UPPER EAST SIDE — They might be barely old enough to walk, but the pint-sized customers of a strip of haute-couture boutiques on Madison Avenue are dressed and ready to take their place on the runways of Milan and Paris.
A stretch of stores from the 70s to the low 90s is a catwalk of infant style, offering everything from French onesies to Swedish cribs to Italian shoes.
Shopkeepers say that moms and dads in one of Manhattan's most sought-after neighborhoods are opting for clean, continental styles over "cute" American fashion.
The style — and the price — suit an international jet-set lifestyle — with price tags hovering at an average of $200 per teensy item.
Clare Posnack, whose company Global Beginnings advises international manufacturers who want to sell to children's clothing stores, said more stores are turning an eye to New York consumers.
"More and more international companies want to sell in the U.S.," she said. "Everyone is always looking for a new channel of distribution."
According to Posnack, some baby products making their way across the Atlantic include brighter colors and even edgier graphic tees.
Moms with their pulse on what's hot in the neighborhood said the draw to European threads comes down to quality and uniqueness. European brands such as Italy's Il Gufo are seen as more distinct than Baby Gap or Gymboree, said Lyss Stern, who runs the popular networking group Divalysscious Moms.
"They can't get their hands on it fast enough," Stern said. "When the newest collections come in, they're rushing to the stores."
Carole French, proprietress of Magic Windows at 1186 Madison Ave. said European fashions have influenced all baby clothes in terms of textiles, tailoring and tone. In addition to domestic lines, the store sells brands such as Coccode, Les Bebes and Aletta, among others.
For winter, she said, there's greater emphasis on wool and cashmere. Muted neutrals, such as grays, abound rather than baby pinks and blues.
And scalloping — an embroidery technique that allows gathered fabric to stretch and that's particularly popular in the U.S. — is being replaced by clean lines, she said.
"Mothers are going away from traditional smocking and moving to the straight silhouette," she said. "It's the higher-end customers, because the European is between 50 and 100 percent more expensive."
Down the road, at London-headquartered Caramel Baby & Child at 1244 Madison Ave., manager Maria Bertuna said that the "in" way to dress babies is to make them look more adult — from sterner plaid patterns to paisley-like Liberty prints.
"People are going more for trendy," she said. "Smocking is more traditional."
She said that high-end shoppers tend to be those who have a framework of an international market.
"A lot of people are traveling, and their jobs take them all over the world," she said.
At Jacadi Paris at 1242 Madison Ave., cotton replaces wool, but cashmere remains king. Again, almost suit-like lines are emphasized, as well as one-pieces. Dresses make up a large part of the baby girls' collection. Bold reds provide splashes of color.
A key difference between this and American baby apparel is that pieces are put together cohesively, said Carmen Borges, store manager. So for boys, a button-down shirt would be matched with a vest and pant, she said.
"It's always a complete outfit," she said. "It never looks sloppy."
Lori Hawkins, 40, who was recently shopping there for 4-month-old daughter Alexis, praised the quality of European styles and detailing — especially Liberty prints — compared with American textiles.
"The fabrics seem to be nicer, more luxurious," Hawkins said.