Important: Gauntlett Cheng Once Had a Very Versatile Cat Model Their Dog Clothes
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Established in 2015, New York label Gauntlett Cheng has become synonymous with a ’90s grunge aesthetic and the brand’s playful crinkly textures, bandage-like knits and cosseting silhouettes celebrate the body.
With the knowledge that dogs and cats deserve the latest (resurfaced) trends as much as their people, Jenny Cheng and Esther Gauntlett create similar styles for pets. What initially started as a fun pet casting for their fall/winter 2018 presentation soon became an in-demand extension of their line. The Brooklyn-based duo, along with their friends and family have ushered in a diverse group of canine and feline fit models, ensuring their designs remain body-affirming for several species.
Where did you both meet?
Jenny: I went to school at Rhode Island School of Design and studied textiles. During my last year of school I interned with Mike and Zoe, the founders of Eckhaus Latta in NYC. When I graduated I started helping them out in the studio, and that's when I met Esther.
Esther: I grew up in Perth on the west coast of Australia. I went to school in Melbourne at RMIT and in my final year of college I won the green card lottery. I entered on a whim, and when I got the notification, I just moved to America! It wasn't really part of my long-term plan or anything, but I started working with Mike and Zoe a few weeks after I arrived. I knew no one in the city and I’d just be in the studio for 15-hours a day. Yeah. And that's where I met Jenny.
Wow, how lucky! And what an introduction to New York.
Esther: Yeah, I know. It was a baptism of fire, in an amazing way. It’s where I met all of my friends and where we made all of our connections.
How did your experiences at Eckhaus Latta inform Gauntlett Cheng?
Esther: I think for me it was mostly just seeing the way Mike and Zoe were working and feeling like it’s accessible to design clothes. Their studio practice was really small and intimate and there weren’t a lot of people there. Lots of samples were getting made in-house and I realized that you don’t have to, you know, have everything done in factories overseas. It could just be local, intimate, and handmade, which was something we could achieve ourselves.
Jenny: Yeah. I mean, at that time, everything was handmade by them and also by us. We were knitting, we were sewing, we were making samples and everything came together with the help of close friends and family. I think just seeing that made us feel like it was possible for us to do it too. Something that‘s always been really inspirational to me is how they work with their friends and artists in their community and collaborate with people. This is something that I think is really important to us as well.
Before we discuss your clothing designs for dogs and cats, do either of you have pets?
Esther: Back in Australia, my family has three dogs, and I have a cat here in New York. Her name is Flipper, and she’s a Siamese. She’s very vocal, cuddly and she wants to sit on you all the time. We hold hands when we sleep. She has a big personality, more dog-like, I would say.
Growing up we had dogs, cats, ducks, geese, guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, a huge assortment of pets at home! My parents still have a little dog called Mr. Scruffy who is a 15-year-old, arthritic, grumpy old man-terrier. So gorgeous. And then my brother has two big Border Collie-Kelpie dogs that live with my parents as well. I went back home to Australia recently and brought them all little outfits, which they loved. And of course, I make little things for Flipper as well. She has a collar that she wears but she’s not very tolerant of clothing – she’ll freeze if I try to dress her and go really low to the ground!
Jenny: I don’t have pets, but my parents have a Maltipoo named Dondon. He’s 16 years old, and he’s been my fit model. And I love to dog-sit for friends. I used to pet-sit for a dog, two ferrets, a bearded dragon, and a snake!
How has Gauntlett Cheng evolved since 2015?
Esther: Right before the pandemic hit, we made the decision to only show once a year, instead of releasing two collections a year. It was a move towards mental sustainability as well as environmental sustainability. We wanted more time to put into the design and development of our textiles.
Jenny: Pumping out collection after collection, you begin to fall a little out of love with it, and we wanted to make sure we had the mental space and the love that we could put into the clothes. So, we decided to only show spring/summer collections.
Esther: And also, both of us hate winter! I hate making coats and Jenny doesn’t like making sweaters. We like making dresses, sexy, see-through little summer dresses.
Tell us about your garments for pets.
Esther: We first showed pet clothes in fall/winter ’18. So much of our casting had always been family and friends and it was like a natural extension of that vibe, you know? Those animals, they’re our family. Even my mom was walking in the show with a dog and it felt very much like a community.
Jenny: Yeah. My sister has an Italian Greyhound named Toby, and she’s always been asking me to make clothes for him, so we thought let’s just include it in the show. So, we started making pet clothes during that season and it was a challenge!
Esther: It was such an adjustment making patterns! Arms come out from the bottom not the side and we were making these pieces for a whole different body that comes in such a variety of sizes and shapes.
Jenny: Oh my gosh, yeah. Some breeds have much larger rib cages and dogs with much longer bodies.
Esther: I think this is why most of the clothes we have made this time are very stretchy, so there’s a lot of flexibility there!
I’m guessing you need more than one fit model for pet clothing?
Esther: When we’re making clothes, you know, we’ll make a sample, put it on ourselves, and see how it feels and assess what we want to change. At the beginning with pet samples, I would bring it home, put a dog outfit on my cat and be like, “What’s going on here!”
Jenny: This weekend I’m fitting one of our sweaters on a Saluki, which is a really big Hound dog. So we’re going to have patterns for hound dogs because they just have such a different structure and figure, too.
Is pet clothing something you will continue to produce?
Esther: Yeah, totally. It was actually the fashion brand Ssense, who reached out to us and asked if we would consider making pet pieces again – they have quite an incredible pet selection on their website. We released a small capsule collection for them last year that complemented a human collection as well.
Jenny: Shooting the campaign was so fun, too.
Esther: It was just like all of our friends and all of their pets. So, one cat, five dogs and everyone walking their own animal outside of our studio in DUMBO.
Jenny: The prep in our studio, oh my gosh. All these models, all these dogs, a cat, three hairstylists, three makeup artists. Everyone got along and there was no fighting! The cat was just sitting on a friend’s lap the entire time, not phased by the dogs at all.
Esther: I wanted my cat to be in it so badly but she doesn’t like leaving the house and she hates dogs so that wouldn’t have worked so well.
What are your learnings from working with pets and how have they influenced your designs?
Esther: Design with practically was the first thing in mind. We realized pretty quickly that things need to be machine washable. A lot of our stuff is delicate and hand wash or dry clean only. If I’m gonna put this on dogs and they are going to the dog park, they’re gonna get filthy and you need to be able to put them in the wash.
Jenny: We also looked at stretch fabrics. One of the fabrics we use is almost like a bandage, so it’s nicely compressive in a way and this works as an under jacket for a dog and feels nice and secure.
Are you finding a demand for matching outfits between people and their pets?
Esther: It was really fun to release a corresponding collection. I know a few people who have the full personal and dog look. The fashion stylist Lotta Volkova, her big poodle Demur, who I love, and her have the matching pink scrunchy sets.
After a three-year presentation pause, what can we expect for spring/summer 2023?
Esther: It’s going to be such a magical time in the city in September when the weather is beautiful.
Jenny: We’re thinking about somewhere along the pier so we’re hoping that pans out.
Ultimately, what do you think the inclusion of pets brings to your collections?
Esther: I think it’s just really joyful. When we look at photos from the campaign of our friends with pets, there’s just happiness and so much fun. And I think that’s such a crucial part of the brand – leaning in to the not-serious, silly, joyful side of it is really important.
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Andie Cusick is a writer and editor who has lived and worked in New York, London, and Berlin. She has over a decade of experience across a diverse range of lifestyle publications and brands. Cusick is currently the Editorial Director at Freunde von Freunden, was head of PR for Urban Outfitters and former Associate Editor at NYLON Magazine.