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Kitten Walk

The models in avant-garde designer Jared Gold's recent fashion show have the attention span of 3-year-olds. Because they are, in fact, 3 years old. And 5 and 6 and 7. You might think fashion shows for little girls are a poor substitute for grown-up shows. You'd be wrong.

"This is the best fashion show I've ever been to," says one woman who has been tasked with holding the little girls' hands while stomping the makeshift runway at Royal/T café. Learning how to walk properly, always a cause for consternation among show organizers, is an especially big deal. Some of the youngest models, being babies — actual babies — haven't yet mastered the art of standing up.

Among the aspiring Cindy Crawfords and Agyness Deyns, the hugging is intense. Girls who are strangers to one another mere minutes before embrace like long-lost sisters. But jealousy — over who gets to wear the sparkliest bracelet, or the least boyish hat — is there, too, in sideways glances and pouts, a kind of embryonic cattiness. The girls learn fashion's most essential vocabulary. Says the designer, while buttoning one little girl's shirt: "You look fabulous. Can you say fabulous?"

Little girl: "Fabulous."

Gold is known for macabre designs, which appeal to, in his words, "the deeply fashion-damaged." Or, in other words, adults. He once made a brooch from a live Madagascar hissing cockroach, and encrusted it with Swarovski crystals. You pin it to your lapel and it crawls around while tethered to a small chain. But if ever there was a demographic that can appreciate a piece of jewelry that doubles as a totally gross pet, it is kids.

For his Alice In Wonderland–inspired children's line, Gold made A-line dresses, knee-length coats and fleece bolero capes with jingle bells and other details parents find amusing.

"You don't usually see pencil skirts for little girls," a mom says. "Careful honey," she adds, watching as her daughter scoots across the floor. "If you get the skirt dirty, Mommy will have to buy it."

The models, naturally, are disappointed to learn they could not wear the clothes home. Amid the chaos, as girls run helter-skelter around the room, Gold looks at the jumble of clothes and says, "This isn't too bad, really. It's not as bad as my regular shows."

Like their grown-up counterparts, these models are accustomed to being dressed and undressed and told in no uncertain terms which sweater goes with which shirt. They are not, however, used to makeup. Lip gloss is a problem. "My daughter chews it off two seconds after you put it on," one mom notes. "She smears it on her hand, then licks it. Maybe it's the texture?" She shrugs apologetically.

"Let's just keep it natural," suggests the makeup artist. She dusts glitter on the models' thighs.

"Know what my favorite part of this whole day is?" asks 6-year-old Vivian, who modeled once before and is the voice of experience. "This." She flops into a small, pink beanbag cushion.

The beanbag?

"Yes!"

Vivian is the kind of 6-year-old to whom 26-year-olds aspire: pretty, slim, waifish, a ball of energy in action. Yes, it is universal, backstage at a fashion show, nobody eats. Or if they eat, the food is in microscopic quantities. The girls nibble miniature cheeseburgers topped with fried quail eggs. One girl takes a tiny bite out of a tiny French macaroon and declares herself to be "sooo full."

The music starts. Dads with their video cameras scurry to the photo pit. Moms with their hairbrushes linger in the dressing room.

Against all odds, the show goes off without a hitch. Nobody cries. Nobody has a hissy fit. Nobody trips, or falls, or forgets to twirl. Tantrums of the sort you later read about in the tabloids are avoided. This is because each girl has been informed of the system of reward and punishment: If she behaves well during the fashion show, afterward she can have a cupcake.

Supermodel Kate Moss, that ultimate bad little girl, who last year famously said, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," obviously never tasted one of those.


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