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Fashion : Haute Couture Goes to the Dogs and Cats

September 13, 1989|GRETA BEIGEL | Times Staff Writer

On a sweltering morning on the Westside of town, Max, a much-loved terrier, is posing for photographers atop a rented red Jaguar outside a local pet store.

Promoting a line of "doggie" jewelry for his boss, designer Liza Lee, Max is wearing his jeweled ID tag, a 14-karat-gold necklace and a black tuxedo and top hat.

Gold chains and charms. Diamond collars. Colorful bow ties. Satin tuxedos. Party dresses and perfumes.

Accessories for animals have gone upscale, moving from leashes and collars to diamonds and furs. Nationwide sales for 1989 are expected to reach $2 billion.

Many Owners Object

Yet many pet owners, animals-rights activists and animal behaviorists question the wisdom of pampering pets beyond supplying them with the necessities of life.

The Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals calls for caution if dressing up an animal, urging owners to make sure nothing can strangle their pet.

Washington-based PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), a national animal-rights organization, reminds that animals are entitled to dignity and should not be made to wear anything "weird or uncomfortable."

"I'm offended by all this jewelry," says Ted Bergman of West Los Angeles, who owns a West Highland terrier and a Scottie.

"But let's face it, when it comes to pets, people are irrational and there are no limits."

Americans spend more than $12 billion annually on pet foods and pet products, with California accounting for 20% of sales, according to Tom McLaughlin, executive vice president of Pasadena-based Western World Pet Supply Assn., a trade organization.

As spas for dogs proliferate and a growing number of owners seek to beautify their pets with haute couture, several department stores are meeting the demand for high-quality fashions.

At Macy's Petigree Shop, popular items are jogging suits for dogs costing $30, raincoats at $45 and English trench coats for $55. However, sales of bridal gowns, party dresses and sailor suits are on the wane, Macy's spokesman Tom Dyjor says.

Best Bets at Bloomingdale's carries somewhat conservative creations--fragrances, sweaters, collars and jewelry.

"We are torn between knowing that people love their animals, but also wanting to make sure with all the misery and poverty in the world that we don't look silly," promotional director Miraed Smith explains.

Hottest outfits nationwide are matching sweaters for people and pets.

Author and self-styled animal social worker Warren Eckstein, who conducts a weekly call-in psychology hour for pets on KABC talk radio, explains the trend:

As the number of pet owners increases and the relationship between pet and owner gets closer, Eckstein claims, "more human traits are emerging in animals."

New York pet-fashion designer Ilene Hochberg, whose best-selling parodies on fashion magazines--"Dogue," "Catmopolitan," and the recent "Vanity Fur"--contain fashion tips for cats and dogs, believes pets reflect an owner's sense of taste and values.

"They reflect your own particular image," asserts Hochberg, who has 11 dogs.

Moving towards high-quality goods, Robison's Pet Shop in San Francisco carries wool coats from England costing about $100, in addition to sweaters that sell heavily October through January.

And setting an example of true, Southern California fashion extremism, Nature's Grooming and Boutique in Santa Monica reports a run on matching jogging suits for dogs and owners and wedding dresses with antique lace costing from $150. There are also pin-stripe suits for dogs, at $24.95, and even yarmulkes, at $9.99 apiece.

While canine couture is readily available in all shapes and sizes, fewer choices confront the genteel cockatiel or the finicky feline, fastidious about what goes on his or her fur.

Costume designer Alicia Devora, through her Port Townsend, Wash.-based company, Birdie's, designs bow ties for birds. Made to order, they run $9 each.

Macy's offers straw hats for cats at $3 apiece.

Don't Restrict Cats

Dr. Perry Crenshaw, who runs the At Home Mobile Veterinary Service based in Sherman Oaks, advises against placing any restrictive items on a cat. If a cat doesn't like hats, T-shirts or sweaters, he cautions, he or she may try to disrobe and could catch a leg. In fact, most cats have poor tolerance even for collars.

Collars. Leashes. Sweaters. These are still the staples of the pet industry, according to several pet-store owners.

Ed Breuer, proprietor of Robison's, says despite all the hoopla surrounding exotic fashions, pet lovers remain practical about their purchases.

"Sure a bow tie or tuxedo can be fun, and of course dogs like to dress up and be the center of attention," Breuer says, "but a lot of this craziness is just hype. Most owners are very sensible about what they put on their pets."

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