'Our establishment has been catering for dogs for thirty years!' Jacques Palombo shows off his T-shirt collection displayed along the pink walls of his shop, looking proud of his enterprise. ‘Chez Toutou’ in Brussels is not just a dog salon, but an institution in the fashion world of pets. The family business, founded by Palombo's grandfather, is today an international chain. A second ‘Toutou’ has just opened in Alicante, Spain, and will soon be expanding within the Belgian capital through a branch selling luxury items.
Dog sitting and all-inclusive holiday for the 'little darlings'
All the way from the USA and Japan, ‘petmania’ has now reached Europe. Once just a social companion, pets are now fulfilling the role of social go-betweens who compensate for the emotional needs of humans. Today it is up to cats and dogs to heal rifts and bridge the isolation gap in modern urban society, which is why we end up with extravagances like ‘pet fashion,’ which is shown off as a status symbol.
A recent survey by Business Week magazine reports that the pet industry, which is nearing a 29 billion dollar annual turnover, has overtaken expenditure on culture. 60% of this turnover goes into the service sector. A hint of things to come – the endlessly advertised craze for pets is growing in Europe. 2001 Survey statistics for the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) show that the French own more pets than any other EU citizens. The annual sales turnover of the pet market alone is estimated to be 4.4 billion francs. More than half of France’s households own at least one pet.
This phenomenon has become a lucrative business, especially in the luxury items sector. You can find internet TV for dogs or information web pages for pets, such as the French ‘monfidèleami.com’ (myloyalfriend.com), animal psychiatry and adverts for ‘dog sitting’ - only the best is good enough for our furry friends. Animal retreats offer all-inclusive ‘wellbeing and relaxation for your little darlings,’ bodyguards are hired, and wills made. Pets rule. No longer do generic dog biscuits land in their Gucci food bowls. Manufacturers of pet food such as Royal Canin or Felix are out-doing each other with new concoctions: fructose, vitamin C and biscuits to prevent obesity or heart problems are being developed. Catering to the whims of pampered dogs, the Paris bakers ‘Mon Bon Chien’ ('My Good Dog') will deliver biscuits guaranteed to be sugar and preservative free on demand. Crazy or what?
In Palombo’s boutique, every imaginable knickknack is piled up on the shelves. 'When Paris Hilton dressed her dog up, everyone came rushing in to the store to buy the same T-shirt,' he recalls.
His catalogue also contains chic little fleece jackets for sausage dogs, as well as pleated skirts, black jeans with gold belts, floral-patterned dresses for Sunday walks in the country, and a sexy leopard print shirt for a hot night out with a dog in heat. 'This season, military-inspired camouflage prints are very in,' explains the owner. Caps with visors, glasses, neck scarves- they’re all still popular. However, last summer’s best-seller was a T-shirt with Desperate Housedogs printed on the front. Does nobody get it?
The Brussels fashion scene is having a hard time competing with other European cities, where dolled-up lap dogs run the risk of having to feel like poor country bumpkins next to their friends from Paris or Milan. There, no dog is to be seen without its Burberry check pattern, particularly when it has been specially chosen to match its owner’s outfit. 'The latest trend in Paris is for special collars and leads made by a Swedish company, that tell those in the know that the owner is single,' explains the editor-in-chief of French Fashion Pets magazine.
‘Chez Toutou’ sells sparkly food bowls, various beauty products, and a wide range of bio-food, 'but no furniture.' No mini wardrobes or four-poster beds to replace an ordinary dog basket. But the doggy carts in the shop window 'are selling like hot cakes! There is even a little pocket at the front for ID.' Looks like neurosis comes with a hefty price tag.