"Huh, perhaps we should get him the camouflage soldier's coat," said Mummy, dragging the child firmly away. "He's destructive enough for the army."
If Lassie came home wearing a silver-lame mac with applique ducks, would you want her back? Or perhaps you might want to celebrate by rushing out and spending pounds 84.95 on a cowboy outfit so Lassie could match Daddy.
Barking Mad London are for those who think that co-ordinating their dog with their accessories, or life, is the ultimate chic. Started three months ago, they design clothes for dogs and not just neat little camel-coloured coats to keep the cold from shivering dachshunds. Their "Dog-A-Logue" includes Mae West-inspired sequins, Alice in Wonderland, Father Christmas, Tartan Kilt and the Psychedelic Waterproof, which gives the impression that, had your dog been alive in the Sixties, he certainly wouldn't have remembered them. The Dog-A-Logue collection can be ordered made-to-measure by post, or bought off the peg from Harrods or Dickens and Jones.
"People said we were barking mad - that's where we got the name - but we're making money," said Andrew Torz, co-owner of the company, in tones of slight amazement. Torz, who runs a second-hand men's designer clothes shop just off Baker Street, minced proudly between the rails of Jean-Paul Gaultier and leather flying suits to drag out a suitcase full of dog clothes. "They love it," he said, "don't you, don't you?" He leant over to ruffle the ears of his Shih Tsu, Betsy, and started dressing her up as a nurse. "They love the attention."
Betsy sat with oriental stoicism. Presumably, as Torz's muse, she is used to it by now. She certainly didn't evince any obvious symptoms of discomfort, and I have to say she looked very sweet.
There are two sides to the business - the practical wet-weather protective clothing for little dogs, such as Chihuahuas, who were never created for a British climate; and the fancy dress.
"My grandfather, who works for Gieves & Hawkes as a tailor, started making my Shih Tsu little coats from offcuts," said Lulu Marodeen, Torz's business partner, who runs a model agency and dresses her Shih Tsu in a top hat and tails. "I could never find anything in the shops that was different enough. That's where it all started. The rest is for fun." The anti-rain clothes include a Prada-style matt black biker's jacket, and polo necks in fuchsia, sky blue and black.
"We've had a lot of orders for the army coat," said Torz, pointing to the camouflaged cap, little hat, and khaki scarf. Torz claims they have had orders for dogs of all shapes and sizes, right up to a camel overcoat for a Great Dane.
Michelle Nabarro, the 30-year-old receptionist, from Tramp - one of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson's favourite dives - bought the army coat for one of her Shih Tsus. "They're so small, they get filthy in winter, and my car is impractically upholstered in white," she said. "I don't think I'd buy fancy dress, although a friend of mine bought the sailor outfit to go with his yacht."
Lesley Barker is considering taking advantage of the "couture" service, to have her dog dressed to match herself - "If I was going to a special function where I might take the dog, I would," she said. A 40-year-old show co-ordinator for department store promotions, she became hooked after buying her collie a clown outfit for her daughter's fancy dress 10th birthday party. "Everyone else was dressed up and she was included - she was one of the family. I wouldn't expect her to wear it all the time, but she liked it and was comfy. People took notice of her."
The RSPCA is ambivalent; you can tell they want to disapprove but can't really come up with a reason. "We wouldn't recommend it," sighed a spokesman, after consulting the in-house vet. "But if you must, there are a few points to consider. If your dog is showing obvious signs of distress, then stop. Make sure the clothing does not cause him to overheat, and that there is nothing to choke on."
Barking Mad may be right. Even my cousin, who doesn't normally show too many signs of incipient lunacy, claims her spaniel loves being dressed up in a gypsy headscarf and gold earrings. But does dressing as a merchant banker sully the integrity of man's best friend? Would White Fang have thrilled, if he'd been dressed as White Dentist? Would The Incredible Journey have lost some of its mileage if the trio had been crossing America as an airline pilot, a stewardess and British Rail guard? How moving would the prelude to Bill Sykes' death have been, had Bulldog been dressed as the Artful Dodger?
"Obviously, people experience pets as an extension of themselves," said psychologist Oliver James, "but this is an anthropomorphism too far."
Not only that, it has serious implications for Gordon Brown. If people have got enough money to spend on sequinned frocks for dogs, then the consumer boom has gone bananas. Expect a rise in interest rates soon.
All clothes from Barking Mad, available from Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1; Dickins and Jones, Regent Street, London W1. Made to order (mail order and enquiries 0171-224 3266).
All dogs were kindly supplied by pedigree expert Jackie Creswell, who rehomes unwanted dogs (0171-609 2979) and offers advice to potential dog owners.Reuse content