French designer wolfs down US doggy rags

France may well be the world's fashion capital, but when it comes to suiting up pooches, America does it best.

At least so says young French designer Celine Boulud, who is bringing a canine enterprise from the United States to France.

"Canine fashion is all the rage in New York," she said in an interview. "There are boutiques for dogs on every street corner, and almost all the dogs wear outfits."

Boulud, now 24, happened on the trend during a summer internship at fashion house Bill Blass in New York, where she attended the annual "Pet Fashion Week."

"Not just the dogs but even pet rabbits and hampsters have outfits for Halloween," she said.

Back home in this eastern city, the young designer realised that despite the country's reputation as a dog-loving nation - with eight million dogs for a population of 62 million - the doggie outfit market remained an unexplored potential goldmine.

High end fashion houses such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton offer the odd accessory for pampered pooches, such as leashes or collars.

And in 2000 another enterprising French firm launched a luxury pooch perfume, spinning a quick profit on sales that largely went to exports.

Now Boulud hopes to join the cream of the crowd that cater to man's four-legged friend.

Early this year, armed with a high dose of inspiration and entrepreneurial spirit, the design graduate opened a boutique in Lyon offering a full range of doggie outfits - sailor-sweaters, leather jackets, denim and lace dresses.

The move won her a special fashion award, handed her by high-end lingerie queen Chantal Thomass, which will be enough to cover the rent for the boutique for a year.

She had "found a niche in an emerging market that has a future," the jury that gave her the award said.

Boulud's speciality is custom-made clothing for dogs, such as one customer's chihuahua Edgar, typically too small to find anything his size among a ready-to-wear range.

Owner Rachid Merkani, who runs a dog grooming salon, told the designer that he was fussy about the way his own dog looked - a fur-collared leather jacket seemed just the thing, he said.

Though she doesn't dress her own Jack Russell in bespoke tailoring, Boulud claims on her website www.bonchicbonchien.com to be "the only firm in France to produce everything from the design to the sale."

Costs however can range up to 500 euros (660 dollars) for a special tailored order.

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