Designing For Dogs - Repurposing with a Purpose
by Kelly Luker
We watched as one gorgeous model after another preened in his or her oh-so-courant designer threads. Barnes was definitely working that wool tweed pillbox hat and Burberry-style vest. Petunia looked absolutely fierce, darling, in her wool paisley hoodie, trimmed in faux pearls and rhinestones with Louis Vuitton accents. Palomino kicked it old-school in her Ralph Lauren classic wool “little black dress” lined with black satin and accented with an elegant strand of faux pearls. This was not Milan, but the models were better looking, even if they did have four paws. They were also all homeless, presently or formerly living at the Santa Cruz SPCA.
On her laptop, Anastasia Torres-Gil clicked through one photograph after another of various shelter dogs adorned in outfits from her fashion line, MyFavoriteCouture.com. Although the designer items she relies on might have originally cost hundreds of dollars, Torres-Gil finds them used and “re-purposes” them into one-of-a-kind apparel for the discriminating dog. Torres-Gil hunts for her materials at thrift stores, yard sales, and consignment shops, as well as getting unused cast-offs from fashionable friends.
Torres-Gil smiled when she considered how expensive the items had once been, giving a few examples. “I got a $300 Burberry shirt for $1.25,” she recalled. She clicked to a model in a tiny t-shirt made out of the soft material Prada shoes are packaged in. “It’s amazing what people throw out.” Even though the items are secondhand, Torres-Gil settles for nothing but the best when sorting through the bargain bins. It takes at least a week to create each one-of-a-kind outfit and she spares no details, like seeing that each outfit is fully lined. “If I wouldn’t wear it myself, then I certainly wouldn’t put it on my dog,” Torres-Gil laughed.
Although MyFavoriteCouture.com was created less than two years ago, it has garnered media coverage from as far away as New York, Florida and Canada. Torres-Gil was also invited to Los Angeles to be part of a pilot TV show she described as “Project Runway” for dog-clothes designers.
Fashion designer for the furry crowd is a long way from Torres-Gil’s former 25-year career as an attorney. She worked for California Rural Legal Assistance as well as for the district attorney’s office as a prosecutor in the counties of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara. “I had a brush with cancer,” Torres-Gil recalled, and realized it was time to retire in order to fulfill some of her other passions. As a longtime child advocate within the legal system, Torres-Gil now works as a recruiter for the County of Santa Cruz Foster Care and Adoption Program. Then there’s her love of fashion.
Torres-Gil always liked to sew and made many of her clothes through high school and college. Deciding to “amuse herself” one day, she took apart a recycled Ann Taylor shirt and Louis Vuitton purse to create a quirky outfit for Coco. “Coco is my fashion muse,” Torres-Gil said as she looked lovingly down at the handsome terrier-Chihuahua mix in her arms. Coco can claim her own share of fame, having appeared on a Spanish–language television variety show with Torres-Gil’s husband, Rafael Torres-Gil, to show off their matching designer garb. Torres-Gil’s other two dogs, Brownie and Binky, have also enjoyed a few stints modeling the high-fashion apparel.
Having adopted and fostered many dogs from the Santa Cruz SPCA over the years, Torres-Gil turned to that organization for models to display her ever-expanding clothing line. Director Lisa Carter did not have to be convinced. She put Torres-Gil in touch with photographer Portia Shao of Positive Vista Photography and Art, and the two have since immortalized somewhere between 60 and 80 homeless pets for greeting cards, newspapers and websites. Carter noted that the greetings cards, available at the SPCA shelter and its Capitola store, as well as on its website, sell “really, really” well. Torres-Gil’s outfits are also available at the Capitola store, with a significant portion of the proceeds donated to the shelter. MyFavoriteCouture.com also donates many outfits to other nonprofits to auction off, such as Second Harvest, Canine Companions for Independence, and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue.
“It’s helped increase adoptions significantly,” said Carter, referring to the professional photography and adorable outfits. Like the clothes they model, the dogs too, were once discarded, only to find new lives as someone’s treasure. “We are the voice of the animals,” Carter added. “They can’t thank her, but what she has done means so much to us.” She continued, “Between Portia’s photography and Anastasia’s ‘gift of garb,’ they’ve become two lifesavers for the SPCA.”
Kelly Luker owns Little Pup Lodge, a cage-free boarding facility designed exclusively for small dogs. She has written for Runner's World, Salon.com and various alternative weeklies.