Pampered pets that don duds move to the mainstream

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — These clothing designers have to think about pattern, fabric and fit — as well as where to put the poo bags.

Creating on-trend outfits is a whole different animal for pet fashion designers, whose work is becoming mainstream as animal lovers look to further pamper their pets. For some owners, it's a statement; for others, it's a way to match man's best friend; and sometimes it's simply about keeping animals warm this winter. But it's clear the number of dressed-up dogs and cats jumps significantly once holiday photos need to be taken.

"We have gone from the kind of cute reindeer gear or ugly sweater to more functional clothing," said Lauren Darr, founder of the International Association of Pet Fashion Professionals in New York City. "Before it was for a cute picture, now it's more practical. It takes it to a different level, going from being a novelty to understanding how things can be used in everyday life."

Pet fashion got a leg up after American Eagle Outfitters received an outpouring from its April Fool's Day joke this year. To raise money and awareness for an animal welfare group, the popular retailer introduced a fake fashion line called American Beagle Outfitters. But the joke was on the Pittsburgh company.

"Our customers were very clear about their desire for this product to become a reality," company spokesman Michael Leedy said last month when welcoming the pet line for real. Its tiny puffy jackets, sweaters and hats sell for $12.95 to $39.95.

The move made strides for the pet clothing industry, insiders say.

"When a company like American Eagle starts getting into pet fashion, it really puts a spotlight on it and brings visibility to it," Darr said.

For some pet owners, clothing plays into a luxury lifestyle. Dog Fashion Spa in New York sells doggy and mommy bathrobes, a matching fad that comes as many spas and salons are building hers and "furs" facilities — one side to pamper the woman and the other to treat their dogs, CEO Elena Volnova said.

Pampering and style is one thing, but function is also important. Karine Ng, the owner and designer at Central Park Pups in New York City, has developed several step-in coats with hidden harnesses that help pets get dressed without the hassle. Dogs walk right into the coat, so they don't have to put their head through it.

Her pieces are among the many that feature a pouch or pocket to hold unused bags for scooping up pet poop.

Ng's "city chic" styles, which sell online and at boutiques for $60 to $65, aim to reduce aggravation for pets, but she warns: "Never make a dog wear clothing if it doesn't want to."

On the other hand, you might want to start dressing your cat now, Darr said. She predicted huge growth in feline fashions as retailers from 99-cent stores to high-scale boutiques carry more cat clothing.

"I am seeing more pieces that are tailored for cats. It's still a small proportion, but it is growing," Darr said.

The movement comes as more owners teach their cats to go for walks. Plus, "a lot of cats in colder climates have learned to rely on sweaters, coats and vests," Darr said.

Other trends she saw this year that she expects to grow in 2015 include clothing decorated with LED lights to make pets more visible at night, T-shirts for pets of sports fans and still more ugly sweaters.







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