Pet Fashion Week sizzles with hot new trends

NEW YORK — Jane Given's philosophy is simple: “If your pet looks good, you look good.” As a designer with Scarlett Dream Coats, a company that makes clothing for dogs, she's certainly in a position to know.

“Our pets are like our children,” she explained, “and when children are dressed well, it reflects well on the parents.”

On a hot, muggy Saturday, Given and about 70 other vendors gathered at New York City's Metropolitan Pavilion on West 18th Street for the fourth annual Pet Fashion Week convention. Over the course of two days, August 22 and 23, they presented the clothes, accessories, furniture, food, and even perfume that, everyone hoped, would grace the shelves of pet stores across the country.

“Our goal is to bring the companies with the best products together under one roof,” said trade show manager Derek DiFante. “We want Pet Fashion Week to become the premier destination for anyone in the pet lifestyle business.”

While a broad range of companies set up booths, luxury clothing dominated the showroom floor, with manufacturers sporting a wide variety of couture and bling.

At Scarlett Dream Coats, Given showed off the Kiara, a lavender suede coat with faux fur trim and a matching sparkly, purple collar and leash.

“All of our products are functional as well as fashionable,” she said, demonstrating a practicality not often found in the world of human fashion. “They keep you dry if they're a rain coat or warm if they're a 'luxe' coat.”

At Oscar Newman, Charisa Antigua proudly pointed out a line of knit sweaters with hand-stitched trim and custom beadwork. Some featured themes, like baseball and airplanes.

“We also have beautiful sweaters without the beads at a lower price,” she said. “We try to provide something for everyone.”

Of course, no self-respecting doggie diva can be expected to venture out of the house without a matching set of accessories. Once again, the pet companies looked to the world of fashion for inspiration.

Fetchers and Fighters' line of collars are stamped with a variety of patterns and textures that take a cue from nature. Leaves, faux lizard skins, and pebbling are juxtapozed against a background of metallic colors, sparkles, and glossy finishes.

“We make them out of PVC because our customers don't want products made out of animal parts like leather,” said Tom Lattanzio.

At Bella Bean Couture, a line of owl motif collars was inspired by designers like Kate Spade, said Michelle Clinton. Light and colorful with simple, bold graphics, the bird imagery actually goes back to the '60s, she explains.

“We're updating them so it doesn't look like the old owls from the '60s, but is a bit modern with the colors that are more in fashion now.”

If your dog is more macho than mod, the company Northern Moods makes thick, leather collars and leashes encrusted with chunky, metal ornaments and heavy, polished stones.

“We only use natural materials, we produce everything in Europe, we only produce very high-end products,” like ostrich feathers and full-grain cowhide leather, said designer Jos Aussems.

Cece Kent was driven to create her series of dog carriers after deciding that, while often cute, the bags she found at pet stores weren't what she'd take to a nice restaurant.

“If you went out, you'd want to take a nice purse,” she explained. “So why wouldn't you want to take a nice carrier with your dog?”

Kent designed her bags to look like what you might find at high-end department stores like Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, or Saks Fifth Avenue. Many of them are made of pebble grain leather from Europe, and they often feature an assortment shiny buckles, clasps, and chains.

The trend towards organic and eco-friendly products continued to grow this year, with many companies creating products that promote not only pet happiness, but also pet health.

Personal experience inspired Charisa Antigua to launch Oscar Newman's Cocotherapy line of products. Her dog, Violet, suffered from skin-irritating allergies; she often scratched herself until she bled. Antigua said that a vet put Violet on Prednisone, but the dog didn't react well to it.

“So we went to a holistic vet and she set up a natural regiment for Violet with plants and coconut oil,” she said. “Within five, six weeks, she was completely itch and scratch free. Her skin and hair are very healthy, and we just love what it did for her.”

Antigua immediately decided to release coconut-oil based dog treats made from organic coconuts. They're available as both a creamy oil and a crispy flake.

Another company, called Arf Dog, makes organic treats that adhere to the same rigorous standards for organic certification that human food is held to.

“You could eat them yourself,” said company president Riki Noto. The small snacks, which look a lot like old-fashioned Animal Crackers, come in a variety of flavors, including “NYC Pizza,” “Peanut Butter and Carrot,” and “Vanilla.”

Arf Dog uses only all natural ingredients said Noto. “For instance, the NYC Pizza is made with organic mozzarella, organic tomato sauce, and organic flour. We don't add anything you wouldn't find in real New York pizza.”

But treats aren't the only things that dogs like to chomp on. “Animals are like children, they're always putting things in their mouths,” said Jean Chae.

That's why her company, Simply Fido, has a line of organic pet toys. In fact, it grew out of her company's catalog of organic children's toys. To keep the products safe (for both pets and kids), Simply Fido uses organically-grown cotton for not only the outside of their toys, which are shaped like sheep, elephants, monkeys, penguins and (again) owls, but also the filling. They're colored without chemicals using natural, water-based dyes.

According to Derek DiFante, Pet Fashion Week has 40 percent fewer vendors than last year, reflecting, he said, over saturation within the pet lifestyle market. However, 1,200 buyers visited the event, and 50 percent of those are showing up for the first time.

“People are still buying these products,” he said, describing the demographic as split between women age 21 to 35, and “empty nesters,” or people whose children have moved out.

“At the highest level, with the best products, it's fairly recession proof.”

Not that any of the convention's four-legged customers are thinking about the economy. A new bed, some tasty snacks, maybe a new coat for the holidays — for two day's at least, a dog's life isn't so tough.

Brian Stillman is a Zootoo Pet News correspondent covering the New York region.

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