The closure of the Harrods pet department earlier this year – hitherto stalwart supplier of furry follies such as four-poster leopard-print cat beds, diamante-studded dog collars and, prior to the 1976 Endangered Species Act, everything from lion cubs to alligators and baby elephants – has left a gaping hole in the marketplace.
OK, so perhaps not gaping, but the shuttering of its doors after almost a century seems oddly timed given that the public's peccadillo for posh pet pampering has never seemed more rampant. Of course, there will always be some people willing to spend £1,660 on a Louis Vuitton monogrammed dog carrier. La Toya Jackson, for one.
However, the vogue for over-indulging your animal has now gone mainstream. Just launched is AStarPets.com, an online pet "boutique" with a distinctly upmarket slant. Think of it as Pup-a-Porter.com, tapping into the upper echelons of a business worth some £4bn in the UK alone. On AStarPets.com, buyers can pick up hand-stitched Italian leather collars (House of Mutt, from £115), solid-silver whistles and dog beds approaching three figures, alongside gourmet dog and cat food and rather more regular treats such as Alan Titchmarsh-brand bird food as well as a £1.19 hamster playwheel.
The brains behind AStarPets.com are Quentin Griffiths and Will Cooper – the former is a co-founder of fashion site Asos, while the duo previously launched a members-only online luxury lifestyle store, Achica. AStarPets.com seems pitched squarely between the two. Or, to spin it into animal parlance, Harrods Pet Kingdom meets Pets at Home, the British doggie equivalent of Tesco.
Why is a fashion editor writing about this – besides the fact that I, as with 45 per cent of the UK population, own a pet (full disclosure: he's a piebald rabbit, named Miss Latrice Royale after a drag queen featured in the American reality-TV series RuPaul's Drag Race)? Because that booming, £4bn pet market is based on fashionable accessories that more usually find their place on two-legged creatures. In fact, the overall numbers of pet owners have declined over the past decade – in 1999, roughly 55 per cent of the UK population owned pets, while the pet market stood at around £2.6bn.
What conclusion can we draw from these four-legged figures? As a nation, we have fewer pets, but we are spending more on them. And what we're spending can't all be food-based – insert fat-cat joke here, although dogs officially became the UK's favourite pet in 2012, according to figures from the Pet Food Manufacturers Association.
In itself, that is a fashionable reflection – witness the ubiquity of that Vuitton dog carrier and of celebrities clutching shih tzu and chihuahua puppies. And, despite the age-old canine-feline stand-off, they often appear on the catwalk: the standard poodles and British bulldogs that regularly tripped out alongside models at Mulberry's London Fashion Week shows provided welcome distraction and ample cutesie-poo paparazzi fodder. However, those Mulberry mutts were fancily coated and collared in their own right – in garments that included tie-dyed parkas (£175) and oil-cloth rain-macs (£150). Vivienne Westwood and Burberry are also in on the action, offering canine couture in their respective signature tartans. If your taste in attire – if not in pets – runs to the more esoteric (and animal cruelty doesn't cross your mind), the Japanese-based website guineapigfashion.com offers costumes to dress your piggy in kimonos, wedding dresses and ninja costumes.
Considering the investment of the brains behind Asos's runaway retail success in an animal-only website, could lagomorph, feline and canine couture eleganza actually be going mainstream? £4bn can't be wrong.