Vogue has officially crowned her the new fashion It girl. Her fans — including the likes of Lizzo, who called her “an actual bad bitch” — can’t wait to see the latest Instagram posts of her dripping in Chanel, Fendi and Hermès. And she’s being paid the big bucks to promote luxury wares. The twist? She’s a seven-pound Italian greyhound named Tika — and she’s the poster girl for the dog fashion craze.
Our obsession with our pets is nothing new, but it’s definitely reached new heights amid the pandemic. To wit: The global dog clothing and accessories market hit $9.74 billion last year and is expected to balloon to $16.61 billion by 2028, according to market research firm Million Insights. Our four-legged friends are leading the fashion industry and setting trends. They’re strutting down runways. They’re penning books. They’re headlining in shows like Netflix’s Pet Stars, a series that follows an animal talent management agency. Public relations — for pups!
Dressing up our dogs is a form of self-expression and drives our emotional connection with our pets. You could go as far as saying it’s science. Anthropomorphism, to be exact: the tendency to map human traits and emotions onto animals and inanimate objects. And it has an evolutionary purpose. For centuries, we’ve assigned human characteristics to non-human things to make sense of the world around us. Plus seeing our pets as human-like fulfills a social need — hence the rise in popularity during the past 18 months.
Although adorning our pets dates back millennia, modern dog fashion took off in the early 2000s, with celebrities like Paris Hilton toting around her decked-out Chihuahuas. Donatella Versace made furry fashion even more fabulous when she dressed up her Jack Russell terrier, Audrey, in bedazzled collars in the early 2010s.
“Pets are people’s children,” explains Loni Edwards, founder and CEO of the Dog Agency. The talent management firm was born out of her own dog’s Instagram fame in 2015 and today has offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago. “People are waiting longer to have children, and they’re raising their pets instead. We buy them clothes. We feed them the best food. We bring them with us when we travel.”
It makes sense then that we can’t get enough of these celebrity canines — and that top brands have found a winning marketing strategy with them. Take Tika the Italian greyhound, with her 1.1 million Instagram followers. In a post of her wearing a Fendi jacket, she (or, more accurately, her human, Thomas Shapiro) nonchalantly writes, “You can take the girl out of Italy, but you can’t keep her away from exquisite Italian craftsmanship.” And for her 10th birthday, she posted a video of her donning a custom Shantell Design gown (one of her favorites) and cruising around her hometown of Montreal in the new Rolls-Royce Ghost.
There’s no question Tika has fabulous fashion sense. In an interview, she tells me (play along here), “My most expensive item is a coat made by Ashi Studio. It was handmade for me for Paris couture week, and I wore it virtually at their show. It’s Victorian-inspired and made out of crepe fabric and pleated organza with buttons down the front. Canine haute couture at its finest!”
And she’s in good company in the doggie influencer club. Boobie Billie, a petite Italian greyhound/Chihuahua mix who sports silky babushkas, exploded on Instagram then launched her own fashion line, Boobie World, so humans can dress like her. Miniature purses dubbed Boobie Bags sell for $270, with matching babushkas going for $80.
Boobie Billie emails me like it’s really her — and I, a sucker for animals with fierce personalities, lap it right up. “I’m a firm believer in timeless accessories,” she (or more likely, her cheeky PR rep) says. “I have a pretty fabulous collection, but my Louis bag is probably my favorite. It’s like, colors and cuts come in and out, but a statement bag is forever.”
The business opportunities for these posh pooches go far beyond fashion. Case in point: A petite smooth-coated Brussels griffon named Sprout (get it?) just landed his first book deal. And Edwards of the Dog Agency released a primer for aspiring pet momagers earlier this fall, How to Make Your Dog #Famous: A Guide to Social Media and Beyond.
She’s certainly the authority on the subject. “At the Dog Agency, we exclusively represent around 150 animals,” Edwards explains. “We come in as their business partner, and most of what we do is digital. The rates vary per dog, but influencers with millions of followers are in the $10,000 to $15,000 per post range.”
Pups are, after all, safe brand ambassadors. They’re not going to get drunk at a party or get canceled when a questionable Tweet from 2016 resurfaces. “They’re extremely powerful marketing tools because they resonate with consumers on a deeper level,” she adds. “Pets are happy, and people associate those positive feelings toward the brand.”
High-end fashion houses like Dior, Fendi, Prada and Versace are getting in on the action, too, with specially designed collections. “The industry is finally realizing that people don’t want basic, boring pet products,” notes Christopher Cargnoni, founder of top-selling dog streetwear line Fresh Pawz. “They want high-quality products that match their own personal aesthetics so they can feel more connected with their dog.”
The cost for proper pooch fashion these days isn’t cheap because it’s a lifestyle. If you shop with ultra luxury dog fashion label Pagerie, for example, a leather harness costs a cool $720 and the matching leash $525. Maxbone, which aims to “reimagine the pet industry,” features astrology T-shirts, knit jumpers and Aspen coats for upward of $140. And a Ruby Rufus cashmere sweater will set you back $135.
Ruby Rufus Isaacs launched her eponymous line in 2013 with the help of Oprah Winfrey. “Somehow my luxury sweater prototypes ended up in the hands of Gayle King,” she says. “She flipped for them and showed them to Oprah. The next thing I know, O magazine wants to include a Ruby Rufus sweater in their Christmas gift guide. Our website crashed, and we sold out almost immediately.”
If Oprah’s involvement is any indication, the sky’s the limit for these barking brand ambassadors. Tika’s dreams of sitting front row at New York Fashion Week came true earlier this fall, while Boobie Billie hopes to land a Calvin Klein ad campaign. And why not? Brands are seeing a surge in engagement thanks to these canine celebrities, proving that fashion is more delightful on four legs. It’s good for business, and it’s good for our psyches. As Boobie Billie explains, it’s “a little moment of over-the-top extravagance to get us through it all.”