Teens seek luxury items for back-to-school wardrobes

Associated Press

August 1, 2007


NEW YORK (AP) -- Before Claire Stern goes back to school as a high school senior this fall, she needs a new tote. But not just any bag will do.

"I want a tote bag by Jaye Hersh that the celebrities are wearing, they're called Market Bags," said Stern, 17, who lives in Bronxville, New York. "It's more stylish than a backpack."

The bags retail for more than $100 if they're monogrammed and Stern has noticed actresses Reese Witherspoon and Jessica Alba wearing them.

Shopping for back-to-school apparel is a late summer ritual. But as tweens and teens become increasingly savvy about fashion, they're asking for luxury products, such as $200 designer handbags and $100-plus jeans.

Industry trade group The International Council of Shopping Centers expects back-to-school sales will grow 5 percent in 2007 to $27 billion.

Mid-tier and discount retailers have been facing pressure this year, as consumers cut down on extra expenses to battle rising gas prices and a sagging housing market. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. earlier this month, for example, cut prices on more than 16,000 items in a bid to turn around sales for the critical back-to-school season.

Meanwhile, the luxury market is booming. Sales worldwide topped $150 billion last year.

Teens are playing an increasing part in that, according to experts, as Web sites, tabloids and TV shows detailing celebrities and fashion make kids more aware of and demanding for luxury goods than ever before.

"They're prime candidates for luxury," said Gerald Celente, publisher of Trends Journal, a newsletter that tracks a wide range of trends. "Their world is the entertainment world and that's what they're focused into."

Jacqueline Nasser, ELLEgirl Fashion Market Editor, said teens take a cue from shows like "Laguna Beach," "The O.C.," "The Hills" and "My Super Sweet 16" that portray a certain lifestyle.

"They have been surrounded by celebrities and TV programs where fashion is the central point," she said. "They even have younger celebrities in the ads for designer labels -- Scarlett Johansson for Louis Vuitton, Lindsay Lohan for Jill Stuart, etc." InStyle: Make stars' styles your own

Lydia Stover, 16, said she regularly studies celebrity magazines such as People for fashion inspiration and cites Nicole Richie as someone whose style she admires.

Stover, who will be going into 11th grade at Kingston High School in Kingston, New York, saved up $200 dollars for a Coach bag and covets a Gaucho-style bag for fall.

"Sometimes I'll look at what celebrities are wearing, and think 'Oh, that's a cute outfit' and recreate it somehow," she said.

Amy Klaris, a branding specialist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates, said over the past year or two years, having a luxury item has become more important to teens.

"There are so many icons out there right now for them," Klaris said. "There's more people they're looking up to and wanting to emulate, and they can do that through accessories."

Where parents put their foot down depends on their income, said Klaris. And while a wardrobe of Prada might be too much for a parent to handle, they might be more willing to spend on accessories, she said.

"They want their kids to fit in," she said. "They're still buying T-shirts at Target, but still having that (luxury) handbag."

Bloomingdale's fashion director Stephanie Solomon said this year, teen shoppers at the department stores nationwide are clamoring after $300 Chanel sunglasses, designer handbags by Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Chloe -- which can cost between $900 and $1,250 -- and $200 to $300 Tory Burch shoes. InStyle: Check out celebrity shoe trends

"It's really about the accessories," she said. "The fact that you can wear sunglasses every day and carry the same handbag every day justifies the expense."

Solomon said the recent surge in lower priced lines by designers -- Marc by Marc Jacobs, for example, or Proenza Schouler for Target -- help teens afford designer fashion, but have also made them aware of the higher-priced lines.

"They're a segue into the designer sectors," she said.

ELLEgirl's Nasser also said accessories are the entry point for teens buying luxury items.

"Handbags are huge," she said. "They are definitely a status symbol. So whether it's Marc Jacobs, Luis Vuitton, Yves St. Laurent or Chanel, girls will want the hot bags that they see all the celebrities carrying."

Jeans -- the premium denim that has been popular for several years and costs between $100 and $300-- are another popular choice.

"Having the coolest label of denim is something that every girl desires," Nasser said. "J Brand, Acne, Earnest Sewn, True Religion, Ksubi are all brands that will be big this year."

Katie Siembieda, 14, who will be a sophomore at Drake High School in Fairfax, California, said that while she likes to shop for back-to-school clothes at thrift stores and find bargains, she splurges on premium denim. InStyle: See stars in jeans

For the fall, she wants a pair of True Religion or Lucky jeans, which retail for more than $100. She saved up her own money to get her previous pair of Lucky jeans.

"They're nice, but they're very expensive," she said.

Celente, publisher of Trends Journal, said that while teens might not have full time jobs, they don't have many expenses either, so they spend all their money on themselves.

Youth research company Teenage Research Unlimited, said teenagers between 12 and 19 years old spent $179 billion in 2006, or $102 per teen per week.

"(Teens) don't have mortgages to pay and they don't have rent," Celente said. "They have disposable income."

Stern, who has saved up her own money to buy $200 Tory Burch shoes and thinks $125 Ray Ban sunglasses will be popular this year, agreed.

"Since I'm in high school and not really concerned about rent money, if I want to buy stuff for me, with money I earn, its going to be something to do with fashion," she said.

Stern added there is a limit to her back to school spending. Her parents would draw the line, for example, at an iPhone, which retails for about $600 -- the total amount Stern predicts she'll spend on back-to-school shopping.

"Although it is cool and new, it is too much money and there are a few flaws in it," she said. "I understand why my parents wouldn't pay for it."