FLORENCE, Italy — Little-known fact: Dogs are clotheshorses.
In a thriving marketplace for pet apparel that was valued at $5.7 billion in 2021, dog owners account for a majority of sales. Common sense suggests that the bulk of that expenditure goes to leashes, harnesses and collars. Yet as it turns out, T-shirts and sweaters are a startlingly robust canine growth sector. And let’s not forget about coats.
These were some takeaways from Day 1 at Pitti Uomo, the men’s wear trade fair held in Florence every January and June. And what, one may ask, does Rover’s turtleneck have to do with an event best known for attracting flocks of vain male humans disporting themselves in wackadoodle plumage?
It is that, for the first time, Pitti Uomo devoted a pavilion inside the 16th-century Fortezza da Basso to showcasing animal apparel, and why not? Cats and dogs make up the greater percentage of the hundreds of millions of pets on the planet. And it is largely feline and canine markets that are driving a boom in pet apparel (guppies, parakeets and guinea pigs tending to look better naked).
Among the factors credited with driving market growth are increased urbanization, an overall uptick in disposable income and societal shifts that give pets parity with — and, often enough, priority over — family members. Thus we now see a proliferation of pet-centric brands like Moshiqa, which has been spotted on Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs, as well as Max Bone, PetHaus, Wagwear, Muttropolis, Vanderpump Pets and a raft of other pricey canine offerings from luxury goods houses like Barbour, Ralph Lauren and Gucci.
Surprisingly, it was not the marquee high-end labels — with their $655 logo harnesses (Moncler) or $300 four-legged, fleece-collared blanket-plaid coats (Dsquared2) or $540 patterned woolen hippie ponchos (Alanui), all made in collaboration with Poldo Dog Couture — that brought their wares to Florence.
Instead, for this modest debut, the Pitti Pet pavilion was given over to 15 stands in a pavilion designed by the architect Ilaria Marelli and featuring mostly plucky indies like the Painter’s Wife from Spain or midsize brands like Lollipet and DuePuntoOtto (with a line of dot-patterned dog coats and beds designed by the Italian architect and design deity Paola Navone), each clamoring to claim a share of what remains a nascent sector.
Was there silliness? Since we are talking about creatures perfectly clad as nature made them, there was. Was considerate design required of garments essentially comprising a top seam, a belt and apertures for head and tail? Oddly, the answer was yes. While one display featured crinolines that would test the dignity of any canine, purebred or mutt, another offered a back-belted doggie car coat inspired by one Hubert de Givenchy created for Audrey Hepburn to wear in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” As did Holly Golightly’s, this one had bracelet-length sleeves.
“It’s huge and it’s growing,” the Lollipet designer Sonia Staccioli said of the market for outerwear like the pieces she had brought along, jackets and coats made from metallic fake leatherette, faux fur and a nubby Casentino wool produced for centuries at several small and now imperiled Tuscan mills.
When a reporter inquired of Ms. Staccioli, whose Bracco Italiano hunting dog, Ugo, strained at his leash, how making clothes for customers with four legs and little say in their choice of apparel differed from designing for notoriously picky humans, she shrugged.
“It’s basically the same,” she said, “except with dogs you don’t have to listen to their opinion.”