PHILADELPHIA - Like a lot of designers, Polly Clement got into the fashion biz because she couldn't find precisely the garment she wanted. Clement was looking for a coat that would sit well over a hard-to-fit back and still be comfortable. And look stylish, of course. Although there were plenty of coats out there, nothing on the racks seemed to work, so Clement - whose hobby just happened to be sewing - decided to tailor one herself.
It was a great success. Friends started asking if she would make similar coats for them, and it wasn't too long before someone suggested she go into business.
She named it PC Panache.
After a few years, the custom-coat business was doing so well it gave birth to a ready-to-wear line. Soon there were summer coats and raincoats and neckwear.
All for dogs.
PC Panache coats have popped up in Harrods of London, in boutiques in the United States and Canada, in catalogs for dogs. One has just been ordered for a Labrador retriever in Egypt.
"I've dressed a 2 1/2-pound Chihuahua and an Irish wolfhound," Clement says. "For the Chihuahua, I didn't dare use a buckle because of the weight. I used Velcro."
This Calvin Klein of dogdom doesn't mass produce - all the coats that carry the PC Panache label are made one at a time by a group of sewers within easy reach of Clement's home near West Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia.
And though her clients are dogs, she's picky about the garments her initials are on. All her coats except the rain slickers have chest protectors and adjustable belts with buckles. They're made of soft Polarfleece and stylish denim lined with Polartec shearling. Ribbed turtlenecks unfold into hoods. Even the plaids are perfectly matched at the seams.
"Comfort for the dog is premier," says Clement - just as it was for April, the whippet whose difficult-to-fit arched back started it all about 16 years ago. "If it doesn't fit, it's not going to be comfortable, and the dog isn't going to wear it."
PC Panache coats run from $30 to $50 in the most popular Polarfleece. Also available are collars, tug toys and beds.
The dog scene is one that Clement knows well.
She also is president of the Bryn Mawr Kennel Club. And for nearly four decades, she has been breeding and showing borzois, the graceful dogs developed by Russian aristocrats in the 17th century to run down wolves. (They're also known as Russian wolfhounds.) For the last 20 years, Clement has also had whippets.
So, do dogs really need coats?
Some don't - long-haired breeds such as the borzoi, for example, says Clement. But others - especially elderly dogs - do.
"I feel if your dogs live in a warm house like you do, and you're going outdoors on a cold day, you're going to wear a coat," she says. "Why shouldn't they?"
For more information, call Panache at 610-296-3846.
Pub Date: 12/27/98