Anthony Rubio, Pet Couturier, with group of dogs dressed in his designs.
Anthony Rubio, Pet Couturier and Founder of Anthony Rubio Designs, creates canine couture fashion pieces while giving back to organizations like The Humane Society. — Brandy Yi

There are two things Anthony Rubio is passionate about: high fashion and animal welfare.

Twenty years ago, the Fashion Institute of Technology alumnus stumbled upon an opportunity to combine those passions when he designed a custom jacket for his rescue Chihuahua mix.

“I had rescued a dog that was being badly treated … the dog used to tremble,” Rubio said. “I decided to design a jacket for the dog to keep them comfortable, like a hug, and it worked.”

Rubio designed a few more “canine couture” pieces, which started gaining attention from people he knew. Eventually, he realized there was an opportunity to start not only a business but an entire new genre of pet apparel.

“I could do one of two things: Make something that everybody can get — a pet coat — or go to the next level and do a luxury product in couture because I studied fashion design at FIT,” Rubio told CO—. “I decided to create my own niche. I wanted to create something that people didn't know they were going to love until they [saw] it.”

Thus, Anthony Rubio Designs — and the title of “Pet Couturier” — was born.

[Read More: How the Pet Humanization Trend Is Creating New Brands and Business Opportunities]

The custom pet couture creative process

Rubio experienced a lot of early success creating custom designs for his clients, who have ordered everything from tuxedos and ballgowns to pop-culture-inspired costumes for their dogs and cats. He sees clients by appointment only to create high-quality, bespoke pieces that can’t be purchased anywhere else.

“That's the mystique,” said Rubio of his creations. “I think that that's what gets the attention — these are collectibles. People are telling me that … they display them as art in their homes.”

His creative process for these one-of-a-kind garments is first and foremost about the comfort and safety of his four-legged models.

“Everything is made with flexibility [and] breathability,” Rubio said. “The garments are made so that if the dog has to use the bathroom, they could do it with the garment on. Sometimes the pieces are convertible where, if [the design] has a skirt, the [pet owner] could take the skirt off and reattach it. So, all of that is taken into consideration.”

[Read More: Small Businesses Leveraging the Pampered Pet Trend]

I wanted to be able to speak for those who couldn't speak.

Anthony Rubio, Pet Couturier and Founder of Anthony Rubio Designs

Beyond a business: Leveraging a pet fashion brand for advocacy

Because of the unique niche Rubio’s creations filled when he first started, they quickly caught the attention of international fashion magazines.

“While I was on vacation in Italy, the photo editor of Vogue Italia … heard I was in town … and wanted to meet with me,” Rubio told CO—. “She did a feature story with … [a] 20-picture spread on Vogue Italia online and the [business] just blew up from there.”

Among the opportunities that sprung from Rubio’s Vogue Italia feature was the chance to become the first designer to put dogs as runway models at New York Fashion Week in 2012.

“The organizers … had the stipulation that I had to design clothing for people as well, because Fashion Week is about people,” said Rubio. “So I quickly ran and made four garments for the humans and sent photos. And they were like, ‘You're in.’”

Rubio has put on his Canine Couture NYFW show every season since then, and that kind of consistent high-profile attention for his brand has allowed him to shine a spotlight on causes that matter to him. Over the years, he’s done pet fashion shows to help raise money for organizations like The Humane Society and The Guide Dog Foundation, among others. He also donates one-third of all his proceeds to animal rescue organizations.

“I wanted to be able to speak for those who couldn't speak,” Rubio explained. “I wanted to educate people about the plight of animals that were being abandoned and dropped off at organizations to be put up for adoption. I also wanted to use [my brand] as a platform to educate people on population control and the [animal] illnesses … that people aren't aware of.”

Rubio has some big plans on the horizon for his business, including reopening his showroom that closed during the pandemic and showing a documentary film about his work at next year’s Tribeca Film Festival. But first, he’s hosting his Pet Gala — a Met Gala-inspired, invite-only pet fashion show with canine models from across the country, including his own two rescue Chihuahuas Bogie and Kimba — at the AKC Museum of the Dog on May 20, 2024. After the show, the museum will display all the pieces Rubio shows at the Gala at a special limited-time exhibit.

“Who would have thought … I'd end up in a museum?” he said. “It's great. One blessing after another.”

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