Where Interior Designers Shop for Dog Stuff
Vogue and Vanity Fair alum Matthew Morris on collaborating with local makers at his design-forward brand, Mr. Dog.
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Have you ever wondered what it would look like if seminal 20th-century sculptor Constantin Brancusi partnered with Architectural Digest to design the world’s most stately dog water bowl? Sadly, Mr. Brancusi died before such a collaboration ever came to fruition, but if he had deigned to embark on such a project, I imagine the final result would have looked something like the bowls created by New York-based luxury dog accessory brand Mr. Dog.
The Mr. Dog Water Marble Dog Bowl is arguably the most Instagrammable dog bowl you can buy. (If Kelly Wearstler was designing a pet-friendly home, this is what she would recommend.) “A lot of interior designers actually do buy these bowls as gifts for their clients at the end of large jobs,” says Mr. Dog creative director Matthew Morris. “It’s probably our most popular product among interior designers.”
Other popular items: sustainable cotton canvas toys designed in collaboration with illustrator Alessandra Olanow, hand-blown glass bowls by glassblower Nate Cotterman, and beds covered in custom fabrics by Kate Loudon Shand. “Interior designers even buy our fabrics for covering couches or making drapes,” says Morris. “I can’t tell you how many drapes there are out there in our cabbage rose ticking.”
Williams co-founded Mr. Dog after a long and successful career in fashion, interiors, and, eventually, pet products. “I was a sittings editor at Condé Nast for 20 years, working on shoots for GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and House & Garden,” he says. “Then I worked at Bergdorf Goodman, then I was head of home furnishings at Donna Karan...” From there, Morris went on to found his first pet company: Blue Ribbon Dog, which he eventually sold to Target, who rebranded it as their in-house pet brand Boots & Barkley.
“But I never felt like I finished my story with the category,” says Morris. So in 2015, he partnered with a friend and created Mr. Dog. “[Back then,] there weren’t a lot of players in this space making modern, aesthetically pleasing products you’d actually want to live with. Ninety five percent of what was available — of what’s still available — in the market was Chinese open stock — goods companies could customize and call their own, but which, in reality, were available to anyone shopping in those particular showrooms in Asia.”
To set Mr. Dog apart, Morris chose to work exclusively with American manufacturers and collaborated extensively with artists and craftspeople in and around New York. “I wanted to create a much more exclusive assortment where we controlled the design and the manufacturing. And within the States, there are such amazing artisanal factories — small though they might be — and I really wanted to support them.
“[Manufacturing locally] also means I don’t have to get on a plane for 16 hours to visit a factory in Asia. I can just get in the car and drive two hours to an incredible ceramics factory, or a cut-and-sew shop in upstate New York, or a leather tannery in Pennsylvania. I can really control the process from start to finish and make sure the finished product is exactly what I want.”
Mr. Dog’s first big seller was their trophy pull toy, which was featured in the New York Times’ holiday gift guide. “I showed a prototype to an editor friend while we were still developing the brand and she put it in. It wasn’t really supposed to launch until the spring, but suddenly I had to get manufacturing going because when you get something into the New York Times gift guide [it’s a really big deal],” says Morris.
“We literally had to run into production,” Morris continues. “I remember getting in the car with like 150 yards of 22-ounce canvas and taking it to this factory we were working with in Jersey City and having the product made 10 days later, just in time for the launch of the gift guide. To this day, it’s probably one of our best-selling products from a single piece of press. I mean, we sold hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of those toys off of that.”
The toy was a collaboration with illustrator Alessandra Olanow and to this day, nearly all the products Mr. Dog sells are collaborations of one sort or another. “I love a collaborative effort,” says Morris. “Early on, our studios were in Brooklyn and we were surrounded by all these incredible woodworkers and glassblowers and jewelry makers and it just [made sense] to create products together. Now, collaborations are the norm, but that wasn’t the case when we started this in 2015. And personally I love that we get to work with these really talented individuals and create these really unique, special products that you’re not going to see anywhere else but on my website.”
Products like the white marble dog bowls, which this writer has been lusting after for half a year. “The great thing about the material marble is that it keeps things cool, consistently,” says Morris. “They’re carved in our signature shape — as are all our bowls, whether they are made from marble, glass, or ceramic — and we work with this incredible marble miller in the Appalachian mountains that I actually found by chance when I was in Washington DC. I saw them working on one of the Smithsonian buildings and I called them and asked them if they would collaborate with me. The bowls are expensive, I know [$500-$700 each], but they’re expensive to make — the materials are expensive, the milling process is expensive, but it’s an incredibly popular item.”
So, what’s next for Mr. Dog? “We’re working with Kate Loudon Shand on some new fabrics and we’re planning to introduce a new dog bed silhouette,” says Morris. “We’re also planning to expand our toys offering in time for Christmas, which I’m super excited about. We’ve got some really interesting new ideas for that category.”
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Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.