion turns to high-schoolers.
By YLAN Q. MUI
WASHINGTON -- Brandon Singleton was 8 when he first saw the movie "Clueless," and it changed his life.
He was entranced by the paradise of teenage consumption the 1995 film portrayed, a Hollywood world of valet parking and designer duds. When he entered Suitland High School in Prince George's County, Md., four years ago, he was determined to make it his reality.
Now 17, he wears Armani sunglasses inside his mother's modest townhome as he rattles off his favorite designer brands: Dolce & amp; Gabbana, Coach and "a little Burberry here and there." His first luxury purchase was shiny black Gucci pants he bought for $450 -- all the money he received for his 14th birthday.
"I'm trying to do it big," he explained.
Unlike the flannel-clad generation before them, today's teenagers are indulging more than ever in luxury goods once marketed to adults -- and paying grownup prices. Walk the hallways of high schools across the country, and you'll find girls toting Louis Vuitton purses and car keys dangling from Burberry chains.
"People are always telling me that I walk through the hallways like it's a fashion show," Singleton said. "I tell them: 'Boo, it's my fashion show. It's my runway."'
Designer labels account for about 7 percent of U.S. clothing purchases. But among teens, the figure doubles to 14 percent, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst with the marketing research company NPD Fashionworld. Marketing experts said those numbers reflect increasingly sophisticated tastes of American teenagers, who spent $191 billion last year: They don't drink just coffee. They drink grande skim vanilla lattes with extra foam.
Some of the latest ads for designer Marc Jacobs feature youthful, freckled faces. Versace enlisted pop singer Christina Aguilera to showcase its couture. Dooney & amp; Burke, which makes handbags, has signed teen singer-actress Lindsay Lohan as the face of the brand and gives away her CDs at its flagship stores.
Financing such a lifestyle takes its toll. The average college sophomore has more than $2,000 of credit-card debt, according to Cardweb.com.
College seems far away for Lily Kunin, 16, and several of her friends at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County, Md., who discussed their obsessions: Uggs and jeans by Seven for All Mankind, as well as Longchamps's Le Pliage shoulder bags.
Kunin, an admitted clotheshorse, said she has six pairs of Sevens jeans, which are about $150 each. She also has a pair of this year's coveted "classic short" lilac Ugg boots. They are backordered on the company's Web site for $110 and next to impossible to find in stores.
To school, she often wears a Juicy Couture track jacket or pants -- she has them in four colors. The pants start at about $75, and the jackets at about $90.
Of course, not everyone dresses as if they were auditioning to be an extra on "The O.C." According to Cardweb.com, a Frederick, Md., firm that tracks the credit industry, the average high-schooler spends about $66 a week -- barely enough for the tiny ID card/coin purse from Dooney & amp; Burke.
But that doesn't mean designer labels are the sole domain of teenagers with money to burn. Singleton, an only child raised by a single mother, said he spends his entire paycheck from his part-time job on clothing.
The Bank of Mom and Dad
Elizabeth Barnett, a 16-year-old junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, said her parents usually don't object to paying for high-priced clothes, such as designer jeans or polo shirts. She talked her mother into buying her a blue suede Coach totebag by promising to let her mother borrow it now and then. But trendy extras -- such as her pink Von Dutch trucker hat -- come out of her pocket.
Lily and several friends said they use money from part-time or summer jobs for purchases or turn to the Bank of their Parents.
And there are plenty of students sporting fake Louis Vuitton purses and wallets.
Also, Cohen, the marketing analyst, said the teen market has begun to fragment, with such products as iPods and camera phones competing for teenagers' dollars. And though Barnett said she is passionate about fashion, she has to draw the line somewhere.
"Prada is really expensive," she said. "I'm happy sticking with my Coach and Kate Spade."