Style Icon. Get familiar and take notes. That was the tweet last year from Ugo Mozie, a stylist who has worked with Chris Brown, Beyoncé, and Kelly Rowland. Attached was a photo, which I thought would be his newest client. Instead, there was a tiny trendsetter wearing different outfits: a tailor-made jacket with a Tom Ford pocket square, a Dior shirt, Diesel jeans, and a Gucci belt, then an AllSaints leather jacket with Gucci shades. This was my first introduction to Alonso Mateo, a child who has become an Instagram megastar thanks to his small suits and Frankenstein haircut. Almost every photo of him now makes it to the network’s Popular page. There are now five fan accounts dedicated to his style, two of which have appeared in the last month.
Right now, he’s 5. That makes him the latest in an Internet lineage of child-style icons, from Matthew Weiner’s son, Arlo, to Alexander Wang’s toddler niece, Alia, who is often spotted at his fashion shows. Add to that Hudson Kroenig, the son of model Brad Kroenig who became a Karl Lagerfeld muse when he was 3; the pageant-esque preteen Thylane Lena-Rose, who was shot for French Vogue when she was 10; then there’s Suri Cruise or Maddox Jolie-Pitt and plenty of Hollywood spawn who wear Lilliputian luxury and get shot by paparazzi, often sticking out their tongues. But what’s different about Mateo is that his parents aren’t famous, nor was he discovered at fashion shows or in magazines. Instead, he’s a social media phenomenon. “What first caught my eye about him was his confidence,” Mozie explains now. “His clothes were exceptionally tailored, drop-crotch pants, his hand in his pocket — that stood out to me.”
As crazy as it sounds, Mozie and thousands of other fans think the kid’s got swagger. He poses nonchalantly, looking away from the camera and smiling charismatically. Many of these shots are selfies, naturally, which he snaps in front of a mirror. In one image he wears a Crewcuts shirt and slim-fitting Crewcuts pants, Gucci horsebit loafers, and a Gucci belt. My boyfriend would look great in that. And he’s 29.
Usually, these images first appear on his mother’s feed (@luisafere): Luisa Fernanda Espinosa, a freelance stylist, started posting the pictures last year and now has more than 127,000 followers. There are now 230,000 photos catalogued of her son on Google Images — more than some B-List celebrities — wearing everything from his “favorite” AllSaints motorcycle boots (which his mom nabbed in several sizes before their kids line was discontinued), to designer blazers, tailor-made drop-crotch pants, and his classic Ray-Ban aviators. They’re the kinds of outfits some adults like wearing: Recently, Espinosa learned that the boyfriend of one of her son’s teachers had been taking cues from “this stylish kid on Instagram,” not realizing he was his girlfriend’s student.
Born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Alonso lived there with his parents until two years ago, when they moved to Laguna Beach. His mother has contributed to Harper’s Bazaar Mexico and Latin America. His father is the owner and CEO of a private equity firm. Through that, they have the money to buy their son a wardrobe worthy of a Brant brother. Through her fashion work, Luisa has kept tabs on every new and expensive high-end children’s line. They shop together as a family. And like any fashion obsessive, young Mateo follows trends: Right now, his favorite is high-top sneakers, like the Jeremy Scott ones he pairs with jeans and cool sweatshirts.
“I love suits, sneakers, and sunglasses,” the boy told the Cut in a recent phone conversation. “I like to dress like my dad, because he has cool suits.” To accomplish that, mom brings him to Kitson Kids,Dior, Gucci (“for leather jackets”), Stella McCartney, Bon Point (“French couture for kids”), Nordstrom, H&M (“for amazing basics”), Little Marc Jacobs (“amazing”), Dolce & Gabbana (“great”), and even Target. “As long as it’s nice quality, I’ll take it,” she says.
Each morning before school, mom and son head to his personal walk-in closet, where one wall is dedicated to shoes. He’ll tell her which pants and shoes he wants, and then he might choose a T-shirt. “I’ll say that’s a summer tee and we’re in winter,” she explains. “I’ll help him coordinate outfits so that they make sense, but mostly it’s him.” When they leave the house, fans might ask to take his picture. But like most young kids, even those dressed less ostentatiously, she says her boy can be a bit shy: “Sometimes he’ll turn down a fan and say he’s too tired.”
Not everyone wants to see a child dressing like this, so some of those photos online are now tagged with comments from critics: “You only teach him material stuff,” they’ll write, or “he’s just a spoiled douche bag” — a loaded insult for a 5-year-old, one that suggests they find these photos exploitative, or that they encourage creepers. “I think people usually judge right away,” Espinosa says, defending her choices. “When we go shopping, if he wants loafers just like his daddy and I can afford them, I get them. We’re fine raising our son. He’s always polite, he’s grounded, he’s a sweet boy.” Others question whether his taste in fashion is “too much for a little kid,” say that he looks like “a miniature adult,” or that he should simply “enjoy his childhood.”
But what if he already is? Espinosa says she lets him keep doing it (and doing it on his own volition, she insists), because he’s just having fun. Often, she adds, the pictures materialize because the kid just loves being in front of the camera. He now produces his own shoots: “I have my own iPad 2 and iPod,” he told me. And even Mateo’s mom admits she’s still trying to figure the behavior out: “I don’t know if it’s because he’s an only child and he’s surrounded by so many grown-ups that he kind of wants to replicate what everybody around him is wearing?” she asks. “I don’t think he really notices he’s fashion forward. He’s too young.”