Fido Unleashed! Pet Store Peddles Pooch Couture

When Sigourney Weaver’s greyhound got married, Ms. Weaver needed a custom-made wedding dress for the “bride.” When Tori Spelling’s pug had a special birthday party, Ms. Spelling needed party favors for her dogs’ friends. And when Uma Thurman’s Chihuahua needed a Valentine’s Day outfit (a pink fur sweater and a Legally Blonde –inspired pink beret), Ms. Thurman had to find it.

Complicated situations like these are made easy at Trixie and Peanut. It’s a destination store: Feverishly devoted customers have been known to fly in, jump in a cab and arrive carrying their luggage-which sometimes includes their animals.

Owner Susan Bing started the business five years ago, with a catalog, after she wasn’t able to find the quality and variety of pet products she wanted for her two boxers, Trixie and Peanut. “People laughed … right in my face!” said Ms. Bing, 34. “Especially guys: ‘You’re going to start a company selling pet things ?!'” Then an art director for Tiffany’s, Ms. Bing had a lot of experience designing catalogs and newspaper advertisements. “I saved up this money to buy an apartment,” she said, “but instead I decided to start a business.”

The catalog swiftly expanded to the Internet, and she opened a physical store in November, running it with her husband, Mark Edwards, along with their manager, Douglas Gleason. They sell clothing, collars, harnesses, beds, pet carriers, pet bags and all kinds of toys, treats and food for dogs.

“Dogs come in every shape and size-even more than people,” Ms. Bing explained. A lot of people have no idea how to measure their dogs, she said. For clothing, you’re supposed to measure the dog from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. “Some people measure to the tip of the tail, and we’re like, ‘No, no, no-to their little butt.'” Ms. Bing said that small, skinny dogs definitely have the most options in clothing and look the best in everything. Yes, just as in women’s clothing, fat dogs suffer from discrimination. But if you have a pudgy pooch, don’t worry: Trixie and Peanut carries the canine equivalent of Marina Rinaldi, with some particularly nice plus-sized jackets. “You’ve got to work on what designer will fit that dog,” Ms. Bing said.

There is pathos behind Trixie and Peanut: Namesake Trixie was in a fatal car accident three days before her “mother” finished that first catalog shoot. Ms. Bing was inconsolable. Her photographer, a close friend, had to get stern. “I was hysterical,” she said. “He had to slap me, and he was like, ‘Wake up! You’re either going to do this or you’re not. You’re wasting all this time and money-you have to get it together!”

Peanut, still happy and healthy, has spent many hours of her life in front of the camera modeling clothing. Ms. Bing describes her boxer as a “nudist” who often refuses to wear any clothes at all-an act of rebellion that Ms. Bing understands. However, she makes Peanut wear a sweater and boots in the winter. The boots, both fashionable and practical, protect Peanut’s paws from the salt on the sidewalk.

Devoted to her canine customers, Ms. Bing can rattle off a dog’s name, size and entire wardrobe. She enjoys the fact that her store has blossomed into a prominent social spot where people can meet up with their friends (and their dogs’ friends). The long, narrow store has plenty of space for the dogs to run. She and her husband, Mr. Edwards, let the dogs try on as many clothes as they want to, which many pet stores won’t allow.

Occasionally, Ms. Bing gets sent down to the basement by her husband for “attitude adjustment” when she gets out of sorts with an unreasonable customer. She doesn’t understand why some people seem to feel that they have a right to walk into Trixie and Peanut and criticize the store. “People come in here and look around and say, ‘This is ridiculous! This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen!'” For example, Ms. Bing bought large quantities of a little motorcycle jacket so she could price them very low-but that hasn’t stopped some customers from marching right up to the motorcycle jacket and saying, “‘ Twenty-nine dollars for this-for your dog?!’ And they have no problem saying that, just out loud,” Ms. Bing added disconsolately.

She also told the story of one woman who complained that T&P’s dog beds were overpriced, with comments like: “Isn’t it nice to be cheating people?”

“I was like, ‘Petco is two blocks away. Please feel free to go to Petco, because they have a nice collection of beds.'” Ms. Bing recalled. Sure enough, the customer returned with her tail between her legs, so to speak. “She said, ‘You know, those beds at Petco really aren’t that nice, and they’re like the same price as yours.’ And I said, ‘See, you just could be nice when you come in here. We were happy to help you, and we have even more beds on the Web site, and the beds start at $29. The ones at Petco are $60, and they’re not even that nice.’

“There are some people you just can’t please,” Ms. Bing concluded. She was unable, for example, to help the middle-aged couple whose poodle wears only real diamonds. Trixie and Peanut does stock some dog collars ($12) and dog-bone charms decorated with lovely Swarovski crystals, but the elderly ladies who frequent Upper East Side pet stores often walk in and then walk right out. “They don’t understand it,” Ms. Bing said.

In the window of Trixie and Peanut, three doggy mannequins model rain slickers and matching boots in pale blue, pink and yellow. The “dog wall” runs along the left side of the bright white store: rows and rows of white plaster dogs’ heads that almost seem to grow right out of the wall, allowing for an enormous display of collars. On the right side, very large photographs of dogs are mounted on pastel-colored boards. For the little Britney Spears–type hoochie-coochie pooches, there are wee T-shirts with sayings like “Gigolo,” “Naughty” and “Stud” covering the center display, available in assorted colors ($22). And for all those canine benefits that take Manhattan every spring, tuxedos are available for $129. The store also offers feng shui “lotus bud” rubber toys for $15. “You have to do your research, because something like this isn’t going to work everywhere. It’s so New York,” Ms. Bing said. “If someone’s like, ‘We’re in Boston and we want to have a store just like this’- well, we don’t sell to anybody in Boston! Maybe they’re too practical and conservative.”

Trixie and Peanut is closed on Mondays, which sometimes causes violent reactions. “I have people banging on that door, cursing at me,” Ms. Bing said. “Screaming, ‘I need this collar!'”

[Trixie and Peanut, 23 East 20th Street, 212-358-0881; Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.] Fido Unleashed! Pet Store Peddles Pooch Couture