Designing woman's business is going to the dogs

COLONIA N.J. — COLONIA N.J. -- It wasn't Pat Henderson's new outfit at the 1981 Easter parade that drew raves, but that of Gigi, her French poodle.

"I made her a pink pleated coat, with ribbons down her ears," Mrs. Henderson said. "So many people stopped and asked where they could buy her outfit, it took us two hours to go one-half block. I took orders on the spot."


Months afterward, word-of-mouth referrals had brought in more than 30 orders for her custom-fitted coats and patent leather rainwear. But what she didn't suspect was that a pleasant whim with needle and thread would lead to an international design business in canine couture.

Mrs. Henderson says she has outfitted pets from Queen Elizabeth's corgis to the dog next door. Her clients, she says, have included Joan Rivers, Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, who ordered a lavender coat for her Shih Tzu to match her eyes.


But the most unusual request came from a belly dancer in Tennessee, who asked for a costume for her pet python, which curled around her body as she performed.

"My husband, an engineer," Mrs. Henderson said, "drew up plans for a 15-foot costume made up of 72 tiny ruffled tutus, which I sewed to the back of bridal garters. It was a huge success."

When it was found that 1,100 dogs drown each year, Mrs. Henderson designed a life jacket for pets with the same material and weights as their owners' and displayed it at the New York Boat Show.

"The old jackets were made of foam rubber and floated right up off the dog's head," she said. The jackets sell for $25 to $55.

Today Mrs. Henderson, a former director of personnel for the Korvettes store chain, now closed, has a company, Silk-N-Satin, that grossed more than $200,000 this year, according to Dun & Bradstreet.

From her home here, orders ranging from $40 for wool dresses to formal wear costing thousands of dollars are shipped to pet shops, specialty boutiques and department stores across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Today, 20 stores in New York City carry the Silk-N-Satin label, including Le Chien, Canine Styles and American Kennels.

Once a year, Mrs. Henderson and her husband go on buying trips to Britain, France, Italy and Spain, tracking down unusual materials.