While Russia's two-legged population feels the financial pinch, designer lines from sportswear to mink coats, evening gowns to bootees are being snapped up... for the nation's dogs.
For mankind's four-legged friends, the rigours of the Russian winter have long required some extra layers to keep out the cold. But the jewel-encrusted, over-the-top creations on offer today, together with perfumes, facial masks and Swarkovski-studded leads, go way beyond the imaginings of, say, the 19th century writer Anton Chekhov, who touched on the phenomenon of women and their dogs in "Lady with Lapdog."
Unlocking the commercial potential of the instinct to pamper one's pooch are designers like Svetlana Abramova, who in 2004 launched her own brand, Very Stylish Dog (www.styledog.ru), and is now breaking into the foreign market.
For her Chihuahua
She started out making clothes for humans, but began designing for her Chihuahua Boniya in 2001 and was soon embarked on a full-scale business.
"When I went out with Boniya dressed up really fashionably everyone would ask me where I got the clothes from. Little by little I lost all interest in human fashion," said Abramova.
Having got to grips with canine chic, Abramova last year created a range of matching woman and dog outfits for American firm Diamond Dogs, due to go on display in London in March and later in Los Angeles. London store Harrods has ordered a new autumn collection, she says. And along with fur coats and day, evening and sports wear, her customers can push the boundaries of good taste as never before with costumes that allow their dogs to pose as bees, angels, emergency service workers or nurses.
Her dog garments "are cut with respect for the rules of human haute couture," said Abramova, reassuringly.
"We use only natural materials - jersey, cashmere and silk - because some dogs are allergic to synthetic materials," she noted. Shops like Charli in central Moscow offer not only dog apparel but numerous accessories Ğ including dog rucksacks for venturing far from home turf. Charli can also give your dog a manicure and dye or plait its hair.
"The clothes are not only about beauty but protect your animal from the cold," stressed the shop's co-owner, Edita Lys, who says business is holding up and the shop gets about 20 visitors a day at weekends. Most are "middle class," she asserts. But while it is not unusual to see Russian women in restaurants and nightspots with a dog on one arm, the economic crisis has led to some stylistic changes.
"We today make more clothes in casual style Ğ more comfortable, more day-to-day and less luxury.
Our clothes are being priced more accessibly but remain elegant and fashionable," said the marketing director of Very Stylish Dog, Nail Abrarov.
"The dogs very quickly get used to the clothes, which protect them from cold and mud. The owners, who treat the dogs like their children, don't want them to get sick," he said.