Dog-crazy Japan puts canines on catwalk

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The Independent Online

Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo

With glossy hair, sparkling eyes and a clinging dress in turquoise silk, the model floats along the catwalk amid a blaze of swirling lights, dance beats and the click of cameras.

So far, so fashion. But this is no ordinary catwalk show: the model is a white poodle, one of 20 dogs making their catwalk debut in Japan's first "human-canine" fashion show.

The dog industry is booming in Japan. The economy may be sluggish but that has failed to dent an expanding pet industry worth more than a trillion yen (£4.7bn) a year. The number of dogs has doubled to more than 13 million in the past decade – there are actually fewer children under 12 in Japan. From dog yoga classes and dog sunglasses to dog gourmet restaurants and dog aromatherapy spas, there are few aspects of human life that have not been extended to include canines.

And so it was only a matter of time before the dogs hit the catwalk. The white poodle made her modelling debut in Tokyo at the weekend during the New Year Dog Party, a canine-related extravaganza that attracted crowds of up to 20,000 dog-lovers.

More than 60 companies exhibited their merchandise and services, ranging from dog spa baths to yoga classes.

"One in five families has a dog in Japan and they are treated not like pets, but like part of the family," said Kumi Shiraishi, the producer of the event. "As our population is declining, fewer women are having babies, more people are working and many people feel lonely. As a result, a pet dog is the perfect companion. Sooner or later, the number of pet dogs will be higher than the number of children. That is how much Japan loves its dogs." The highlight of the event was the fashion show, organised by the company behind New York's Pet Fashion Week. Photographers jostled for space at the end of the catwalk as a stream of human models brought dogs on to the catwalk while sporting co-ordinated outfits created by international designers.

Centre stage were greyhounds in Rasta hats, poodles in polka-dot dresses and shih-tzus in studded biker jackets. But the pièce de résistance was a £10,000 Swarovski crystal-studded dog coat on the back of a dachsund, created by the canine fashion designer Manfred of Sweden.

"The Japanese see dogs as their children and so it is natural they want to give their dogs the very best," said Bjorn Gardsby of Manfred of Sweden, whose jewel-clad creations have been sold to celebrities including the singer Robbie Williams and the writer Amy Tan.

Another booming trend is "pet rental", where people take out an animal for periods ranging from an hour to several days. As space has long been a scarce commodity and many apartment regulations prohibit pet ownership, the number of companies renting pets in Tokyo alone has risen from 17 in 2000 to 134 today. Dog cafes are also increasingly fashionable. Among them is Deco's Dog Cafe in the trendy Daikanyama area of Tokyo. A menu specifically designed for canines offers a range of gourmet delights, from sweet potato scones to rolled chicken with vegetables and cheese. Classes for dog etiquette, dog sweets and massage for dogs are also available at the cafe.