Ware of the Dog Isn’t Trying to Be Cute
Designer Jackie Rosenthal on how to dress your dog when you still miss Phoebe Philo’s Celine.
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Jackie Rosenthal doesn’t design dog clothes. Well, she does, but they’re the kind of clothes you’re just as likely to want to wear yourself as see on your dog (or cat). They’re cute without being cutesy, colorful without being garish, and interesting without being intrusive. “Your dog’s clothing is an extension of your own style and personality,” says Rosenthal, whose background in fashion — working for brands like Comme des Garçons, Nina Ricci, and Lanvin — would seem to have prepared her better for a career designing for humans than their furry companions. “I dislike [dog clothes] that are overly contrived or look like they are trying too hard to be cute,” she says. “Many of the pet sweaters [in the market right now] look like baby clothing. We try to make clothing that is fun and whimsical, but not dumbed down.”
It’s an approach that has served her well, allowing her to build a robust online business and partner with high-end retailers one might not immediately associate with pet clothes. “It was never our goal to be carried by just pet stores,” says Rosenthal, who launched Ware of the Dog nearly a decade ago as a side hustle while freelancing in fashion sales. “Our goal was always to be sold in different of types of stores — pet, fashion, and lifestyle — and now we are carried by Nordstrom, Saks, SSENSE, Anthropologie, and Harrods, as well as many high-end pet stores around the world.”
Today, Rosenthal devotes herself full-time to Ware of the Dog, which has expanded beyond sweaters and leashes to include adorable handmade plush toys, dog bowls, charms, and harnesses. But she is in no rush to grow. For now, she is happy to keep doing what she’s doing: making awesome clothes and accessories for the world’s coolest pets.
Where did the idea for Ware of the Dog come from?
I was walking my dog with a friend in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and we started talking about how much fun it would be to design a line of pet accessories. I had been working in women’s fashion for most of my career and thought it would be nice to do something a bit more light hearted. We walked past a “Beware of the Dog” sign on a fence and the name was born.
We started with around six sweaters: machine knits and hand knits. The machine knits were made in a small factory in Queens and the hand knits were made by some knitters in New York. A photographer friend took photos of the sweaters on my friend’s dogs and I made up a small catalog. I sent it to Barneys and they emailed me back right away requesting a meeting. After they saw them in person, they placed a rather large order, and from there Ware of the Dog was born. We still have a version of one of the sweaters they purchased: a hand-knit bobble sweater that is now our cable bobble turtleneck.
What’s your dog’s name?
Hugo. He’s a 14-year-old Coton de Tulear. He has a very easy, nice personality and gets along with everyone. He garners a lot of attention when we are out and about. People always stop me and want to pet him and say hi.
Does he go to work with you?
Every day. He’s always by my side. I share a work space with a few other companies so there are other dogs at our office. Even though Hugo is 14, he has a very young spirit and loves to play. And he’s always wiling to fill in as a model on photo shoots when our other dog models misbehave.
He sounds lovely.
He doesn’t really have any bad qualities. He can be too attached sometimes and is a picky eater, but he has such an amazing personality. He puts a smile on the face of everyone he comes into contact with.
And I bet he looks damn cute in your sweaters! What’s your design process like? Do you follow trends in the pet market?
Honestly, I don’t really look at the pet market. I try to keep my finger more on the pulse of the fashion world and adopt those trends into our new designs. I dislike the word “modern” because it feels so arbitrary, but I do think there is something modern in the idea of dressing your dog the way you would dress yourself.
Who are your favorite designers?
Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Martin Margiela, Sacai, and Celine when it was designed by Phoebe Philo. They’re the kind of designers who stay true to their core. They have strong and clear characteristics of design style and they make clothes that stand the test of time.
That’s some capital F fashion! Makes sense, given your background.
I lived in Paris for 10 years. First, I worked for a fashion PR company and then for Comme des Garçons. When I moved back to New York, I worked freelance for Lanvin and Nina Ricci in wholesale sales. I’ve always worked more on the commercial side of the business, but I’ve also worked with some smaller designers, which allowed me to see and learn about all aspects of the business — from design to sales.
What is your favorite thing Ware of the Dog makes?
I still love our neon colorblock harness, even though we have offered it for eight years. I also love our sweaters. They are made from 100% wool — no synthetics — and last forever.
Do you have any hard and fast rules when it comes to designing your collections?
I only design pieces I would wear myself and never too much color. Also, don’t design a toy that you wouldn’t want to see around your house!
Right now, we are working on the Spring collection. We will introduce some new T-shirts, raincoats, and toys. We introduce new products each season. As far as new categories and collaborations, when something feels organically right, then we will pursue it.
Chicago pet accessories boutique owner Chaz Olajide on curating indie dogwear collections and supporting BIPOC-led brands.
“There’s a lot of humor in the brand. Puppet is a very funny creature. He definitely inspires us to laugh more while making the garments.”
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.