Catwalkies! Two legs are so last year as fashion discovers 'pet-à-porter'

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The Independent Online

The slinky models glittering in diamante and skintight evening coats paced nervously backstage minutes before they were due to sashay down the luminous pink catwalk.

Some with delicate temperaments shook free of their dressers and threw eleventh- hour tantrums while others sat preening themselves quietly. This brand of supermodel may not yet be instantly recognisable but it is leading the way in fashion's latest trend - canine couture.

These pooches were modelling Burberry raincoats, "Playboy" collars and pink hooded tops as the audience admired the latest must-have accessories for their pets. From doggy nail varnish to pooch tiaras, this week's Pet-à-Porter fashion show opened up a new spending avenue for the socialite with everything.

Well-heeled dog lovers could pick up anything from a custom-made collar to a £400 red-tailored coat for their fashion- conscious canines. People paid £25 a ticket and queued in the rain to attend the 20-minute show in Harrods.

There was much hype among the 400-strong audience as the first model - Lady Isabella Hervey's miniature Maltese - bounded onto the catwalk wearing a Puppia leather sheepskin number. The dainty Maltese was followed by a bulldog wearing a stretch powder-blue fleece.

The show had been expanded from last year's inaugural event to include a dogalogue - or dog catalogue - for clients wishing to assemble a designer wardrobe for their pooch that would rival their own.

The dogs, which included a dalmatian, a pug, a Bichon Frisse, a Schnauzer and an over-confident Russian Afghan, were walked on to the runway by models in matching outfits. But the crowd kept their gazes on the dogs and not their elegant handlers, with loud mur- murs and gasps as the dogs did lightning-quick costume changes to showcase a range of designer daywear, raincoats and evening coats.

Guests sipped champagne and munched bone-shaped pastries as their own immaculately dressed lurchers, poodles and chihuahuas trotted and nosed around the store.

Jasmine Al Fayed, 23, (daughter of the Harrods owner) bought a miniature long- haired chihuahua, Pharaoh, a designer raincoat as her father looked on, while Jane Glaze-brook, a 15-year-old student from Cambridge with five dogs, had come to the show to add to her chihuahua Lily's growing wardrobe. "I like a lot of designer labels, but my favourites are Prada and Burberry. Lily wears a lot of Pet London. She's got pink Burberry to match mine and I've bought her a Harrods collar," she said.

Clare Dicker, 21, from Kent, bought her Staffordshire bull terrier some glittery accessories, and then joked: "She probably gets bullied for the way she dresses in the dog community."

"Although it looks intrinsically silly it does have a function. Some dogs have thin skins and it's practical to dress them for winter," said Beth Robson, a businesswoman from Battersea, south London, whose dog, Mr Crumpet, eats out of a Gucci food bowl. "He's only seven months so I'm still building his wardrobe," she added.

The trend to dress up pets was started by the American heiress Paris Hilton, who is often photographed carrying her dog, Tinkerbell, in a designer handbag.

Since then, the fashion accessory pooch has become symbolic of a generation of women who marry later and have larger disposable incomes, according to Mark Birchenouth, Harrod's pet department manager.

He said his clientele had a maternal relationship with their dogs and saw no reason why they should not look equally as "fabulous" as their owners. "You can accessorise your dog with your own designer wardrobe and many women do. Our best sellers are the glitzy accessories. We sell nail varnish, tiaras and designer-wear for dogs. For many these pets are their babies," he said.

But Lucy Kennedy, who runs a dog-walking agency in west London, shook her head as she pointed to the dog bones hand-made in Milan. "I think it's ridiculous. Who would put their dog in a pink sheepskin jacket and pay £15 for it to be dry cleaned? They [pets] are status symbols," she said. "If I had to walk a dog dressed like that, I'd feel tempted to take it all off before I took it to the park."