Backstory: The dog wears Prada

Stick-thin models with legs that never end are so passé. The latest breed of New York fashionista barely crests your knee, walks on all fours, and harbors an innate aversion to dieting.

Nowadays, the canine clothing industry is booming. In the trend-conscious world, dogs are visiting local fire hydrants decked out in everything from miniature pants and suspender ensembles, to fluffy green turtle booties and party dresses.

"He's a very spoiled baby," crows Ellie Newman, as she pets her 13-year-old Chinese Crested Powder Puff, Mr. Bump, at an Upper West Side dog run.

Mr. Bump wore a down coat from Coach, with a leather shell and black fur piping. Beneath that: an impeccable white cashmere sweater with brown, green, and pink racing stripes. "He's got a wardrobe that is beyond all," Ms. Newman says. "It's a drop-dead wardrobe. We have to take care of our four-legged friends."

Among Mr. Bump's other outfits – a shearling coat, rubber boots, and a raincoat. To Newman, the well-stocked closet is a necessity. "He's an old dog," she explains. "And older dogs need warmth."

Last year, Americans spent $39 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). That's more than double the $17 billion spent in 1994. At least $750 million went to canine apparel, estimates Bob Vetere, APPMA president.

"The folks who have really turned to dogs in a big way are baby boomers and dual income families with no kids," explains Mr. Vetere. "In both cases, they are looking for pets to be members of the extended family."

The result is apparent in chic pet shops downtown and on the Internet, which peddle everything from leather-lined bomber jackets to tutus – even a Santa Claus costume for a ferret.

Vetere's own Labrador retriever, Dakota, wore reindeer antlers and a Santa hat during the holidays. "My wife," he sighs. "Me and the dog are happy to just throw a ratty old tennis ball around."

***

The Big Apple is the center of this burgeoning trend, though Los Angeles is a close second (and it's big in Japan, too). It's become so big that the fashion is now even specific to neighborhoods.

Visit a dog run on the more conservative Upper East Side, infused with old money wealth, and you're likely to see more tweeds, real fur, and diamond-encrusted accouterments. Downtown in the Village, the products are more grungy and urban. Think camouflage raincoats, leather, and crystals.

On the Upper West Side, it's chichi extravagance. Take a typical day at Riverside Park, which runs along the Hudson River.

Carly Alvarez is walking her black and tan King Charles spaniel, Max, who is clad in a paisley and snowflake "fido" sweater. "He doesn't really like it," she confides.

Nearby, Kerri Cowing's Australian shepherd, Sierra, wears a tan fleece coat with fluffy white piping. "If it's cold, there's kind of peer pressure when you're walking around. People say, 'You don't have a coat on that dog?' " Ms. Cowing says. "We didn't have coats in the Midwest."

Clearly, disposable income and that peculiar New York sense of bon ton are factors driving the trend, too. It's not like there are a lot of dressed-up dogs in Fargo, N.D.

"In New York City, people have a lot of money," says Wendy Diamond, editorial director of Animal Fair Magazine, a pet lifestyle quarterly. And nowadays, dressed up dogs are "a fashion statement."

Jodi Cowen agrees. Eddie, her 2-year-old Havanese, has six outfits, including a puffy turquoise vest, a fleece sweat shirt that says "Dog," and a black hoodie with a white bone on it. "It's more about me looking cute with a fashionable dog ... than Eddie really liking his sweaters, because he hates them," she says.

It's a truth driving the trends. Especially in New York City, canine styles mirror the clothes worn by human models because "marketers are smart enough to know that humans are doing the buying," Vetere says.

"Our spring line follows what's on the runways," confirms Laura McCann, manager of Canine Styles in Greenwich Village. "Sporty attire like polo shirts and tennis skirts are in this year."

But sometimes the dogs set their own look on their own runway. In 1999, Animal Fair Magazine launched an annual dog charity fashion show called "Paws for Style," and asked top designers to come up with new styles.

Ms. Diamond credits her company with fueling the canine couture craze. "It created a whole buzz," she says.

Ms. McCann isn't sure if "Paws for Style" is the reason, but she agrees that the business climate has changed dramatically in the eight years she has been selling dog clothes.

"When we first opened, the resources and the ability to stock the shelves were very limited," she says. "You either had pet store generic products that were ugly and cheap, or you had top-of-the-line stuff that was very expensive. We used to sell cashmere sweaters for $250. Now they retail for $125."

***

Some people think the trend has clearly gone too far. Clint Sanders, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut and author of "Understanding Dogs," says that animals don't like to be dressed up. They don't like fancy food. They like routine.

He sees the Fido clothes fetish as another sign of people just trying to humanize animals.

"It's a good illustration of the way people think of their pets," he says. "They think of them as small, furry, not really intelligent people. So they treat them that way, and the phenomenon has been built up by the industry that's grown up around it."

Diamond, the magazine editor, doesn't think dogs are bred to wear clothes, either. "As an industry, it has definitely gone too far," she says. "My dog Lucky has a better wardrobe than me."

But Vetere disagrees. "You have to make sure the pets are comfortable," he says. "True, a Santa Claus costume for a ferret seems a little out there. But your dog is like 'Hey, you're paying attention to me. This is great.' "

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