Dog Fashion? Try Canine Couture

Dog models are shaking their little tushes on the catwalk. Enter the offbeat arena of high-end fashion hounds.


Fashion has gone to the dogs, and bark is the new black. On television, in print magazines, and on the runways (and walkways), dogs are mimicking their human counterparts, and what was once considered a fad has emerged as a trend. It’s just a matter of time before Paw-ject Runway crosses our television screens.

Times A-Changing?

Overall spending in the pet industry is at an all-time high, according to the American Pet Products Association. Canine couture and high-end fashion for discriminating dogs took quite a bite out of the nearly $51 billion spent in 2011 on our pets. Global Pet Expo, the pet industry’s largest trade show, held yearly in Orlando, showcases a special “boutique” section featuring fashions, frivolities, and lavish apparel for pets.

“Dressing dogs up is a natural extension of our love for them, whether in apparel or just a fancy collar. It gives us pleasure and solidifies that they really are our fur babies, no matter how young or how old,” muses pet fashion designer Lucy Medeiros of Montreal.

Under the Roxy and Lulu brand, Medeiros launched an urban doggie-wear line at Pet Fashion Week in 2008. You read that right: Pet Fashion Week. It’s touted as the pet industry’s most sophisticated event, taking place in the heart of New York City each August. Companies from France to Brazil, the United States to Venezuela, attend to interact and launch new product lines.

Canine College

New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, heralded as one of the world’s leading higher educational facilities for fashion design, offers a certificate program in Pet Product Design and Marketing. The brainchild of Professor Janet Brav and Assistant Professor Deborah David, the noncredit program offers six courses, including Pet Accessory Design Studio and Quick Sketching for the Pet Product Business.

Abby Kass, founder of Les Pets en Voyage, is a graduate. “A very fun aspect of the program is participating in the annual Pet Fashion Show at FIT,” she says. “It’s a real runway show featuring the work of students in the program, and it is so exciting to see your own products on the catwalk.” In the case of Kass, her New York City Rain Poncho and Pouch-in-One were modeled by a toy Schnauzer.

Designer Lucy Medeiros graduated from college with a degree in Women’s Wear in 1985, and never could have imagined she would run her own fashion house catering to pets. Back then, pets and fashion were not something people talked about, she says. Using the inspiration of her dog, Roxy (also the face of the brand), Medeiros launched the line and never looked back.

Divas and Devos

High style and crème de la crème couture is not reserved for the femme fatale of the furry kind. Bob Shaughnessy is dog dad to one of New York City’s most sharply dressed dogs: Cuba, aka America’s Top Dog, a 5-year-old Havanese who walks the runways, loves to wear clothes, and has been in a few commercials. Shaughnessy founded DPFamily, a hundreds-strong private social site for dogs and their people, along with PawVogue, touted as “the only pet fashion portal for designers and dogs who love fashion.” With 25 fashion designers listed at present, Pawvogue is setting the canine couture bar (and “bark”) high.

From Needle Stick to Needlepoint

Imagine going to school to become an X-ray technician or nurse, but finding your heart’s passion is for pooches and designing their duds. This is how Pet Fashion Designer of 2012, Roberto Negrin, found his true calling.

Hec-lin Couture for Dogs by Roberto Negrin was born after Roberto’s dog, Hec-lin, started winning doggie pageants around New York City. Armed with zero sewing machine knowledge but a strong desire to enter a doggie pageant competition, Roberto’s mom guided him along with sewing skills. People would approach Roberto and want to know who created the fashions.

“We won Best Active Wear and first runner up for the crown that year,” Negrin beams. “Now Hec-lin is my muse along my other three rescued babies: Dj, Abby, and Athena.”

Power of the Paw

Posh puppies and coutured collies abound, but are we humanizing Fido by dressing him up? Or is canine fashion merely a further extension of our love for our furry family members?

Designer Medeiros explains her theory. “Like our children, our dogs are extensions of our families. We love, nurture, and take care of them in every way possible, and take them along with us anywhere we can.”

The growing focus from a marketing and media perspective on the human-animal bond also continues to attract niche sectors usually targeted at people. From dog booties to Swarovski crystal-laden collars and even canine handbags, we dote on our dogs, and designers are cashing in.

So what’s your stance on canine couture? Frivolous fun? Or unnecessary expense that needs to go the way of disco and bell bottoms? Let us know in the comments!

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