If you’ve been to a consumer show recently or PATS Sandown Park, chances are you’ll have met – or seen – a striking duo. Licks Of London is a mum-and-daughter team who are championing the cause of canine fashion, reports Sandra Pearce
Ursula Andress stole many a boy’s heart (and no doubt many a man’s) when she emerged from the ocean, clad in a white bikini and clutching two sea shells in that now-iconic scene from the James Bond movie, Dr No. Her character, Honey Rider, knew how to make an entrance.
Mum-and-daughter team Josie Carter and Kelly Pearce definitely know how to make an appearance with their lavishly decorated, blinged-up head gear; long, silky blonde hair; absolutely fabulous manicured nails that would look perfect on Kim Kardashian… and two blow-up pink poodles. The self-declared Dog Fashion Police are on a mission to yank British canine fashion well into the 21st century. “Life’s too short for an ugly collar,” says the 47-year-old co-founder of Licks Of London.
So how did the two end up as doggie fashionistas? Both have a sales history (24-year-old Kelly is still a full-time sales manager with a pharmaceuticals company), and Josie has spent years in the human beauty side, hence those gorgeous nails. It turns out that Josie’s partner has to travel extensively, and so she goes abroad with him two to three times a year. Having grown up with Yorkshire terriers, and having been a breeder of Teacup Yorkies herself, before each visit she looks up the doggie fashion in that country and visits the relevant pet stores or boutique for a bit of retail therapy. “I always come back with something unusual, that people do not see here,” she said.
As a quick aside, dog shows are in her blood as her mum would take her to visit these from a very young age; she remembers attending the very first Discover Dogs, which then comprised a mere handful of stalls. Josie in turn carried on the tradition with her two children. To return to the story, being such a regular at dog shows, people were always asking where she got whatever latest accessory or item of clothing her dogs were wearing.
“One day,” she said, “Kelly said to me, ‘Mum, we can do this. We can bring stuff in and identify new fashion trends’.”
So Dog Fashion Police was born, with the aim of being hot on the trail of whatever is new in dog fashion, picking up trends from around the world – last Christmas was spent in Thailand; they’ve been several times to America; might do Germany this Christmas; and Josie was recently in Tenerife and Brazil. It’s America again next year, and they desperately want to get to Japan.
In any case, about six years ago they launched Licks Of London, planning their means by which they would sell various dog clothing ranges and accessories online. The name certainly comes with overtones. “We wanted something that everyone would remember,” says Josie. As far as they could remember, mum and daughter had not seen any dog-related business with the word ‘Licks’ in its trading name. Yes, there’s an associated taboo with its erotic overtones, but it’s therefore not a name you could forget easily. “And that’s why we trademarked the name,” she concludes.
They pretty much figured that at some point they’d have their own line of doggie fashion, and so decided to protect their interests from the start. “It’s cost us thousands of pounds, but it was worth it.”
With such a name has to come a certain joie de vivre, a flamboyant embracing of life, and the ladies are born naturals. Josie figures they have eight or nine different looks, each with uniquely styled hat. And don’t forget their bling. “Oh, we love our bling,” she says. They certainly stand out in a crowd, and are now treated as VIPs at the various dog shows that they attend. Whereas once they were not allowed to bring their dogs to shows (hence the blow-up poodles and pugs), their pets are now also accorded VIP status. Latest arrival is Queenie, a four-month-old chocolate tri Chihuahua pup, who is taking to the attention like a duck to water. “She’s a meeter and greeter, and really into going up to people, but that’s the Cancer in her,” explains Josie. Excuse me? Oh yes, dog astrology is a feature on the Licks Of London website, with a well-respected astrologer behind the horoscopes. Queenie is a Cancer sign, and living up to her astrological sign, she is a loving, family-orientated dog. Queenie was at this month’s Discover Dogs: “We have a pink buggy that will be totally blinged up.”
On-line sales are doing well, and they have just taken on the Hennessy hand-made leather collars and leash range, as well as the unique Fabuleash range of dog collars and leashes. The Fabuleash line actually looks like a bracelet with its beads, but Josie says it can take up to 100lb of strain and is suitable for a 25lb dog. Londoners apparently love it.
Tutus fly out the door at Christmas, though bread and butter is their Ruby Red Waxer Coat. “It’s unusual to have a waxer coat in red, as they are mostly black, brown, green or boring,” she explains. And Licks Of London is, after all, about unusual and unique quality lines. “We are also passionate about helping small businesses,” she says. “We talk to them and will put their stuff on our website.”
They have developed a sideline and provide private home parties for celebrities, in a similar fashion to the popular Boots or Pampered Chef home parties. “We get away with this because of our personalities,” she explains. The Fabuleash is very popular at such parties, as are their canine onesies. “Many do not like the dog smell in their houses, especially after a walk. Onesies keep the dogs dry when outside, and they look really cool. Then when you get home, you take the suit off and they are fine. No mess, no smell.”
They are now in the process of designing and manufacturing their own Chihuahua small dog range, modelled by Queenie, of course, which they hope to launch next Spring. The problem with many fashion ranges is that the leg cut is so large, it drowns the dog, says Josie. Their range, which will be made in England, will feature much slimmer legs.
“We will not produce hundreds and hundreds of one design,” she explains, revealing they have found someone who is happy to make their products in small numbers. This means they can avoid the wholesalers who insist on bulk orders, as well as large sizes, which can take forever to shift. “The aim is for about 100 items, and then when they’re gone, they’re gone. And we will then change the design slightly so it is always different. You need to keep your collections fresh. It’s so frustrating when you see some manufacturers who feature the same range every year.”
They are also sourcing a supply of blow-up dogs. “Well, we have to, don’t we? They’ve become synonymous with us,” she laughs.
If that isn’t enough, their PR agent is in talks for the duo to host a dog show in America – they have large-enough personalities, and the Americans love the Brits. “America is most on the ball with dog fashion; it’s a billion-dollar industry there. They have fashion fairs for dogs that last a week, and are far more dog friendly than here. We do look to America for new fashion trends – Britain tends to follow what America does. If England embraced dog fashion as much as the Americans do, it would help the economy!”
But it is not blind importing of ideas. For instance, bikinis and stocking with suspender belts are in vogue over the pond at the moment, and it is highly unlikely that these will ever be accepted here. “For one, we don’t have the weather for bikinis,” she says, “and as for the stockings, well, it’s a bit bizarre. That won’t work here at all.”
In Barcelona, there are Hello Kitty pants so owners can apply a pad for when their bitch is in season. This is a possibility, she muses.
So what do they think will be the big fashion statements next year? “We are looking to khaki, light green, beige and tan, and light blue. And you will see a lot of collars: big, black fur collars. And hoodies, but with detachable hoods.”
So it’s a pretty full schedule then, with lots simmering away. But then she reveals that they would love to become brand ambassadors for a dog company. “We have both done sales and we are good at it,” she says.
Well, it certainly looks as if we will be hearing a lot from Licks Of London in the future.